The Tate Modern and some accidental inspiration: visual storytelling

A few weeks back, I made an impromptu visit to the Tate Modern in London. It was a pre-Christmas trip and nothing at all to do with my MA in Online Journalism. But…

This picture, or should I say artwork, made me start thinking about Instagram. That’ll be the squares, although technically speaking, I think these are rectangles. The artist, Ellsworth Kelly (1923 to 2015) created this in 1952, entitled it Mediterranimg_4281ee and was about experimenting with colour and overlapping (what’s hard to see from the image is that some of those blocks of colour are raised slightly, they’re not all flat). Anyway, I continued around the Tate Modern with a different viewpoint after seeing this.

Let me explain… while working on my Instagram pilot I’ve been doing lots of research, about composition, photography, short form video etc… and the Tate Modern made me think specifically about presentation, or visual storytelling if you want a more online journalism-y phrase. I’m not a massive fan of art, in all honesty, but what the Tate showed me is that a sometimes average set of photographs can be made to look exceptional by the way they’re presented. And this is very much the case for Instagram – the apps, filters and cropping tools now available to us can help us turn an average photo into a good one. And the very nature of Instagram and its predominantly square photos show it’s a great presentational tool in its own right, Instagram offers a basic set of tools to help you display your photos and videos in the best way.

The images below, for example, are essentially repeats of a single image – what makes this interesting is the presentation on a stark white background, and the way they’re positioned.

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Adding movement

I really loved the media section of the gallery, for obvious reasons, but some of the things I saw resonated with my MA, like this quote from @SamAMcGuire about the images you share, how you see them, and what influencers helped shape that view.

Simg_4289am’s quote is captured (right) as a still image but it was just one in a series of quotes displayed as videos which gave much more impact… it would have been easy to glance at a quote wall and walk on by but with the text rolling in as part of a video wall it meant people were stopping, watching and therefore reading. And apologies for the wobbliness of this video – I was conscious I needed to capture something quickly before another gallery visitor walked into my shot.

This is definitely something that I think works really well with video content that doesn’t necessarily start out life as a video – adding movement can sometimes turn the average into something much more engaging and I’ve been experimenting with this on Instagram too, using tools like Hyperlapse, Boomerang and Spark Post to create gifs.

Examples I’ve used as part of my Instagram project include turning festive study images into a gif, turning a queue of PhD induction students into a hyperlapse video, creating movement on a static Halloween pumpkin image by turning it into a gif and, of course, we jumped on the mannequin challenge and creating videos featuring people who don’t move. This is also something used as part of a campaign we ran on Twitter – creating a simple video with rolling text using the Spark Post app to create individual slides and then editing them together using iMovie, all done on an iPhone 6. Simples.

Visualising the story

In short, this trip to the Tate reminded me that video can be used in some really clever and less obvious ways and contributes to the “renegotiating what is conventional and normal in the everyday practices of journalism” as stated by Mattheson (2004). And that presentational skills (visual storytelling) can enhance stories – something that’s all the more important in the digital age and is amplified by mojo (mobile journalism) expert Robb Montgomery in this interview.

Below are a couple of my Tate videos… firstly, TVs playing old movies and news clips which were positioned on the floor. This wouldn’t have worked as an image because you need to see the movement to understand what this artefact is.

Secondly, is a robot thingy (forgive me for my lack of artistic appreciation, I take in the work I like but confess to not reading the who and why information at the side of each one.) This would have worked as an image because it looks cool but the lights are the moving element of this video and it’s a shame not to waste them. There are periods of no flashing lights on this robot so I used the Boomerang app to create a repeating motion. Unlike a traditional gif, which replays a video start to finish, start to finish, start to finish, the Boomerang app plays a video start to finish then plays it finish to start before going back to start to finish, kind of like a rewinding video.

Now, the image below should also have been a video… not because there are moving elements necessarily, but because of the audio. This ‘tower’ for want of a better word is made up of radios and mobile phones and is quite noisy – this image doesn’t capture the sound which is what makes this piece stand out above its size.

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