By Kat Stevenson, Oakland University
The process of creating these three different stories was significantly more organic than I originally anticipated.
I have experience in creating video content and websites, but primarily as part of a much larger story — often, an organization’s brand — and not personal content. When I originally conceived of this project, I had a different vision of what I would explore; specifically, I wanted to focus on my husband’s family and their history and relationship with food as the descendants of enslaved African Americans.
In my first story, which explores Grandmother Taylor’s life and a soup recipe that was handed down from generations, I was focused on this. But as I was working on the video, I began to weave in the context of my own personal experiences; without it, there was more of a documentary-like feel to the video story. While that was interesting in and of itself, adding my own personal connection or perspective gave the story more weight. One of the works that influenced this evolution was the story Shift by Eliza Chandler; it shaped the change in my storytelling perspective, and I believe it helped me tell a stronger story.
As we moved into the audio portion of the project, I had the most to gain in terms of actual technical and software skills. While I have produced over a thousand videos for clients during my career, I have never focused on audio. Not only did it take time for me to learn the ins-and-outs of the software and equipment that I used, but I also had to gain insight on audio storytelling from a more personal place.
During the filming of the video story, I had collected some basic interview content from my in-laws, but I needed to add another element — an interview with my brother — to give the story a different twist. My original intention was to simply document food and family as it is represented within my husband’s family, but listening to these podcasts inspired me to go deeper, more personal. The end result is actually my favorite element of this project, which I’m really proud of as it’s something I’ve never done before and I think it captures an interesting story.
As the focus and inspiration shifted throughout the project, the original idea I had for my third story had to be tabled, as it no longer played a cohesive part in the overall story.
I had wanted to explore how food was used as medicine by those who didn’t have access to the medical community — either because they were enslaved or lived in the Jim Crow South — but that didn’t make sense as part of the new narrative I was constructing. So I instead chose to explore how travel has influenced the development of my personal culinary skills as an adult. The technology I used for that, Esri’s Classic Story Maps, did take some time to get used to, but once I hit my stride, I actually ended up creating too much content. There was too much repetition, so I had to edit it heavily, refining it so that it felt more streamlined and functioned as a standalone aspect of the three-story perspective.
My background in producing video and web content gave me a bit of an edge when I began working on those projects, but I learned quite a bit about both mediums during the production process. For the video, I hadn’t used layered narration, stills, and video before, so it was great to play around with that. For the interactive story, I hadn’t used something that blends both linear and relational content together, which taught me a new way of presenting ideas and information that I will definitely use in the future.
All of the projects that we worked on built on each other, and I felt that common thread from one project to the other helped me see the story from different perspectives. What worked well in the video couldn’t be communicated in the same way in the audio story; additionally, how could I make the experience different and uniquely separate from the video and audio stories when I went on to create the interactive story? All of these considerations gave me an arena within which I was able to experiment, and that was probably the most valuable aspect of this project overall.
I think that understanding how to connect with the viewer, listener, or reader changes depending on the format used. What might work well in one medium may feel heavy-handed in another. For the video story, it was a pretty serious subject, and so I chose imagery and audio that underscored the history and experiences of my husband’s family. For the audio story, it was more exploratory and inspirational, so I chose sound and music that were meant to convey a bit more of an inquisitive feel. My interactive story tracked my travels and I paired them with both original and stock photos, which I hope touches on both the ethos and the pathos of my personal experience.
Throughout this journey, I grew as both a storyteller and a digital artist, because I had the opportunity to mine personal experiences and share them in a new way. The constructs of video, audio, and web-based stories provided effective rails onto which I was able to build new methods of self-expression, and it enabled me to learn new technical skills — and more about myself — in the process.