"79.68 Miles" Self Portrait Video

January, 2016

This is a self-portrait video assignment for the "Creative Technologies Studio" module of my BA (Hons) Digital Media Arts degree at the University of Surrey. Here we were told to create a 4-5 minute self-portrait video following ideas, techniques and styles from other media artworks. My piece is based on music videos & short films. It follows me on a journey from a rural Suffolk village to the heart of London, which is representational of my teenage years growing up in the countryside and craving something more.

Artist Statement

Framlingham, a small market town in the heart of the Suffolk countryside, is where I’ve spent the last 12 years of my life. Whilst it can be appreciated as a naturally beautiful area, it’s simply unsuitable for a man like myself. I’ve spent the majority of my teenage years wanting something more.

This piece, titled “79.68 Miles”, follows me on a journey from the rural countryside of Suffolk to the iconic heart of central London in order to tell a story of how I’ve moved on to bigger things and the efforts I put in to achieving this. Not only is there the story of moving on to a bigger and more exciting location, but also a bigger underlying story in which I achieve my goals and I prove my capabilities. Coated in teenage angst, this is an abstract coming-of-age story.

The title of this work was chosen based on the exact distance as-the-crow-flies from the starting location, my home in Suffolk, to my destination, Trafalgar Square.

This story is told via the use of both first and third person camerawork, with the former being achieved by attaching a GoPro action camera to my forehead, just above my eyes, in order to replicate my vision, and symbolically convey my perspective on the story. Third person footage is used to provide a mix of everything from extreme wide shots to close up shots, in order to give viewers a better idea of what’s going on and to develop the viewer’s rapport with the subject of the story. It’s worth noting that I made the choice to include more long distance shots in the first part of the video, in order to show how small I am compared to the “nothingness” of Suffolk, and how I just blend in. As the story develops I feel more comfortable in myself, and use more close up shots to make myself appear bigger and more empowered.

As well as a use of different shot types, I’ve also used multiple modes of transport, namely walking, cycling, driving and a train, in order to show the progression on my journey. Each mode of transport represents a different stage of my teenage years as I gained freedom to go further and further afield at a faster pace. The speed of my journey peaks during the motorway driving scenes. Here I travel a long distance in a short amount of time, which is symbolic of how much I achieved through my college years before coming to university, which enabled me to get this far. Though it is displayed as a journey which took part of a day, this is actually representing a journey that has taken the best chunk of my life thus far.

By fully engaging the audience through a mix of first and third-person camera work, I believe tension begins to build as they continuously question “where is he going?”.

Alongside the video, is a soundscape made up of separately recorded ambient noises. The noises used relate heavily to this ongoing idea of travel – with walking, cycling and car noises being easily identified. The piece starts off silently, to signify the suffocating silence of the countryside. Gradually, not only does the volume rise, but there are also multiple audio tracks laid over each other as I get closer to the centre of London, which represents my happiness improving with new and exciting opportunities available to me. I’ve made sure to use the iconic sounds of Big Ben towards the end. Whilst the audio at the beginning is fragmented, the separate audio tracks of the city flow in to each other at the end to complete my piece in the same way that the city completes me. As I move from place to place there are crescendo and diminuendos in the audio. This comes from the music videos I have taken inspiration from and represents the idea that life does not flow constantly at one pace, it comes with good and bad, struggles and rewards.

As well as a range of music videos, I also took inspiration from online short films. I appreciated the ability of these formats to convey a narrative clearly and concisely in a small amount of time. It could be argued that music is a type of short film, with the difference being that music videos also act as an advert for the song (or even the artist) as discussed in ‘Music Video and the Politics of Representation’ where they are described as, “short films which feature the song they are designed to promote” (Railton & Watson, 2011). I wanted to take this notion of telling a narrative very concisely.

I decided that the most prominent themes of my narrative that I wanted to communicated were: a. the notion of traveling and b. the concept of coming-of-age and achieving goals. I researched multiple music videos around these themes to explore the styles, techniques and approaches used.

In terms of visual style, I took a huge inspiration from François Nemeta’s music videos, and particularly his video for the song ‘Lady (Hear Me Tonight)’ by ‘Modjo” (Lady (Hear Me Tonight), 2000). This video encouraged me to use the first and third person camera work and also encouraged me to explore different filming techniques for the driving scenes. The piece also helped me to break up my video into chunks, with my different modes of transport forming a majority of those chunks, as well as an introduction to the character and the conclusion in which the destination is reached.

Andrew Cumming’s “Oakwood” (Oakwood, 2015) short film, shown on BBC 3’s website, was also an influence for my work. Similar to my own, this story follows 16-year-old William’s coming-of-age struggles in a rural area. This short film features many beautiful shots of the British countryside, particularly long distance shots, and I have tried to replicate these in my own work.

Other inspirations include the video for ‘Disparate Youth’ by ‘Santigold’ (Disparate Youth, 2012), directed by Santigold and Sam Fleischner, and the video for ‘Masterpiece’ by ‘Jessie J’ (Masterpiece, 2014), directed by Tabitha Denholm, which also feature the notion of traveling and the idea of pushing yourself, or even “fighting”, for the life you want to live.

Often, a music video is used to enhance and promote the song in what is effectively an advert. It can be argued that some will, “dismiss music video as a worthless by-product of a capitalist business practise” (Railton & Watson, 2011). That’s not to say that the video is not significant - with many arguing that, “the music video has made ‘image’ more important than the experience of music itself” (Frith, et al., 1993). However, in this work I have chosen to swap this around, focusing primarily on the visual aspect of the project, as opposed to the audio. Whilst the audio plays a very important part in conveying themes and completing the work, I think it’s fair to argue that it’s primarily the visual aspect which tells the story here.

By wrapping up the bigger ideas of growing up into the smaller story of travelling from a to b, I believe the theme can be comprehended easily. I made sure to use plenty of shots which clearly showed the transition I’ve made from a muddy, natural area to the iconic heart of the capital, in order to make this obvious and easy to understand - similar to the way of telling a narrative you would find in a music video. This style is appropriate because I wanted to get across these bigger ideas in the most concise way possible, as I only had 5 minutes to convey them.

The nice thing about this piece is its representation of a young person as a passionate and self-driven character. Often in media young people are represented negatively as unintelligent troublemakers, however this story follows a young person who works hard to push himself up the ladder.

This sits nicely with the target audience of teenagers and young adults who live in rural areas. People who have grown up in an age which prioritises scientific and technological advancements, yet they’ve been stranded from these advancements in agricultural areas. I think it’s common for many of these young adults to want something more and it usually does not come until the point at which they can move to work or learn in a city.

After a long time, Internet access has finally improved in rural areas and it is the only platform these people have to access a world beyond the countryside. Therefore, a large portion of the demographic I’d like to reach with this piece are, not just using the Internet, but being constantly connected to it. That is why I think video sharing platforms on the Internet, such as YouTube or Vimeo, are the most appropriate context for my piece to be displayed in. As we move from broadcast TV to online TV, I believe music videos are also following this trend with record companies uploading videos to sites such as YouTube and Vevo. The culture of sharing to social sites on the Internet allows these music videos to reach a wider audience (and promote the song to a larger audience too). I believe the same culture could help my piece to reach a large portion of my target demographic.

To record the third-person visuals of this piece I used a Canon 6D DSLR camera. I chose the 6D in order to get beautiful, clear shots of each location. I also used the 6D for focus-pull shots which draw the audiences attention to particularly significant objects, such as the University of Surrey stag, the Elizabeth Tower (a.k.a. Big Ben) and the view of Southbank from the Golden Jubilee Bridge.

The Canon allowed me to capture smooth shots which accurately follow the action. With the first person shots recorded on the GoPro, however, I have chosen to leave the footage shaky on purpose. This further conveys the idea of a first person perspective on the story.

I captured a majority of the ambient sounds separately with a microphone and audio recorder. This allowed me to work on them in post-production to produce a clearer soundscape that could be overlaid on the video. This soundscape is continuous over many clips.

I think the audio used is the where problems lay in this work. More could be done with the audio to make it more melodic. I believe this would increase viewers interest and have more of an impact, which in turn would make the piece more memorable.

Overall, I believe this piece engages the audience by letting them question where I am going. I think the different sections of the video, where I am seen traveling on various modes of transport, allows tension to build up and indicates the idea of having to travel far to get anywhere from the countryside, but also the idea of having to work hard for what you want from life.


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