Field notes-research process:
The initial problem I had with the project was about finding the people to work within the project. As this is my first time conducting a research project that required new skills. I decided to work with the people I know- my friends with whom I would feel more confident. It also allowed me to think about representation problem of the project in a more serious way. It was a great chance for me to know them in more intimate way. It was an enriching experience for me to discuss certain issues we encounter in our experience in New York. One of the first problems I had with the project was an organizational level: I could not achieve to build a team for this complicated project. In fact, personally I saw this as an explanation of the failure of the project to be more “participatory” as I am intended it to be. Why does this project need a team? I think each project will be better with a team. And even in its’ early beginning of recording the walks and doing the interviews, I felt the need of a crew to handle the technical aspects while I could focus on the interview aspect. I go with the simpler design for the equipment set-up and come up with the ideal set up after having many technical difficulties. I would like to explore the visual and audio aspects of the walks in a more creative way as a separate layer. When I conducted the interviews on my own, visuals and audio focused on the interview rather than exploring the “space”. One interesting thing, I noticed in these walks is that participants equated my listening attitude with my positioning the camera. At certain times when I tried to capture some footage from around by turning camera but not losing my attention from the listeners, they stopped asked if I stopped recording. Even some of them are visual artists. One other crucial advantage of having a team is the advantage of planning out the schedule and logistics which takes longer than it is assumed. Before the actual meeting, I had to contact the participants weeks earlier to talk about the project, and at least two days earlier to set up the actual meeting. One interview process took me from 2-4 hours depending on the location (getting to a place, making preparations).
First interview, I hold was done as a pilot attempt but it produced one of the most detailed narrative of the project. In fact I did not have any questions ready for the interview. I was very excited. I did not know if I could manage or not. I previously did oral history interviews, but it had been long time since I did the last one. I meditated before going to the interview (I try to do that if I can have the time). I focused on being at the moment and really listen to what my friend has to say (I will reveal her name after asking her permission to use it here). I was very ambitious technically and I got the edirol sound recorder with stereo microphone, Panasonic hd camera with shot gun microphone on it. I did the sound and image recording separately. It was not very bright day- not ideal for a shooting. I was very nervous with the camera for this first attempt as I was trying to handle the sound also. In the footage, I am playing with f-stop a lot. One initial decision I made about this recording process was always having the eye contact with the participant rather than looking through the camera. This adds to the shakiness of the camera due to lack of either steadicam system but I would prefer the more natural look of the handheld camera even that was the case.Aside from these technical issues, she was also a bit nervous at the time. She is also a filmmaker but being in front of a camera was not easy for her. She asked me about what kinds of answers I am looking for and I assured her to have a normal conversation as much as possible. I asked herself to introduce herself a little (which was my regular process in this project) , then I asked her about the “space” she was sharing with me. Then we go into the details of her experience in New York. She chose Riverside Park which was a bit close to our dorm we stay. She described her way of walking and what does it mean for her. She talked about her desire to see new places when she was a kid but at the same time she did not want to offend her parents. In my map , I will try to cover an interesting parts of our interviews. But one outstanding example was her perception of time in Turkey as being “frozen” for her to return back to. After we finished our walk, we had dinner together. Later, at night I had the interview in her room, where you can see her drawings and creative things all around. I started the interview with getting her feedback of the walk and the process. Language issue is brought up in the interview as she is a writer. Difficulty of translating between the languages in her works that she collects some folk tales on her own hometown. She was very happy about how people approached her project and helped her. She also mentioned how she grew up as a writer from her experiences and studies in New York. She is also studying creative writing in Columbia University.
Second participant was also my close friend from the school and he is also from Turkey. We have to chance to work in the same art group. I am always interested in his works. So I contacted him about my project. And luckily he was also doing an autobiographic work that challenges the medium itself. So this project will be useful for him also in a way. He choose to meet around the school, he told me he did not have any specific place on his mind in the city. He had stayed in Canada earlier, so this was not his first time staying on his own in a different city. He was a bit nervous at the beginning of the walk as he describes himself to be perfectionist. He planned to create “emoji sketches” with his phone of the details he saw in the city. We started in his school building where he changed his clothes as he is riding bike to school also. He talked about “the shell” he created around himself that he started to break out recently but maybe building new ones. He has a very challenging mindset that helped me to think about the project also. It was a bit challenging for us to break into this shell, I wish we had at least one more session with him and other participants as it would give us to go deeper. He was trying to put a certain image of himself which I do not have any problems as the surface also reveals important details about the experience of the visitors like international students. Talking with him made me think of the “shells” that I manage to break out of when I come to here and the new ones I acquired as I was lacking the feeling of being at home. I brought out this topic in the walks I had in project. In his case, he said he does not see New York as “home” but again a temporary place as a step for a career purposes. In fact very recently another friend of mine who is also an international student said there is a time limit one should stay in New York or that people would stay there. The interviewee friend described himself as being part of the world rather than one place. He does not want to go back to Turkey also, but have a temporary existence there, too. He is the only male participant in my project so far. I did not have much
Third Participant was from Turkey as well and I know her from my previous school. She is not directly into arts as the previous ones but she had some experience with it back in Turkey. She is also into experimenting with the narrative as an art historian. She was a quite good narrator and unluckily I had the most technical difficulties in her interview. First, I did not plug the sound cable in the right way and that made us stop for some time. Then when I figured out the sound and we reach deeper level in our interview, I did not press the record point. I managed to listen to my friend in a good way, but it was not the best day for me that I did not have much of it in my archive. One thing I did not prefer was to make her repeat what she said, rather I decided to have the flow of our conversation and learn from her. At least, I had the actual “space” recorded on camera. One of the key elements that did not make it to the recording material was regarding the “notebook” she kept in which she recorded interesting moments in a random way. She was also using it as a way of recording collective memories with her friends. These entries are not the formal things, but in the variety from stories to the film quote. And some of the entries lost their traces in the memory and their meaning. Her first time in New York was with the accompaniment of her father. They looked for a house for her to stay in. When I did the interview, it was her second year and she moved out to another place with her friend from school. She said her first times in the city was lonely as most often but she found spot where she felt more being at “home”. She said she took her friends or wants to take some of her friends that are not here in New York to this space and she took me there. Before the project I did not have the chance to see her new apartment and we met there and ate a little before going out. The rain was expected but I personally do not use umbrellas but we took some for protecting the camera. She showed me her room also which was all in black that looked very nice and there was a poster of a famous Turkish film which I could not recall at the moment. She lives in Upper East Side where it is close to her school. Her school building is a historical building, which used to be a private house. I had the chance to be there for a Halloween party. She seemed to adjust to the city even better as we walked within her neighborhood, she showed me around where she interacted with people. She said it is a quiet neighborhood and she likes to walk to her school because of that. The space she chooses in the park was facing the river and was around a big tree behind the bars. You can listen to her in the videos of the project.The participants very commonly pick parks as their personal place, which is within the public space.
Fourth walking tour was with a friend from school and she was the first one who was not from Turkey. She was from Denmark and she is also a documentary filmmaker who does a film about men’s groups. The gender issues about New York came up a lot in our walking tour. She was criticizing Danish cultural codes about being a woman. She criticized closeness of that community as well. New York was a place of variety of people and she clearly liked that. She also mentioned different art scenes one could participate. She mentions liking New School as a place with many international students. Her special “space” in the city was Williamsburg Bridge. We had a very nice walk as the weather was ideal for making a video shoot. I tried to lighten my equipment and I wanted to get more mobility that would separate sound and image from each other – I decided to use wireless lavaliere microphones. That was a bad decision as I got pick up bad signal noise that might due to the structure of the bridge as well as act of walking. I had the shotgun microphone as a back up plan but I did not want to interrupt the process. She was a fluid narrator that later in the editing her parts were in big chunks- rich in content.
Fifth walk, I did it with one of my friends from the school whom I worked with different art projects. She is very into the politics, activism and collaborative art projects. It is the only tour, which took place in Brooklyn. So this project fell short of covering different parts of New York, which might have different experiences. She chose her neighborhood for our walk. Walking with video part of our conversation was intense but shorter than usual. Later, I had the chance to do a longer interview in her apartment, where she lives with her boyfriend. It was my first time visiting them in their house and our speech goes into more intimate details in this place. I only did sound recording in this and even as camera works well in the walks in the more stationary situations this is more ideal. Her narrative give me an intent of exploring the politics of my project in the future; for now, it is politic as the personal experiences themselves are .I would like to work with activist groups and political organizations of immigration.
Final walk for this step of the project, it was the first time I did an interview with a person that I have a limited knowledge about . I knew her from the dorm we stay from her performances in the cultural activities of the place and one day I asked her to participate in the project. Through this project, I had the chance to know her closer and also I had the chance to see if the process works or not. She picked the same park as the first participant, which was interesting for me to see the influence of the space on the project and how different people might create different relations to them.
Overall this preproduction aspect of the project was very useful for me. I learned from the mistakes I did especially in technical side, more importantly I felt empowered by the stories my friends shared.