The Importance of Physical Place in the Vlogosphere

Patricia G. Lange, University of Southern California
plange@usc.edu
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Transitions, From: Missbhavens
Recently, I had the privilege of being an invited curator for the first ever video blogging festival called Pixelodeon, which was held at the American Film Institute on June 9-10, 2007. Pixelodeon is an independent video festival organized to showcase the innovative work of video bloggers and to bring together creators, technologists, and business people to expand their creative outlets and explore potential collaborations. The title of my session was called “Making the Familiar Unfamiliar: The Importance of Physical Place in the Vlogosphere.” The vlogosphere is defined as a series of loosely interconnected video web logs, or vlogs, in which people post video in addition to text or photographs to communicate, enlighten, and entertain viewers. Vlogging contains a number of genres that range from scripted shows to more personal, diary forms in which vloggers document intimate moments in their lives, such as conflict with loved ones, routine events, and surprising encounters.
As I sat down to screen the vast amounts of video to determine a theme for my session, the first thing I noticed was that many vlog titles included a place name. I was struck by titles such as: Minnesota Stories; Beach Walks with Rox; The Delicate Museum; Sustainable Route; Wandering West Michigan; Alicia in Ojai; and Echoplex Park, to name just a few. The intensity of engagement with place in these video blogs belied the prediction that by this century we would all simply exist as meat puppets whose minds would only connect in an abstract cyberspace. The video bloggers who feature place so prominently in their work demonstrate that people continue to experience an embodied sense of place in myriad, important ways. Philosophers have suggested that we are not coherent as human beings except in terms of how we exist in a place. Certainly, the strong emphasis on place in the vlogosphere underscores this profound observation.
I initially planned to screen a group of videos in which bloggers show cased interesting or extraordinary places in their work. Although “travel” vlogs, in which a video blogger documents an exotic place are popular and interesting, what struck me was how so many video bloggers often re-experienced for themselves and their audience familiar or unspectacular places in ways that rendered them strange, beautiful, or destabilizing. In so doing, they showed how people experience places which are tangibly influenced by other people, objects, animals, temperature, light, sound, movement, and other material dimensions. For instance, we’ve all been in an elevator, but what happens when people become trapped inside? In the video Happy Birthday to Me!, two people become frightened when an elevator stops. This unexpected circumstance forced them to consciously experience the elevator as a physical place with dimensions and characteristics that they may not ordinarily observe on a conscious level. Nevertheless the characteristics of the elevator influenced their experience of it as a place.
Instead of seeing an elevator as only a liminal zone that takes people from one place to another, this video blogger helped us to understand that we experience elevators as places in embodied ways with specific expectations about their use and parameters. A number of other videos such as LA Video Cruise, Transitions, and What is Can Shift, also showed how vehicles such as boats and buses, and transport centers such as airports and bus terminals are also distinct places with specific characteristics and unpredictable influences from people and objects that inhabit or travel through them. Although we may think of such transportation centers and vehicles simply as facilitators that move us from one place to another, they are actually places with emotional connotations and regulation of bodies that differ in distinct ways from other places.
The range of video blogs facilitated the investigation of several contrasts, some obvious and some more subtle. Among the obvious contrasts included explorations of small places versus larger city scapes, and so-called natural versus built places. The session also explored a range of emotions and reactions to places, from the frightening to the joyous and many uncertain points in between. A more subtle contrast involved how video bloggers chose to make a familiar place seem unfamiliar. Sometimes video bloggers used straightforward or raw footage to make a familiar place seem odd or wondrous. In the case of Rodents Are With Us, the video blogger needed only to show a few images of rat feces smeared in her closet to illustrate how an intimate space in one’s own home becomes quite frightening.
By viewing these videos, we begin to understand how our feeling-tones for a place are very much influenced by other living things that compete with us to inhabit a place. Similarly, the hallway of an ordinary apartment building took on the feeling of a horror film in the video entitled That b$%@# is crazy! In this video, raw footage set at an off-balancing camera angle included the unsettling and piercing screams of a next door neighbor, once again showing that people influence our perception of and emotional response to place. In contrast, other video blogs such as Bug Mountain used artifice and manipulation of the image through techniques such as colorization or special effects that transform an ordinary walk in the park into something unusual and visually stimulating. We do not always realize how places and the elements within them essentially become characters in our cinematic lives.


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Bug Mountain, From: Reasonable Illusions/Shannon Noble
The session also included a number of playful videos that also emphasized physical and existential limitations and experience of place. For instance, the videos We Will Fly and How to Hide in Plain Sight, simultaneously show us our physical limitations while enabling fantasies of human flight or invisibility within a place. In the latter film, for example, an ordinary kitchen becomes the site of a stealth warrior training camp in which a person can literally become invisible to another person in the kitchen. A woman stands innocently drinking coffee, yet she seems to glance in an intruder’s direction, perhaps even preternaturally sensing something while seeing nothing. The video blogging genre is well-suited to show both real and fantastic representations of how people, objects, and subtle characteristics influence an experience of place. They provide a window with which we may fantasize what it might be like to overcome those limitations and exist in extraordinary ways within ordinary places.
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Joey & Hiroko: Lesson 27: How to Hide in Plain Sight, From: g14 productions
Perhaps one of the most poignant statements came from the video Tom Bender, in which Bender is interviewed about his philosophy and personal vision of architecture. I was struck by how he turned the ordinary equation of architects building for others to encouraging people to consider what they could give back to a place they inhabit, and thus create a more sustainable, symbiotic existence between people and places. The relationship between a place and the people who occupy it are also shown in the video Teh Hat Factory (sic), which depicts video bloggers and technologists as they create a personalized, physical work space. Their project is a touching testament to the fact that despite the video bloggers’ enjoyment of and extensive participation on the Internet, they nevertheless value a shared work space in which they can physically come together to exchange ideas or simply co-exist in a place that is especially crafted for them.
I thank these video bloggers for contributing such a fascinating set of videos. Their work helped shape a stimulating session that yielded intense discussions and self-reflection among video bloggers who were present at the screening. The discussion prompted some video bloggers to consider how place figured in their work and how it influenced their world view. By re-experiencing familiar places and sharing their perspective, these video bloggers helped contribute to a larger understanding of the intense relationship between human identity and material place in the physical world.
The session will be posted in its entirety on the Pixelodeon site in the forthcoming weeks. In the meantime, the individual video blogs are listed below in the order in which they were screened.

Video blog name/ Video blogger Name and Link to video
Alicia in Ojai / Alicia Shay »
November at Rincon
Reasonable Illusions / Shannon Noble »Bug
Mountain
Ashley Hodson & Megan McLaughlin
Tom Bender
»Sustainable
Route
Schlomo Rabinowitz
Echoplex Park (schlomolog.blogspot.com)
»Teh
Hat Factory
Headsoff / Serra Shiflett »Hot,
Cold
Scratch Video / Charlene Rule »Rodents
are with Us
Emily Sweeney’s Video Blog / Emily Sweeney »My
Trip to City Hall.
Coleman Griffith »L.A.
Video Cruise
Missbhavens / Bekah Havens »Transitions
Noodlescar / Vu Bui, Lan Bui and Bonnie Bui »Ontario
CA-NADA
11. Minnesota Stories / Matt Johnson »New
Neighborhood House
12. Beach Walks with Rox / Roxanne Darling »Beach
Walk #388 OTR – What Is, Can Shift
13. What We Found / Cheryl Colan »Table
Mesa Road
14. The Delicate Museum / Duncan Speakman »What
everyone else was talking about
15. Missbhavens / Bekah Havens »That
b$%@# is crazy!
Zip Zap Zop / Clark Saturn »Brooklyn
Bridge Jazz
Schmlog / Karina Hill »Happy
Birthday to Me!
Hello? / Mica Scalin »Fallingwater
90 Seconds of Dave / David Huth »We
Will Fly
g14Productions / Matthew Balthrop et al. »Joey
& Hiroko: Lesson 27: How to Hide in Plain Sight
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3 Responses to The Importance of Physical Place in the Vlogosphere

  1. jay dedman July 17, 2007 at 10:48 am #

    thanks for writing up this explainer.
    we need more discussion like this about the kinds of videos out there. I think videoblogs need their ow n form of critique.

  2. Nathan Miller July 20, 2007 at 12:15 am #

    This was a great essay. I have been thinking about what you have wrote over the last two years. I am so happy to find this essay, as it honestly converts my thoughts into words. As you mentioned the travel vlog is interesting, and I totally agree…I have done a handful of travel vlogs, yet I know my viewers almost come back to the bits and pieces of Japan I present over at my site. It seems I have taken an already interesting place and sometimes made it my own, or sometimes altered the original air and told an entirely different story that only I was capable of doing. After living in Japan for 8 years I am just now beginning to feel this place is my home…digging deep and finding the moments you mentioned in your essay takes more than just pointing a camera and encoding the footage for internet upload, to me it takes a person who is grounded and ready and his been dying to tell the world there is a story in sidewalks and afternoons at the park…

  3. Rox of beachwalks.tv July 28, 2007 at 1:03 am #

    Dear Patricia,
    Please thank your colleague who suggested writing this up. What you have helped us discover really is that the “magic in the moment” (to which Nathan refers) is often anchored by where the moment occurs; the place infuses the moment with its own energy. For those of us who care to “reverse engineer” things, it also means that starting with place is a way to let new ideas birth!
    Aloha, Rox

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