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Benjamin Chesterton

Former BBC radio producer Benjamin Chesterton and photojournalist David White, as the multimedia production team duckrabbit, build high-quality multimedia pieces, provide insights on their blog, and help photographers through multimedia training sessions. Once a month on RESOLVE, Ben and David highlight and explain a multimedia piece that breaks a “rule,” uses a new technique, or creatively solves a common problem. This month Ben challenges the idea that online multimedia has to be short to accommodate viewers’ decreasing attention spans.

One of the most annoying comments I get when I post a multimedia story on the duckrabbit blog is, “This is too long.”

My favorite film is Paris, Texas, but I’m pretty sure if you forced 100 people to watch that film, 90 of them would vote to have the film shortened by half. Me, I’d rather cut off a finger. My point? Everything is subjective. What’s too long for you is a blink of an eye to somebody else; what’s meaningless to you is the moment somebody else has been waiting for all their life.

It’s true people will generally spend less time watching things on the web, but should multimedia producers always be trying to appeal to morons with attention deficit disorder? If you’re working to order for cash, then the answer is probably yes. But if you want to create something with depth and soul that will resonate many years from now, by all means keep it tight but don’t suffocate your vision.

This month I’ve chosen a piece of multimedia magic that the majority of you will probably only watch for the first three minutes. Don’t worry, all you’ll be missing is hands-down one of the best online documentaries ever made — but of course, that’s just my subjective opinion.

Living in the Shadows: China’s Internal Migrants, tells the story of three families in Shanghai, and the struggles they face as undocumented internal migrants. The film, photographed and filmed by Sharon Lovell and produced by David Campbell, quietly reveals their struggle to make a life for themselves, even as they are denied access to local social services and discriminated against by both state and private employers.

Actually, I don’t want to say too much about why I admire the way this documentary was made. It will unfairly influence the way you watch it. If you’re interested in discussing this piece, I’ll be happy to respond to your comments. I’m sure David Campbell will be happy to join in as well.

Multimedia — it seems to be on everyone’s mind. Should you be doing it? Just audio, or video too? Can you make money from it? Does it detract or add to the still photograph? Former BBC radio producer Benjamin Chesterton and photojournalist David White formed the multimedia production team duckrabbit with the intention of answering some of these questions, as well as using multimedia to prompt social change. Together they create multimedia pieces, provide insights on their blog, and help photographers through multimedia training sessions (sign up now for the next one, in Bristol, UK, July 10 to 12). Once a month (or more when they have time), Ben and David will highlight and explain a multimedia piece on RESOLVE that breaks a “rule,” uses a new technique, or creatively solves a common problem. As an introduction, they wanted to talk about a piece created together, Innocence, that proves how powerful a multimedia piece can be, even with only 10 photos.

David White: Innocence, duckrabbit’s feature about child soldiers in Sri Lanka, just sort of emerged organically. I shot the photographs a few years ago now, whilst there was still a ceasefire. It was a very difficult and at times dangerous job, but one that I desperately hoped might make a tiny difference.

Recently I was sitting up very early in the morning when I saw a report on the news about the escalation of the war in Sri Lanka. I just started to write about how that made me feel. For once I was not worried about how other people would interpret and dissect my thoughts — I just needed to get my feelings out.

I posted my thoughts on the duckrabbit blog, and from there Benjamin picked up the baton, unbeknown to me.

Benjamin Chesterton: David is someone whose photographs have always moved me. His great big generous heart comes across in all his work and never more so than in the beautiful pictures he took in Sri Lanka. I’ve long wanted to turn them into a piece of multimedia, but what can you do with just 10 photos?

I got up one morning to find that David had posted about that experience on the duckrabbit blog. He captured the artist’s predicament in a really simple and powerful way. The desire to make a difference because some cause has embedded itself so deep into you. The feeling that if you don’t do something, it will suffocate you from the inside out.

Pretty much all I did was take his words, grab some screenshots off news sites on the web, use a song that never fails to move me, and mix it all up with his original photo’s. I didn’t tell David I was doing this. Just banged out a rough copy in a day, sent him the link and held my breath.

David: I have scanned, printed, and reproduced those Sri Lanka photos many times. I like them, I think they’re strong, but they’re not new. The words were a few lines I hammered out when I should have been sleeping. Yet, when I saw the finished piece, I cried, as did my wife, Jane.

Since then, that has been the many people’s reaction.

It still amazes me that such simple content can be reworked into something so strong. I could never imagine those stills in a magazine story having the same effect. Imagine going back to a set of pictures you have taken a while ago, that you know intimately, and having them move you to tears. That intrigues and excites me. That’s why I think multimedia offers amazing opportunities for photographers, to get their work out to new audiences, and to use it to reveal the world in new light.

Be Part of the RESOLUTION: If you are working in multimedia, how do you approach that creative process differently? Have you had similar experiences where adding audio for a slideshow has dramatically changed the impact of your images?


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