How the super media selfie masks the rectitude of process. Trump and Kim Show.
Meeting President Nelson Mandela was one of those seminal moments where in a moment, akin to a film running at 100x its speed, events flash before you. Time then slows at the moment of the handshake, as you look, or is that stare at him, before normality ensues. Of course this all takes about six to ten seconds as the President asks a question.
Seconds before he came to me, I gestured to his official photographer for a photo. These were the analogue days and the response suggested he’d run out of film. Given my insignificance, I’d like to think that was a tall tail… so I never got that photo preserved in magnesium amber which solidifies my story. In that same week though, I would sit down for an interview with Quincy Jones combing through his contribution to music and friendship with President Mandela in Kippies Bar, Soweto.
The iconology and here I’m using the term from Erwin Panofsky’s Studies in Iconology; the meaning of a painting, or photo in this case meeting Mandela rather than its form, is lost.
Its short hand code, the optics, which I’m not entirely doing justice to Panofsky is the impact then of subject matter and instantaneously intrinsic meaning versus various other interpretations we attach such as reflective in its context and perhaps how we got there. Now and then.
The photo I confess would have been something. If you’ve met President Mandela before, or as a diplomat, journalist or friend shared his company, the provenance I attach to the occasion may seem inconsequential. But the context (then) for me is everything. How as a working class boy, a chemistry graduate I was desperate to become a reporter and understand international affairs through a different set of standards and sensibilities.
I could find no outlets in the UK so moved to (Apartheid) South Africa, reported on conflicts, and eventually started filing for the networks. I then left South Africa after the election only to return some years later when working with the former head of Turner in Africa, Edward Boateng ( now Ghana’s Ambassador to China) we pulled of a set of programmes you’ve likely not heard of.
We referred to them as the United States of Africa — a set of factual docs in which Ghanaian TV crews travelled for the first time in their lives to South Africa to create a series of programmes without a Western filter. As the exec producer and my Ghanaian sensibilities, this was Africa through the interpretive lens of Africans. We used small video cameras. This was 1996. This was Art and News.
Conflict reportage would continue to be part of my career, as would art when I was personally appointed by Jude kelly OBE, the artistic director of the Southbank Centre to become one of her artists in residence.
This African story has a currency for events in Singapore this week. Optics. The meeting of two world figures and iconology here is everything. Just like an earlier press conference in which Trump paraded his stack of empty ledgers proclaiming he no longer had oversight, it’s the now that the TV disciple places his and our faith in. Just as with the ledgers, the two figures signed pledges which commentators say is light on substance, but everything on the photo op.
The politics of this is not my motive here, rather than how our drive for the end result in the age of super media selfie ignores the rectitude of process. This in turn feeds more worryingly into a hardened practice realised in learning institutions e.g. universities where I lecture now.
The emphasis placed on outcomes diminishes the very essence of learning and wrestling with process and its many different permutations towards outcomes. Students become too fixated on marks rather than the journey and joy of the learning.
Failing to recognise and appreciate methodologies both fixed, but more so artistic practices imperils processes and creativity. Instead we choreograph images and cultivate somewhat falsely an all or nothing — a sort of perfectionists paradox. It has to be perfect, because if it isn’t we’re doomed, but perfectionism is rare if not a myth.
Today I head back to TECH week, events in East London which celebrate the colocation of Techs impact on society. Here too the facade of now can be blinding. Some of that stardust on the big Tech’s is beginning to wear thin as we realise what lies behind them and their own processes. As a creative technologist with feet planted both in art and cinema journalism, I’d like to engage more students and institutions in the revelations of the complex matrixes of making. The edges of creativity, which lie in our histories and which shift the boundaries of now.
History unveils a constant tussle between these and the image and text. In the absence of one we put too much faith on the other. History too shows that mono myths — the singularity of the narrative from the victors is both dangerous and distorting. It requires inclusivity and truth.
At the tech conference I have found both in ayoung Turkish engineer who has cracked the solution to one of nature’s cruelest acts, in flash floods.
I’m neither alone in the thought of process. I’m sure you’ve felt the same way too. One of the fathers of modern media culture, Marshall McLuhan wrote this. It’s worth pondering for a while.
If men were convinced that art is a precise advance knowledge of how to cope with the psychic and social consequences of the next technology, would they become artists? Or would they begin a careful translation of the new art forms into social navigation? I am curious to know what would happen if art were suddenly seen for what it is, namely, exact information of how to rearrange one’s psyche in order to anticipate the next blow from our own extended faculties.
Dr David Dunkley Gyimah is an International Award Winning Cinema and Videojournalism, and innovator in journalism and a former Artists in Residence at the Southbank Centre. He publishes viewmagazine.tv