Bri Manning

Photo, Video, the Venice Pier, and Storytelling

January 15, 2014

I went for a run near my apartment recently down along Venice Beach and out onto the Venice Pier. Many people know the Santa Monica Pier, with it’s roller coaster, Ferris wheel, restaurants, and shops, but the Venice Pier is far more understated. It’s a concrete pier that juts out from the beach and has nothing on it besides some benches.

It got me thinking about how they’re both very different backdrops and experiences for people looking for very different things. One is bustling and exciting, while the other is calm and serene. How you would experience the two of them is quite different.

Venice Pier

I took these panorama pictures thinking that I could stitch them together somehow to give a cool, somewhat immersive experience. The unfortunate thing is that as I thought about it more and more, there was no real way to portray that experience accurately with panorama pictures. Pictures don’t capture the sounds or movement, obviously, and there isn’t much besides overt photoshop or photo retouching and filtering that you can do to enhance the photo. Not to undervalue those two things, they both can be magic in their own right.

Video is an interesting medium. A creator is much more able to both create a story as well as lie. Cutting out the boring parts makes it seem more exciting or a nicer experience than it may have been, or that it took multiple takes to get it right, or music makes the viewer feel things without even realizing that it’s the music that’s doing it. The well-known creative framing used in Lord of the Rings causes people to appear as totally different sizes from real life. All of these changes enhance the story portrayed in a video, but don’t capture the true experience necessarily.

Venice Pier

It really is just a map problem. The issue with maps is that they’re portraying a 3d reality on a 2d surface, something that makes accuracy suffer in one way or another. The common world map used in the US makes the US seem large, the Southern Hemisphere seem small and gives the very false sense that Greenland is the size of Africa. The accuracy, in terms of proportions and layout, is mostly on the mid-northern Atlantic region, with the inaccuracies downplaying the areas of the world that we, as average Americans, know less about and conflict with our US-centric worldview.

For photo and video, we’re taking a multi-sense experience and making it a 2d visual (and auditory in the case of video) experience that cannot accurately portrait reality. Here, we’ve managed to take the inaccuracies and used them to evoke certain emotions about the experience themselves – more fun, more exciting, more depressing, more lonesome. All of which aren’t an accurate portrayal of reality.

But storytelling was never about accuracy.

Venice Pier

If Paul Bunyan and Babe had been normal-sized, the story wouldn’t be that much fun. If James Bond was the drunk he should’ve been with all those martinis, he would really not be very cool or suave. If Picasso had painted regular portraits, he likely wouldn’t be a name known to much of the world.

Where do we fall in most media? Storytelling or reality? What’s a more enjoyable and immersive experience that also portrays the entirety of a given experience?

How can I take my panorama pictures and show a friend or family member how beautiful that exhausted, mid-run moment on the pier really was, with it’s calming quiet and gentle waves while knowing I still had a few miles to run home?

I don’t think I can.