I’ve started a podcast, “Placing culture,” which focuses on cultural geography, and particularly on conversations with individuals doing work at the intersections of geography, the arts, sciences, and humanities. You can follow the podcast via tumblr, Twitter and SoundCloud. The first episode, with Stephen Daniels and Lucy Veale of the University of Nottingham School of Geography, is embedded below.
As I’ve documented before, while “finishing” with Comic Book City, I started work on a new film project, one based on selected writings by J.B. Jackson. Most of the work I’ve done so far has involved going back to Jackson’s essays and drawing out major themes around which to make my film, or films, but as of yesterday I’ve also started to shoot video.
My intention is to use moving images to interpret, comment on and reconsider Jackson’s work. In interpreting his writings, I want to show them in practice, or how landscape looks from the perspective of his essays. In commenting on his work, I want to draw attention to gaps or silences, or unarticulated implications of his writings (one example that I was working with this week while out with the camera was the role of nature or non-human agents in the making of landscape). In reconsidering his ideas about landscape, I want to place his work in contemporary context. I think, for example, that Jackson’s celebration of car culture in the United States bears revisiting in light of how that culture is changing and how the landscapes associated with that culture have also changed in the past 30 years.
I had the idea for basing film and video work on J.B. Jackson’s writings a number of years ago, stemming from my teaching of Landscape in Sight (Yale University Press, 1997) and Everyday America: Cultural Landscape Studies after J.B. Jackson, eds. Chris Wilson and Paul Groth (University of California Press, 2003) in my upper division cultural geography seminar. In particular, I have been thinking about “The abstract world of the hot-rodder” (1958/59) in audio-visual terms for awhile, and also as a work that would be interesting to re-examine in light of changing relationships to modes of transportation in the United States.
Despite this history, I did the work that would become Comic Book City first for a number of reasons, I think. I wanted to do a longer form film, and it still isn’t clear to me what form this film is going to take, or even if it is going to be a film or films. I also wanted my first major academic work in moving images to not only be “feature length”, but also, essentially, straight-forward in terms of design and execution. So, I think, at some level, I understood I probably needed more experience before turning my attention to the J.B. Jackson concept, though I don’t remember making that as a conscious choice.
Whatever the case, I think that the experience of making Comic Book City will be important to my execution of the current project.
First, it helped me to gain confidence in my ability as a filmmaker. Finishing and screening that film, putting my work “out there”, was invaluable in moving me forward to take on what is, I think, a more creatively ambitious work.
Second, I went into making Comic Book City not knowing what I might end up doing with it, especially in terms of peer review, but as a conventional “feature length” film, I at least had a finished product that was simple enough to manage. What I learned from my experience is that working in non-traditional forms like film and video poses challenges for peer review and for publishing, but that it also opens opportunities for connecting across disciplines and that there is a sense of freedom that comes from working outside of traditional formats for scholarly work in geography. In short, ultimately, I was able to do with Comic Book City what I wanted to do, no need to negotiate with publishers about open access or making the film available in other formats. The experience of bringing that film to fruition was liberating, and I think I needed to be set free before returning to thinking about J.B. Jackson.
Third, while I am planning collaborations on the soundtrack, in the field, I am planning to be a one-person crew for most of what I do here. This is mostly question of mobility and being free to work opportunistically, something I wasn’t able to do when conducting interviews and going to specific events for Comic Book City.
Along the same lines, I am not planning on working with human subjects on this project. This will actually make this film more like my non-film work, which has dealt primarily in the interpretation of texts rather than with informants.
I’ve also been thinking about form and how I want to experiment more with “modular” structures. I realized in putting together Comic Book City that the documentary could be broken down into pieces, and I have made many of those pieces available on Vimeo, but that is more incidental than planned. Here I am thinking of an almost fully flexible work, one that could be presented as some kind of a whole, but also as fully realized “modules”. That may change, but editing Comic Book City opened my mind to a number of possibilities that I want to play with more (I am also being more immediately influenced by having taught Jim Jarmusch with my Geography and Film students last Spring).
Most of all, making Comic Book City affirmed for me that, while I still enjoy and want to do traditional forms of writing, film and video are the media I most want to work with, especially in further developing my interests. I don’t think I would be pursuing, for example, insights from Actor Network Theory or notions of affect in papers in the way that I am in film and video. There are many areas of theory in cultural geography that I relate to more meaningfully and creatively in audio visual terms than in words, which is to say, I think I have more of an original contribution to make in my fields as a filmmaker than as a writer.
I’ve started an autoethnographic study of reading comics and am using tumblr as a means to make this work accessible while in progress. I am not sure where the research will go or what it will show. This work is exploratory and experimental and I am sharing data to invite participation and comment from readers.
I think that one step towards understanding how comics are read is to understand better how one reads as an academic in the sense of “academic” as an identity and not just a profession. I think most scholars understand that they way they read texts for expressly professional purposes is different from how they read more casually. What I think most of us understand less well is how our more casual reading is informed by our academic reading (and vice versa). I think most of us are probably aware that this happens, but I also think that this understanding is relegated to the background of our work and other daily activities. Developing a more critical and systematic understanding of these different forms of reading, and how they are intertwined, is where autoethnography may be useful.
A few years ago I had the idea to start an online journal devoted to film and video work in/on/about geography, but at different points technological, financial and support issues became barriers to getting the project launched. Recently, I decided to readjust my thinking and reboot the journal as a “channel” on Vimeo, “Moving Image Geography”. You can go to the homepage, and also get content notices via Twitter. If you have relevant interests and qualifications, I am looking for additional moderators. Contact me with inquiries if you’re interested.
In the meantime, here are two of my initial selections:
I am starting a new film project, one focused on interpreting the writings of landscape scholar J.B. Jackson. I am interested in using and incorporating audio commentaries from others who work in landscape studies. You can see a more detailed call for participation here. You can also contact me for more information.
For the past four years, almost exactly at this point, my major scholarly project has been a documentary about comics creators in Portland, Oregon. I recently finished work on the film and have begun submitting to festivals and have started to think about other screening opportunities.
One of the questions I have to address with this project, for professional reasons, is peer review and festivals seem to provide the best route to gaining acceptance of the work in a way that is equivalent to review for a journal or book.
What kind of work is this for professional purposes is another question I have to think about, or at least may have to address for purposes of review and application for promotion. Is the film equal to a book or an article? I am writing an article from the film, but that will be a digest more than a reproduction. Interestingly, some festivals would have me in the short film category and others in the feature film section (the running time is 57:53).
I’d rather not dwell on these matters, but in my particular professional context, I, like anyone doing non-traditional forms of research and scholarship, eventually have to make the case that what one is doing is what one should, in fact, be doing (quick references for current work on the methodological margins of cultural geography: Geohumanities, ed., Michael Dear et al, Experimental Geography, ed., Nato Thompson, Merle Patchett’s Experimental Geography in Practice, and Bradley Garrett’s Place Hacking). I’ve already had a few interesting discussions regarding Faculty Development funding of the project, although no serious threats of being denied funds. I imagine that these conversations would be tougher at an R1.
I am generally happy with the work, at least in the sense that most of the remaining flaws feel like the product of things I can’t help, such as being a first feature, being solely responsible for all of the major aspects of the production and post-production (with the notable exceptions of sound editing, by my cousin Dave, and music, from my sister’s friend, Adam Selzer, and still photography, by my dad, Pat, and my friend and photographer, Erin Marr), and having a very small budget (I received approximately $4300 in grants for the project and that also constitutes the budget, more or less).
Color correction is probably the most notable aesthetic and formal weakness of the finished film. I made some minor corrections to some shots, but stayed away from major work because I simply do not know enough about what I am doing there yet. There are also some passages that I am unsure about pacing, how long I hold on certain shots, or choices I made in terms of images, but I am also at a point in the project where I need to let go or I will never stop working on it.
Hence, the decision to be “done”, and to release the film into the wild.