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September 22nd, 2009

Ed Kashi: Beyond Multimedia – To create change, storytellers must conquer multiple media platforms

Posted by Ed Kashi

When Ed came to Stanford a few months ago for an Aurora Forum on the What Matters book, I was reminded how unsatisfactory the term “documentary photographer” is when applied to someone like him. Years before multimedia became a buzzword, Ed and his wife Julie Winokur were leading the way into “multi-platform” storytelling, including exhibitions, books, websites, videos, multimedia, and educational programs. Ed explains how they are now exploring “feedback loops” between documentarians, their audience, and the subjects, so that the people in the photos and the people looking at them contribute as much to a story as the person behind the camera.
Ikpokiri is a poor community in the oil rich Niger Delta. The only school in this small community lay in ruins due to flooding and lack of care.

Ikpokiri is a poor community in the oil rich Niger Delta. The only school in this small community lay in ruins due to flooding and lack of care. ©Ed Kashi

It’s not enough anymore to create work for one media platform, especially if you intend to raise awareness about issues or are trying to effect change. Now when I create a new project as a photojournalist or with Talking Eyes Media, the non-profit production company I founded with my wife, Julie Winokur, we have our eyes on expanded opportunities for distribution: the web, social media, books, exhibitions, T.V., lectures, workshops, academic applications, and NGO collaborations. There are undoubtedly even more I haven’t thought, of and we’re always looking for new options.

To work in this multi-platform landscape, you must develop skills beyond still photography. You should at least be proficient at gathering and editing audio, and preferably you’d also understand video and be able to handle post production to produce a finished piece.

Since Julie and I founded Talking Eyes seven years ago, we have developed a process that fluidly moves from proposal, field work, and post production to outreach and followup. With the Niger Delta work, we’re learning as we go. As usual, we’re applying for grants, but now they are in areas I’ve never ventured into before, attempting to receive funding support for educational outreach programs.

One small example of this can be seen on my blog where we posted papers written by history students at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, where my book was required reading. They were asked to pick three images and write about them, and we posted a handful of their papers with the students’ consent.

Unemployed local youths hang out around the Etelebou Flow Station in the Niger Delta. ©Ed Kashi

Unemployed local youths hang out around the Etelebou Flow Station in the Niger Delta. ©Ed Kashi

This is an important aspect of multi-platform storytelling: It can easily be disseminated to a wide variety of audiences. It also provides the means for those audiences to talk back with the photographer/producer about the work. It is exciting to being able to create a groundswell of interest in this way, by building a feedback loop between the documentarian, their subject, and the audience.

I am currently writing grants to fund a broader implementation of this feedback loop idea (really it’s a wiki, but I wanted to avoid that term). My vision is to create a new website, or augment the existing one from liveBooks, so that students in the U.S. and Nigeria (or anywhere for that matter), who are using teaching materials I’ve created around oil and environmental issues, can contribute their own comments, information, pictures, and videos to the site. So a student in Port Harcourt, in the Niger Delta, would study these issues using the texts, stills, and video from my work there (along with expanded teaching materials we plan to include in a teaching DVD) and then do his or her own reporting or just contribute personal materials to the site. In this way, they can correct, augment, and develop my work to broaden, deepen, and personalize it.

On another front, Oxfam America has funded a traveling exhibition of my Niger Delta work. Oxfam is planning to bring it to at least ten U.S. universities to aid the organization’s legislative efforts involving extractive industries. Exhibitions, associated panel discussions, public lectures, and other forms of outreach around this project continue, including a week of activities planned in conjunction with an exhibition in London next year.

Our Aging In America project, which has been around since 2003, continues to be utilized by academia and professional organizations associated with geriatric, social work, nursing, and healthcare curricula. In November of this year I’ll be going to Florida for three days to take part in lectures, workshops, and a seminar around an exhibition of my work at a museum in Sarasota.

Trans Amadi Slaughter is the largest abattior in the Niger Delta. ©Ed Kashi

Trans Amadi Slaughter is the largest abattior in the Niger Delta. ©Ed Kashi

On the creative end, my work has never been more exciting. I’m shooting more video while enjoying stills like never before. And what was once a solitary process, working as a still photographer, now takes on dimensions of collaboration, visual explorations, and deeper engagement with my subjects through audio capture.

The downside is that, with all the new and old media, it’s hard to gauge my impact or figure out how to help the message rise above today’s cacophony of visual noise and stories. We’re constantly competing for people’s attention, even if they are interested in the topics our work addresses. By engaging with our audience directly, we hope to overcome some of these obstacles.

I recommend that photographers have a vision for not only the the issue you’re reporting on, but also what larger impact you want to achieve and how you see it being distributed and utilized. One key is to work with a great editor who shares your vision and purpose. Editing for a book or editorial essay is vastly different than producing a short multimedia piece. As is curating an exhibition or lecture or teaching tool.

My experience has taught me that collaborating with like-minded people who share my vision and — most importantly — my sense of purpose for the issue at hand is the easiest path to making my vision a reality. I cannot do this alone. Luckily the the working relationships I’ve learned to develop with writers, editors, producers, audio people, and videographers not only help make our projects happen, they also provide creative collaboration that is exciting and deeply rewarding.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: Do you think it’s important to engage the audience and subjects in visual storytelling in order to create more tangible change?


6 Comments

  1. September 22nd, 2009 at 8:47 am

    Ed Kashi: Beyond Multimedia – RESOLVE | The Click

    [...] Ed Kashi: Beyond Multimedia – To create change, storytellers must conquer multiple media platf…: When Ed came to Stanford a few months ago for an Aurora Forum on the What Matters book, I was [...]

  2. September 25th, 2009 at 2:32 am

    Ed Kashi – mulitmedia, multi-funding – variety of platforms « TOPICS

    [...] DC 10:32 am on September 25, 2009 Log in to leave a Comment Tags: Ed Kashi (2), media economy (22), multimedia (18) Ed Kashi: Beyond Multimedia – To create change, storytellers must conquer multiple media platf…. [...]

  3. September 25th, 2009 at 2:39 am

    David Campbell

    A fascinating, detailed and affirmative account of how the future of ‘photojournalism’ — or better, a new visual journalism for complex story telling — is being made here and now. Just the sort of thing I had in mind towards the end of this account of photojournalism’s futures (http://www.david-campbell.org/2009/09/20/revolutions-in-the-media-economy-3/)

  4. December 22nd, 2009 at 3:11 am

    Revolutions in the media economy (5) – the pay wall folly for photographers | David Campbell -- Photography, Multimedia, Politics

    [...] good number of people (like Ed Kashi) are working this way now. Jonathan Worth has been pursuing a fascinating project based on his [...]

  5. February 13th, 2010 at 8:41 pm

    Anonymous

    College Everything,along hit shop winner servant vote former world his institution education powerful peace farm coal prospect science risk afternoon opposition part car define south main fresh style top text run once fresh media transfer step form attractive insurance opposition upper middle today extra tear an device at able recommend close income address able slip require relation always practice impose music combine blow heart start afford pound look weak certainly border lunch character introduction total final flight dress restaurant near screen neck alternative between none search border manner speak around substantial control

  6. August 26th, 2012 at 6:47 pm

    Mariana

    You can buy a dock that hooks up to the computer tgohurh USB. Not sure if that camera will hook up directly to the computer without the dock. It’s an old primitive design and the docks are really hard to find nowadays.

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