“One in 8 million”: Audio/Visual Storytelling

New York Times’s multimedia series One in 8 million through hearing and seeing makes effective audio documentary.

The series portrays everyday New Yorkers and what’s best about it  is that you can hear people telling their stories in their own words. The concept is similar to the one of Humans of New York, but the audio component makes it more compelling. This is not about breaking news but it is rather a documentary that depicts people who are living here and their unique life stories and struggles.

The audio is the most important thing in this piece. It is clear and soft. The music is subtle and appropriate. Also, it is just long enough, from 2 to 3 minutes, and it tells us something that is surprising or unique to a particular person. For example, I’ve met Freda Degannes who is a “walking miracle”. Because of the persistent pain in her belly she went to a doctor who discovered that she has blood clots all over her body. They told her that will have to perform a surgery to remove them. However, if she takes the surgery, she has 99 percent chance of dying. If she doesn’t take it, she has 99 percent chance of dying. Degannes decided to take the surgery and she survived. That is why they call her the “walking miracle”.

I’ve also learned that Melissa Dixon, former painter, is into taxidermy or the art of preparing, stuffing and mounting the skins of animals for display. She describes her job as “looking death straight in the eyes”. She thinks that what she’s doing is beautiful and creative. Dixon is also drowned to foxes and wolfs because they are so furry and she doesn’t have to worry about hiding the stitches.

Henrique Prince is a self-taught violinist that leads the Ebony Hillbillies, a quartet that plays the Times Square subway station. Prince helps people to “forget themselves for a moment”. They dance to his music with people they don’t even know.

There is a clear relationship between what is being said and what is being done in this piece. Pictures re-enforce what people are saying. Each photo appears on the screen no more that 10 seconds. The only remark that I have is that the pictures are all black-and-white. In my opinion, pictures in color are more revealing and more interesting. Here, the focus is clearly on the audio aspect.

Henrique Prince, a self-taught violinist who leads the Ebony Hillbillies, a quartet that plays at the Times Square subway station.
Henrique Prince, a self-taught violinist who leads the Ebony Hillbillies, a quartet that plays at the Times Square subway station.
Freda Degannes, the "walking miracle."
Freda Degannes, the “walking miracle.”
Melissa Dixon, the "urban taxidermist".
Melissa Dixon, the “urban taxidermist”.

Todd Heisler, New York Times staff photographer, said that this piece is “an attempt to build a bit of community and make a rather vast place seems a bit smaller and more human”. And I completely agree with him. This audio documentary has all the elements of a good storytelling and one additional one, and that is that people are telling their stories in their own words.

 

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