Posts Tagged ‘documentary’

Documentary Ontography: Nonfiction Stories Using Lists of Things

Some of what I’m teaching this semester.

The below as a pdf….


Exploded view of a JVC GY-HD100U Camcorder (

Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.)

What happens when things in the world world, not us, is made a cause and the centre of telling stories?


There is a wave of new ideas in media and cinema studies loosely known as media materialism, speculative realism, or post digital media. This work is changing how we understand what the media is and our relation to it. These theories criticise media and cultural studies for placing us (the social, human, even language) at the centre of our understanding of what the world is. These theories also provide different ways for us to think about the role of narrative in what we do.

These new ideas are relevant when the internet and social media, combined with global environmental and cultural problems, change what making media is. These ideas can provide us with a different vocabulary for how and what we make as media professionals. One step in achieving this is to make creative
Like a medieval bestiary, ontography can take the form of a compendium, a record of things juxtaposed to demonstrate their overlap and imply interaction through collocation. The simplest approach to such recording is the list, a group of items loosely joined not by logic or power or use but by the gentle knot of the comma. (Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology or What It’s Like to be a Thing p.38.) nonfiction because it addresses the world. A second is to learn how these ideas let us understand and work in digital media in more sophisticated ways.

These ‘materialist’ theories describe the way things form relations that are more complex than we give them credit for, and how we are part of these relations too. They regard an object, person, even an idea as, equally, a thing. When this is understood our relationship to media, making, content, tools, stories, and ourselves changes.

This studio is relevant for anyone wanting to understand and play with network media, video, media theory, digital media, documentary, cultural studies, and philosophy.

In the studio we will do theoretical readings that will be understood through making a variety of media
artefacts. This will include online media and interactive documentary.

Students will be required to purchase required software (OS X or PC) for US$25 for this studio.


  • To get an introduction to recent radical media theory
  • Learn how to make sophisticated online work that demonstrates complex ideas creatively
  • Learn and initiate ways of making media that is about the world that is relevant across different media and stories

Learning Approach

The learning approach of the studio is a mix of problem based and action learning methodologies. Each of these emphasise the ways that to learn anything you have to do something, and then take what you have done to inform what happens next.

Problem based learning emphasises the asking of complex, open questions — problems — that don’t have simple answers, and the class using what is already known to see what is already known, what is not known, and what needs to be found out. This last step defines what is done next.

Action learning is common in management seminars. However, it is useful for us because it places an emphasis on being able to identify what you don’t know that matters, and recognises the value in sharing different points of view, understandings, and experiences to solve problems.

The combination of problem based and action learning will lead to what we will describe as ‘matters of concern’ for the class. These are the things that the class decides are significant and will form what we need to investigate.

Work in progress will be regularly reviewed in class by the students and teacher together as a basic principle of studio teaching is that making is public, iterative, and constructively critiqued.
The studio will rely on face to face teaching and will make extensive use of a variety of online platforms to share information, resources, and work. This studio will not use Blackboard to share or distribute course work, undertake discussions, or generally do anything. The platforms and services used will be defined by the studio, and may be a mix of individual blogs, FaceBook, a dedicated web portal, Google Apps, or new services such as Slack or Podio. We are committed to using ‘real world’ platforms as part of the learning in this studio.

We are committed to the work of the studio being public facing (online and available for others to see).

Teaching Schedule

There is no set weekly schedule for this studio. It is anticipated that the first studio each week will concentrate on readings and theoretical problems which will then be explored through the second studio. The direction that the studio takes in relation to readings, problems, and work undertaken will emerge from the ‘matters of concern’ that arise in the classes. These concerns aren’t known in advance.

Assessment Criteria/Learning Outcomes

Students will be assessed according to the Learning Outcomes of the Media Course they are enrolled in:

COMM2626 Media 3
Discuss and apply relevant theories and frameworks in order to demonstrate media literacies
Investigate, design and produce media at an intermediate level
Work collaboratively at an intermediate level
Reflect on and evaluate your own and other’s creative process to improve outcomes

COMM2628 Media 5
Independently situate your practice in relation to appropriate disciplinary theories and frameworks
Research, design and produce media at an advanced level
Work collaboratively at an advanced level
Analyze your own and other’s creative process at an advanced level and critically evaluate and act on feedback provided

These learning outcomes will be assessed in relation to specific pieces of assessment. Individual project briefs for the studio may assess one OR several of the learning outcomes. Project briefs will clearly indicate which course learning outcome is being assessed.

Project Briefs

Project One: An Exploded Map of A Media Thing
Due: presented in class, week 2.
Description: This is a prototyping task. Select any thing (where a thing can be any object, idea, artefact, tool, event) that is clearly and unambiguously a media thing. Draw a map showing all the parts/things/units that make up, influence, include, effect, participate in, are influenced by, this media thing. Colour and labels are essential.
Form: The completed artefact is to be at least large enough to require a sheet of butchers paper. It will be a flow chart drawing of all the parts that you have found, thought, think, make up the media thing you are documenting.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 4

Project Two: An Exploded Media Map of a Media Thing
15% of overall result
Due: presented in class, week 4.
Description: This project requires you to develop the map you prototyped in project one, refining and ‘thickening’ it. The new map is to distinguish human, technical, nonhuman physical and nonhuman nonphysical actors.
Form: Poster, that includes images, labels, arrows and so on. Can be done by hand, printed, or not. Can be presented electronically.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 2, 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 2, 4

Project Three: A List of 100 Concerns from the Point of View of….
25% of overall result
Due: presented in class, week 7.
Description: This project will be done in pairs. Describe a statement or question that will become a proposition that is the ‘point of view’ of the project. This statement may include a ‘productive constraint’. The point of view must be from a thing. This proposition is to be realised by creating 100 brief video or audio clips that express this point of view (aka ‘a matter of concern’).
Form: A Flickr album or any similar platform that allows them to be presented as an array of 100 images/videos.
Submission: presented in class
Learning Outcomes Media three: 1, 2, 3
Learning Outcomes Media five: 1, 2, 3

Project Four: A Poetic Listing of Concerns from the Point of View of…
40% of overall result
Due: Week 13, work is published online and url emailed to Adrian Miles
Description: This project is to be done in pairs.
Using media from Project Three develop a multilinear, poetic video documentary (an interactive documentary) that becomes a description of the thing that the point of view is of. The media from Project Three can be edited, remixed, reshot, etc.

“Let’s adopt ontography as a name for a general inscriptive strategy, one that uncovers the repleteness of units and their interobjectivity. From the perspective of metaphysics, ontography involves the revelation of object relationships without necessarily offering clarification or description of any kind.” (Alien Phenomenology, p. 38).

discuss one of:

  1. how does your film reveal ‘object relationships’ and the ‘repleteness of units’?
  2. how has using lists and other non–story strategies let your documentary engage the world? (Does it engage with the world?)
  3. how does your documentary show how ‘replete’ things are?
  4. what sort of difference has not using a story made to how your documentary discusses something in the world?
  5. how and in what way (is?), your interactive ontograph a documentary? Why? How?
    Submission: to be confirmed

Learning Outcomes Media three: 1, 2, 3, 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 1, 2, 3, 4

20% of overall result
Due: Week 13, if electronic email url to Adrian Miles, if hard copy then hand in via Building 9, Level 4 submission box.
Description: Using the studio experience graph (this will be made in the final week of the studio) write an essay of up to 1000 words that selects the ‘critical moments’ or ‘critical events’ that signify important moments of your studio journey. This essay should provide a narrative of your semester. It can be chronological (ie, time-based narrative), highlighting positive or negative things that happened, or it can be thematic that coalesce insights, inspirations and changes in your understanding that took place. It is expected to use evidence from the informal documentation you have made through the semester. The submission must include your studio experience graph.
Learning Outcomes Media three: 4
Learning Outcomes Media five: 4

Reading Cloud

Bill Nichol’s Documentary Nodes

Wikipedia introduction to Oulipo

Wikipedia on Fluxus

Fluxus on fluxus

MOMA on fluxus

Tim Morton’s OOO for beginners

studio blog

i-docs (UK)

Adrian Miles’ blog

Korsakow Manual

Camera Stylo Conference

Amazing looking conference coming up shortly at the University of Sydney that I’ve completely missed! Camera-Stylo: intersections in literaure and cinema. Obviously channeling Astruc’s seminal essay, this is one I would’ve tried hard to get to if it hadn’t managed to slip past me so comprehensively! Great line up, topic, and possibilties.

Stories are Broken

Preliminary abstract for a new paper.

Interactive documentary finds itself caught, theoretically, by the narratological assumptions that underwrites much cinema and documentary studies. These theories rely, implicitly or explicitly, on the presence of a story that audiences are required to interpret or understand in some way. Theoretically we have sophisticated ways to account for the actions of audiences on documentaries, documentaries on audiences, and the relation of documentaries to the world, yet in most instances we do this through the gestalt of story. However, stories as a theoretical model by which to understand interactive documentary are problematic in two ways.
The first is that documentaries are, while obviously complex and sophisticated language machines, resolutely linear, sequential and reliant on linear cause and effect. This is not surprising given that film and video is an insistent time based and sequential medium. In spite of our celebration of ambiguity and complexity stories struggle to account for, describe, or perform the simple complexity of, well, anything, because of their inherent necessity to be linear, sequential and ordered.

This is not how the world is.

For now we find ourselves wondering whether we are in the new geological age of the anthropocene, facing unprecedented environmental change, population migration, and sociopolitical transformation from north to south and east to west. Combined with a twenty first century media ecology that has long departed the command and control model of industrial media manufacture and distribution, we can ask whether stories, in the pragmatic way we use the concept critically, is adequate.

The second is that new media, as a technical form, is not, like film and video before it, linear and sequential. This would suggest that it is a form that is ill suited to storytelling (whether fiction or nonfiction), and while as a species we find it easy to tell stories about anything (an epistemological practice) this is a very different claim to then thinking that everything is a story (an ontological claim).

By beginning from the narratological assumptions that underwrite much cinema and documentary discourse interactive documentary theory risks misreading what interactive documentary is, and can do, by looking past the specificity of the computer and network through its colonisation by narrative.

In this paper I explore this proposition relying on case studies of digital nonfiction works using recent materialist media theory. I revisit interactive documentary to describe what digital media is, and does, and on that basis argue that narrative is not a key trope or method to investigate interactive documentary. Narrative is at best a handmaid to interactive documentary, and so begs the question of what interactive documentary is for, if not story.


Bogost, Ian. Alien Phenomenology, or What It’s Like to Be a Thing. Minneapolis: University Press of Minnesota, 2012.

Dovey, Jon, and Mandy Rose. “We’re Happy and We Know It: Documentary, Data, Montage.” Studies in Documentary Film 6.2 (2012): 159–173.

Gaudenzi, Sandra. “The Interactive Documentary as a Living Documentary.” Doc On-Line 14 (2013).

Nash, Kate, Craig Hight, and Catherine Summerhayes, eds. New Documentary Ecologies Emerging Platforms, Practices and Discourses. Palgrave Macmillan, 2014.

Parikka, Jussi. “Operative Media Archaeology: Wolfgang Ernst’s Materialist Media Diagrammatics.” Theory, Culture & Society 28.5 (2011): 52–74.

Parikka, Jussi. The Anthrobscene. Univ Of Minnesota Press, 2014.

Parikka, Jussi. What Is Media Archaeology. Cambridge, UK; Malden, MA: Polity, 2012.

Korsakow Workshop

This is a gallery of the slides used in today’s Korsakow workshop. They suffer without the context of the conversation, but some who are familiar with Korsakow may find them useful, provocative, or promptful. The discussions that developed were very productive.


It’s been a busy two days, as the relative torrent of Instagram pics here shows. Yesterday was our interactive documentary symposium, supported by the doco node of the nonfictionLab. Well attended (that’s code for around 25 people in the audience all day), with some great material presented. More importantly (I reckon) it triggered some sharp debate and commentary, particularly questioning the role of narrative and story within interactive documentary.

Today we continued, with a cadre of six collectively writing abstracts for upcoming conferences, critiquing our presentations from yesterday, and doing some sketch like exercises to develop informal content to sit alongside the more formal content of an anthology we’re slowly writing (that I’m in the process of editing). Was a productive, draining day. And one of those days that sparks lots of ideas, possibilities and energy. We need those. Murmurs of a symposium or anthology or yet-to-be-thought event in the future around nonstory, or nonnarrative and documentary. Nice topic that.

Tomorrow it is an introductory Korsakow workshop. After the symposium there was quite a bit of new interest in the workshop, so tomorrow is another day, but there’s every chance of more participants than computers. Right now though I’m catching up a bit on the rest of the day job. Email. Bit of a sink hole isn’t it?

Slide Four

An extract from the talk on Ambience, Affect, Autodocumentary I’m contributing to Monday’s interactive documentary symposium.


In relation to interactive media I think Deleuze’s cinema philosophy is the most elegant account of interactivity available. In its simplest model we can understand that in an interactive documentary there is an interface that requires a user to make a decision. This decision must be realised via a motor action. I notice, decide, and do — perception, affect, and action.
Affect is far and away the most interesting part of this for interactive documentary for two reasons.

The first is that the sensory motor schema offers a productive way to think about contemporary media platforms as sites and practices of affect that document, record, list, and notice, and in this documenting, recording, listing and noticing enlarge, slow down, otherwise interrupt, what could be misjudged as the mere instantaneous action and reaction of Twitter, Instagram or Vine. A sort of digital avatar of Tom Gunning’s “cinema of attraction”.

Secondly, by defining interactivity in interactive documentary as based upon affect and as a zone of indetermination we have a framework that situates interactive documentary differently in relation to narrative. For affect is the suspension of closure and even narrative coherence so beloved of Aristotlean conceptions of what a story is. Indeed, I’d go so far as to argue that the reliance upon narrative in interactive documentary is one of the principal ways in which the uncertainty of affect, this interval and indeterminancy, is colonised and accounted for by older paradigms of documentary theory. (I think once critical work writing about specific works catches up to practice we will find quite quickly that the theoretical anxiety about the need for narrative will be seen as vacuous.) In other words once we conceptualise interactivity in general as a sensory motor schema then the user is the locus of affect as where this indeterminacy is realised. There is nothing in this idea that requires narrative as its answer, to the extent that what we might recognise as classical narrative evacuates affect into simple cause and effect rhythms.

Seven Small Propositions that Fall, Autumnally, Upon Interactive Documentary

A proposal being submitted to a symposium in Canberra (I have to admit to admiring my own “Hillybilly media” line….):

The burgeoning theoretical and practical fields of interactive documentary take as their ‘matters of concern’ (to borrow a curiously evocative phrase of Latour’s), the distance and difference between interactive documentary and traditional film and documentary theory and practice. However, if we begin from a position within new media studies (as the study of new media and a new way of doing media studies) then different matters of concern arise. These new concerns are less worried about domesticating interactive documentary into existing paradigms than, a bit like the European discovery of the platypus, understanding that some paradigms need to change. As a contribution to these matters of concern there are seven minor propositions that signal what is specific, and different, to interactive documentary on the computer. These will be briefly described in the presentation.

Multilinear media is a recursive media. This means its deep narrative structures are not Boolean branching trees but complex loops involving repetition and return.

In linear media we know where we have been, but not what is next. Hermeneutic interpretation is grounded in what was. Interactive documentary can show me where and what I can do next, so interpretation is related to the question of how now, or here, is related to there. Interpretation now happens ahead of the work.

Not because of a faux virtuality. It is my computer screen, and my attention. I have not voluntarily surrendered this by following a link. If you do not respect my screen and time, I won’t respect your desire to monopolise it.

As David Shields wrote in Reality Hunger. If we are serious about posthumanism and the new materialism then we need to recognise that stories are the deepest anthropomorphic cult we have. What other forms do we have, already, that do interactive documentary? What forms might be invented?

If pieces are small, reusable, and able to be linked or interconnected, then, like any basic Lego kit what matters is not the house or field or car or pool that we make, but that we can make all of them. This is a media of unfixed, or if you like, promiscuous, relations. Hillbilly media.

The Web (and then blogs), show what happens when we let relations happen inside the medium itself. For most video online interactivity is outside of the box. It is buttons, menus, scripts that surround video. What might happen if video and its relations became as granular as the HREF attribute?

Interactive Documentary Aesthetics

This is the abstract for a panel being proposed for Visible Evidence in Toronto this year. Panellists are myself, Bettina Frankham, Ersan Ocak, Fabiola Hanna, Karelle Arsenault:

There has been much recent innovative scholarship that has begun the work of defining, and critiquing, what is variously known as interactive documentary, i-doc, open documentary, webdoc, or digital documentary. In this field the ‘documentary’ half of the term interactive documentary appears well understood, relying on existing cinematic definitions of the term. ‘Interactivity’, on the other hand, is an adjective that is less well understood within this scholarship, being used in ways that wander between a word that seems to stand in for ‘internet’ or ‘digital’, something that designates a technical system that allows choices within multilinear narratives, through to a concentration on the ways in which interactivity reshape documentary form or audience experience. This panel contributes to this research by concentrating specifically on the interactive part of interactive documentary. It will offer four different views from researchers considering interactive documentary, each investigating a particular idea of what interactivity is, and how this affects what documentary becomes.

The panel includes work that considers interactive documentary from the point of view performative play, how interactivity contributes to cultural agency, the aesthetics of interactivity and documentary rhetoric, and the ways interactivity troubles existing theoretical assumptions . Each panellist will make a 5 minute presentation that follows a common structure (what their view/theory/point is, why this is significant to interactive documentary, what the implications are of this), and panellists will then, with the audience, discuss, critique, and expand on these ideas.

The aim of this panel is not to represent or argue for a single methodology or approach for interactivity, but rather to thicken and make denser the ways in which interactivity can be theorised, considered, and applied within interactive documentary. It is less concerned with taxonomies of interactive documentaries than on what interactivity does in relation to documentary.

Canberra Factual Storytelling Symposium

NEW FACTUAL STORYTELLING – Emerging forms of nonfiction in film and interactive media

Symposium and Screenings

University of Canberra, Friday April 10, 2015

An interdisciplinary one-day symposium and screenings about new forms of factual storytelling.

Deadline For Proposals: February 22, 2014.

UC DocLab at the Centre for Creative and Cultural Research is delighted to host a one-day interdisciplinary symposium on New Factual Storytelling. The symposium is particularly focused on emerging nonfiction media forms that expand the repertoire of practice and broaden our theoretical understandings of innovative uses of interactivity, locative and mobile technologies, multi-screen storytelling, mobile reality storytelling, participatory documentary storytelling, and ‘beyond the screen’ factual storytelling practices.

The symposium welcomes documentary and interactive media practitioners from across fields of social sciences, humanities and arts. Screening of works using interactivity and other innovative practices will complement scholarly discussions about new trends in factual storytelling. Working in panels, each panelist will have the opportunity to present a 10 minute proposition to the panel to stimulate open conversation.

Participants may later be invited to offer full paper submissions for publication in a peer-reviewed edited volume.

The Centre for Cultural and Creative Research (CCCR), University of Canberra sponsors the symposium.

Primary themes include:

  • Factual storytelling in multi-screen environments;
  • Database documentaries and narrative fragmentation;
  • Participatory documentary practices, diversity and inclusion;
  • Geo-spatial mapping and storytelling;
  • Augmented reality and ‘beyond the screen’ practices;
  • Mobile ‘reality’ stories;
  • Documentary activism, social media and community creation on- and offline;
  • User-generated and user-curated stories;
  • Embodiment and expanded cinema using factual material;
  • The body as a source of factual storytelling data, intimacy, privacy;
  • Factual storytelling through web-series;


Proposals for participation, short papers (10 minute propositions) and the screening of works should consist of a proposal statement (max 500 words), a URL if available/relevant, and brief biographic statement (max 100 words).
Submissions should be sent in electronic form to:
Symposium registration will occur in March.

Interactive Documentary Symposium

We are running a symposium on interactive documentary on Monday February 16. Several presenters. The aim is to hear some recent research and open up the floor for a lot of debate, discussion, and something else alliterative that doesn’t come to mind immediately (deliberation? disagreement?). Details on the nonfictionLab site.