Archive for the ‘practice’ Category

Scholarships for PhDs

RMIT have a variety of significant competitive scholarships available for outstanding Phd applicants. There are scholarships for Australian (and New Zealand) citizens and the rest of the world. To be eligible you need a Masters, or a four year undergraduate degree, or equivalent. If you think you’re eligible, interested, are an outstanding applicant, and would like to work with me (here’s some of my work) and several other PhD students on research somewhere around the intersection of interactive documentary, media philosophy, and media materialism (new materialism, et al) then please get in touch.

These scholarships include tuition wavers (for non Australian students) and a stipend.

Please note, I have no influence over scholarship decisions. These happen at senior levels of the university. But you need to apply to be considered! (Gotta be in it to win it.) Some of these scholarships include relocation money and travel funds.


Does this foolishness (I’m holding back there) know no bounds? “The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” Nice title for a pitch come launch come effort at SXSW but really, how stupid are we going to make ourselves? Yes, it’s only a title, but what story, I’d like to know, does the sun tell our planet? Do gravitational waves tell the Milky Way (hey, they’re the ones introducing physics, not me), the quark the hadron? What is the story that dopamine tells me as I write this? What is the story that I am telling dopamine as I write this (or is story and biology assymetrical), what particular story am I and testosterone sharing or participating in right now, and what story are the kangaroos a few kilometres away by the river having with the grass and their parasites? If any of this list is a story then story has become so diluted as a term that it can a) refer to nearly anything, and therefore b) becomes rather useless as a term. This is story become religion where if we incant the term often enough it can be used, like spirit, to account for all the gaps in our account. It is like as the human becomes more and more marginal (to this planet, to our importance to the universe – their terms, not mine – to nature) we invent a new heliocentric universe which puts story (and therefore the human) at its centre. As everyone uses their apps and GPS and 4G and wifi on their tantalum containing smartphones at SXSW, what stories are the code of their apps, their GPS signals, 4G and wifi packets, and tantalum telling each other amongst themselves? And if you decide these things can’t tell each other stories, then how the fuck is the universe made of stories?

cfp YouTube Conference

Fresh from an email:


YouTube Conference: Call for Papers

23/4 September 2016, Middlesex University, The Burroughs, Hendon, London.

Keynote speaker: Professor Jean Burgess

Please send an abstract of 350 words plus a short bio of 100 words for single papers or 500 words and individual bios for group panels by email attachment to

Deadline for receipt of abstracts is 4 April 2016.

We Know More Than You

Alisa Lebow just gave a wonderful keynote that kicked off i-docs. Largely about her online work Filming Revolution. Key things are how her respondents did not want a story for a revolution that was not yet (is not) yet done. That her work in the project with a coder and interaction designer became an issue of how to structure her material without story. She outlined this well, wondering and stating that there are many other ways of understanding that are not just narrative. (Some of the same evidence that I use in my work even appeared.) What was intriguing, surprising and intellectually frustrating was how many people in the audience wanted to insist that the work was both story, that story was essential, and simply unavoidable. Now, let’s pause here. Rather than introduce an argument about all the ways we can have texts that aren’t narrative (song, lots of poetry, lists, and so on) just think about the odd academic universe I have described. Alisa is, it is reasonable to say, an expert on film, documentary, and as a result of her Egyptian project, what local filmmakers there think and feel. This, after all, is why she was invited to speak. Yet apparently what she has learnt from doing this, what she, as an expert respondent said (repeatedly it must be stressed/noted), and documented and argued about this, is apparently wrong. That half of this audience know better (there’s no other word to use than this). This is not an academic argument it is about power disguised as expertise. It is an expert group thinking that their expertise trump their witnesses (including a significant researcher). This includes the ethnographers and anthropologists in the room. I find this bizarre. Rather than insist Alisa is wrong (she is certain she is right) why not just engage with what she says. We can, after all, cope with several views, and we should certainly be able to think that there are ways of documenting the world, even the social world, that are not first of all stories.

Affective Auto-Documentary

The opening:

In my pocket I have a phone. In my phone I have a camera, GPS, and micro computer. While we have witnessed a rise in mobile media platforms and services — in the realm of video most notably YouTube, Vimeo, and Vine, for text Twitter, and photography Flickr and Instagram — each of these services relies on an intentional making of an individual artefact that then finds itself serialised into a collection. However, we are now seeing the development of applications and services that reconceptualise the smart phone as a media instrument that provides an always on ambient environment where an everyday indifferent and indirect media recording. This shift from our ready to hand mobile phones as a networked intentional media device to automatic and indifferent media machines have implications for interactive documentary. The first generation of these machines, including apps such as Reporter, Heyday, and Momento, herald the emergence of nonfiction forms that automatically interweave media trails and the everyday. These mobile apps take advantage of their network awareness and their algorithmic automaticity that represents a post–digital movement away from the screen as a privileged site of media making toward what I want to characterise as ‘ambient auto–documentary’. Ambient auto–documentary is first an aggregating, and then a curating, of the real time media trails that form around and through our mobile devices. This automatic aggregating and curating shifs the role of documentation away from our historical intentional and deliberate media practices — I photograph, write, and film — toward one that facilitates the production of media assemblages that arrive in the wake of my lived, post digital, experience. Ambient auto–documentary is an event that is distributed amongst the services, servers, apps, mobile handsets, protocols, and people, where media practice is secondary to the automatic and algorithmic curation of my media trails.

These apps and services grant an increasing agency to the procedural and protocological, and in their use people increasingly become a relay, or signal, within the networks and flows of images, GPS coordinates, data, 3G, 4G, and wifi signals, text, video, platforms and services. As a new variety of nonfiction their mode of address is simultaneously to the self and these technosocial assemblages, and the self here becomes an interval between these machine’s noticing and our own understanding. That is, a moment of affective indetermination.


After scrambling and cobbling together dollars from a variety of sources it looks like I can get to this year’s i-docs symposium, hosted by the i-Docs mob from UWE. My first. I’m excited to see Bristol, to catch up with some friends, and to see what is going on.

I, in that way that is easy to do when you don’t know the people involved, think that a lot of the work being done in interactive documentary (and a lot of things that are called interactive documentary) is not doing very much. This is partly because many moving into this area come from heritage industrial practices that mean that when we meet the novel, different, and strange, the first step is to translate this into current terms to understand it. It can be a similar story theoretically, where this is often a tacit reappropriation or incorporation of the differences of interactive documentary back into existing paradigms of film and documentary theory. Hence, as a simple example, the hegemony of story to nearly every single theorist and practitioner in this field.

So, following up on my recent post on multi and non linearity, and to , well, I was going to say ‘be intellectual provocateur’ but that sounds way too strategic for me. (I get a little autistic around ideas. What that means is all I ‘see’ are the ideas, not the people attached to them. A bad idea I treat as a thing that is unpleasant and unwelcome, and I can be blunt and direct. I once thought it was because I didn’t grow up middle class and so never learnt what I think of as the protocols of sobriety – where I grew up if something was silly, wrong, stupid, ignorant, or dumb, it was called that, we didn’t really have euphemisms and conversation veered towards agon. But I’ve realised it’s more that I just see ideas as things, objects in their own right sitting there, in an intellectual ecosystem (like the red box eucalypt outside my window) and I discuss its qualities as this thing quite forgetting that they have people attached.) So, as someone who sometimes just has to call a spade a spade, this illustration (I’ve borrowed the URL from the i-docs site where it is captioned as “Interactive Documentary Structure from i-Docs 2012”) below needs something said about it.

In my conception of multilinearity and interactivity this drawing is neither, and I think it is illustrative of the poor understanding about interactivity and multilinearity that bedevils thinking in this domain. What are its problems?

If I were a user in this work then my its structure would appear to me as a branching tree (aka choose your own adventure) where my choices have no consequence or implications for the shape of the work (it is fixed). Hence the only way I could learn that it is indeed multilinear would be to get to the end, start again, go to the same two first places, and then (if I can remember) choose something different to go somewhere else. Hopefully the interface provides enough information so that on this second (and third, fourth, etc) reading/viewing I am able to make a decision to not end up in the same place on the fourth ‘level’ of the work.

What else? The illustration is in thrall of an inevitable, determined, definite/definitive beginning and ending. How we ‘do’ things in this domain, temporally (as it is a temporal, not a spatial problem here as we’re talking about hypertextual montage) is all about offering some choices to the user (in an act of generosity as makers we surrender absolute control) but only as long as you begin at the beginning and end at the ending. These remain singular and simple.

This model is indebted, ideologically and intellectually, to the epistemology of print literacy and culture as all those arrows, resolutely moving us to the right, live in fear of recursiveness, repetition, and rhythm. It is only print that insists on linear seriality with no repetition. Painting, dance, song, oral cultures, poetry all rely upon and celebrate repetition. For example who doesn’t revel in those moments in song where a chorus returns the second, third, fourth time, the same but of course oh so different now. Or the repetition of some signature short phrase in a song that, through this very repetition and redundancy shifts the duty of the song and its art from narrative and description and telling into incantation and doing as the words become musical, material, concrete, affective, carnal, embodied, ephemeral, solid.

Recursiveness is not redundancy and lets a work have rhythm. Recursiveness is not redundancy and lets users see that, as they return to where they have been, that they can do and go otherwise and that their actions come to matter for the very shape of the work. If, as happens in this drawing, I choose and arrive, choose and arrive, choose, and it ends, how, apart from beginning all over again, like Sisyphus, would I ever have the opportunity to know I have agency? Which of course is much the same as saying such structures think they confer agency, but do not.

Cutting Floor Two

The notion of the affect image as slow interval, as the indeterminate that falls between noticing and action, offers a radical critique of interactive documentary poetics, and a compelling alternative methodology. It lets us see that interactive documentary may be less about ‘access’ (social engagement and reach, sociocultural critique), or even novel technocultural forms (it is about all of these things, but this has always been documentary’s charter) but about interrupting, suspending, and slowing the ideas, events, and problems they address. This is largely not the case in contemporary interactive documentary where much of the work being discussed and identified as interactive documentary is caught in a first wave of a digital delirium where the ability to combine, link, and then present media in multilinear and nonsequential ways becomes a parade and celebration of technical spectacle. (It is a reprise of Gunning’s ‘cinema of attractions’ applied to new media.)

In the current context of work that is available and being discussed theoretically, interactivity is diluted and under theorised to the extent where recent academic work can provide a definition of interactive documentary that, at base, says little more than that interactive documentary is documentary that is interactive – leaving the key term mute.

The celebration of technical spectacle is perhaps more complicated, as the rapid rise of new protocols including HTML5 and CSS3 combined with the development of JavaScript libraries such as popcorn.js and video.js, and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) to existing and new platforms, sees a slew of experimental work being undertaken. The best of this work offers, provokes, and asks questions of form, narrative, style and documentary, yet many seem to confuse technical adroitness and a digital spectacle that bewitches and beguiles — I suspect because many critical theorists have little experience of code and digital building.

In a nutshell much interactive work confuses a literal and direct action with interactivity, or becomes explicitly or implicitly concerned with the technical language of coding as special effect (for instance witness the excitement and rapid adoption of the curtain.js library as a sort of cinematic web special effect for long form web nonfiction).

Cutting Floor One

Dumped from a current chapter:

As a centre or zone of indetermination the affect image is then where things may happen, but this interval is extended, in some cases interminably in the cinema, where in its extreme form that which does happen is never sufficient to the situation. This is the real regime of the affect image for affect is not merely this realm of possible decision but is much more specifically for Deleuze (following Bergson) the remainder that is not expended, spent, disseminated via action. (Bresson’s Diary of a Country Priest offers a beautiful example of its famous final shot where the death of the priest is off camera, narrated to us, where narrative action is absolutely evacuated from the visible image.) This is because the sensory motor schema that underwrites this model is premised upon an economy of forces or flows where something is perceived, a decision is made, and an action occurs. In the regular course of events this action is understood to be adequate to the perception where the action responds adequately to the perception. There is no remainder, the stimulus is spent by the stimulation. In affect, however, the action does not meet the demand of the perception, and this remainder then creates and produces what we take to be affect. I desire that person, I court, seduce, wonder, dream, touch, make love, build a family with them.

Affect is a qualitative, not a quantitative, field, which is why the list can continue, will never be done, and each act can never be enough.

Expanded Doco Symposium Coming Up