Humans learn in many different ways, craving education through both audio and visual channels. We see, feel, hear the world and each other. Along with this multitude of exploration possibilities, we add to this the variability of human existence. Every person is different: in personality, in opinions, in looks, in history. We all experience the world in diverse ways, ways that shape who we are as people. This project explores the multiplicity of humanity, even in a sphere limited to those close to the author. Despite being a diminished collection compared to our impossibly large planet, one can easily spot the range of emotions, life, and personality among those involved. The hybrid medium of Channels combines the colorful language and style of poetry with intimate, portrait-style photography.
Through this, those who approach the project become both readers and viewers, taking in the experience in two ways at once. Each person depicted told their own story, be it joyful, sorrowful, frightening, or somewhere in between, which the author “translated” into poetry. Readers and viewers can feel as they felt, sympathize (or criticize) their tales, and see the human alongside the story.
Why is it important to understand and experience the stories of others? In a world so large, but with accessible means of exploration not always possible, we face a threat of close-mindedness, of believing we are the only people who matter in this world. But in truth, there are so many stories that should be read, so many faces that should be seen. In a way, we can experience life in the shoes of another and open our hearts to the possibilities around us. Many media focused on telling the stories of others does so by laying out quotes, their words, or prose writing in the forms of memoir or biography. Channels chooses to add a different flavor to this style through poetry, thus adding a lyrical and even mysterious aspect to the stories told by the subjects. Some parts of the poetry are easy to decipher, some less so. In a way, this also leaves wiggle room for slight interpretation as, after all, even the way we see others is diverse. In this same vein, the author’s depiction of the poems, down even to diction, displays their own interpretation of the stories, as well as their own personality. Photography adds another layer to Channels by allowing viewers to see the person behind the poem. It is poetic in its own right; it is visually pleasing, sometimes brutally honest, and captures moments in time in a way that no other medium can. What we see in a photo is a forever frozen instant in the subject’s life (and the photographer’s, as well). As we scrutinize poetry, we scrutinize photography. What there is to be found in the word choice, structure, and figurative language of a poem is also to be discovered in the tiny details of a photograph in things such as lighting, composition, and color. What emotion is the subject’s face portraying? Is it just one, or a mix of several? Are they smiling or frowning, or somewhere in the middle? How is their hair done? How are they holding their head and shoulders? Their face says one thing, but what do their eyes say? Do they betray a different story within? In a photograph, colors come alive. Faces flush with pink and tan. Eyes fill with the richest of blues or the warmest of browns. Suddenly, every strand of hair is as a sweep of a paintbrush. Just as our experiences are poetic so, too, are our faces. In these ways, this medium is important to the message and purpose of this project; its faceted nature reflects that of life itself. Channels follows similar patterns as photography and poetry, but strives to make the two mesh together in a beautiful manner.
The art of using image as an aid to a story is not a new concept. The bestselling Humans of New York, a blog- and book-based project, depicts randomly-selected citizens in the street of New York City alongside a small tidbit quoted from brief interviews with them about their lives. Brandon Stanton, creator of HONY, has provided helpful and thoughtful perspective on this type of interviewing process – short and sweet. As illustrated in interviews done with Stanton, his style often lends itself to more of a conversation rather than a formal interview, while still gleaning useful information from the subjects. Questions are to the point; if Stanton wants to know something, he asks it directly, without tiptoeing around. Observing and taking note on Stanton’s style has helped tremendously in the development of Channels through both the lending of inspiration and guiding of style. The interview process was similar in nature to that of HONY, while retaining some structure to obtain the desired results. While this project draws much from Stanton’s work, it also sets itself aside with many divergences, aside from the obvious difference in written form. Its subjects are not random, but signify importance and relation to the author. They are a reflection of the diversity of our own lives. Additionally, HONY has a sort of documentary style to it, obtaining images and information and organizing them for viewers. Channels chooses to go beyond this by not only repeating a story but investigating it, analyzing the emotion and effects behind it, emphasizing with it, and turning it in to lyrical expression. Its poetic nature leaves space for readers to view those photographed not simply as caricatures (which is the risk taken with documentary style), but as deeply characterized people. Viewers and readers cannot simply read a story and pity or congratulate the person it belongs to; they must strive to understand their experience on their own, and feel what they will from it. In much the same way that writing a poem is more complex than transcribing an interview, our experiences as people are more complex than what one could take them at face value. There is much to investigate, much to explore, and many things to learn from each person.
Continuing on the subject of Channels’ style, its particular type of poetry is known as persona, named as such due to its nature of putting on a mask to tell a story from another’s point of view. Channels draws knowledge, examples, and inspiration from previous persona-based poetry, especially from those in the anthology, A Face to Meet the Faces, by Brown and de la Paz. Being a wide collection of works from multiple authors, this anthology provided rich and various poetry as diverse as its authors, and is a great source of further reading for those intrigued by persona poetry. Many of these poems served as examples for the work in Channels. "Oswald, to his Father," by Tony Trigilio, one of poems included in this anthology, provides a great display of persona poetry, getting inside the narrator's head and thoughts as they address another person and their feelings towards them. As readers, we feel as if we are climbing inside his brain. Alternatively, "Leaving Saturn," by Major Jackson, takes the introspective quality of persona poems even further, with the narrator thinking more to themselves than to another, while still providing plenty of detail, memory, and emotion for readers to consider. Channels poems are similar in style and in the way they play with narration and persona to poems like these from A Face to Meet the Faces, while still exploring the many ways this can be accomplished, done a little differently with each subject. Additionally, Rethinking Narrative Identity: Persona and Perspective has much to say about the role the narrator plays in persona poetry, most importantly being the various ways narration can work and the ability of authors to bend reality and sense as we know it. One particular section of this work focuses on the nonsensical and emotional aspects of narration, and the possibilities it can encompass. The author of this section, Eva Brunner, mentions that emotion helps to influence identity alongside narration, an idea that this project plays with; emotions displayed and inferred from the subjects are used to create a narrative all on its own, as well as to key readers into part of that person's identity. Channels draws much from this information, all of which were crucial in its development and understanding the way it should work.
There is much weight behind the choice of interview subjects within this project. They are friends, family, all loved ones, with an important role in the author’s life. In a way, this allows viewers and readers to take the smallest of peeks into the author’s own life through those they love. Each photo/poem combination is distinct and viewed separately from the others, but the faces are still grouped together, much in the same way that we have feelings independently for those in our lives, but still see the big picture among them. Every person is important and deserves a moment of focus and understanding. When we do this, we can better appreciate the folks we know and love, and expand this thoughtfulness onto others.
As for me, I have so much to credit to give to the people in my life. Some I have known since I was a little girl, running through a playground with scraped knees and buying Hot Fries with a handful of quarters. Others I have met more recently, in times of intense academic studies, sometimes painful growth, and of finding out who I am and what I mean to myself. Still others knew my name before I was born. Each are important to me in ways as multiple as they are as people. They have taught me the value of patience, loyalty, companionship, strength, weakness, and the power of empathy. They have seen me laugh, they have seen me cry. They each carry a piece of me with them through life, as I do them. Channels helps to explore the lives of those I am close to, which required them to be vulnerable in sharing something intimate with me. I wish for this project to stand as a monument to them and to myself, to the growth I have undergone thus far and the growing I have yet to do. When I look retrospectively, I envision the way each of these people helped guide my life in one way or another. And as I approach a joyful milestone ahead, a time I once thought I would never, could never, reach, I feel a strong sense of gratefulness. I owe much to humans and humanity.
Thank you for experiencing Channels with me.