he's been here the whole time (2013)

He’s Been Here the Whole Time: The Greatest Story Never Told

He’s standing up on the guard rails of a bridge wearing swim trunks preparing himself for the plunge into the river below. I’m in the other room brushing my teeth. He turns back to his friend standing on the bridge behind him looking for some reassurance. I’m leaning over someone’s shoulder watching the event through a Facebook update playing on their cell phone screen. He jumps, the video halts to a stop, its over. The blurry video was pretty poorly filmed, the drop from the height of the bridge to the water wasn’t even that crazy, and he took way too long to actually jump which all adds up to a quite lengthy, unedited cell phone recording.

What just happened? We had just been tricked into sitting through a poorly crafted, uneventful documentation of an event. A story has been told by one party and experienced by another - an exchange had occurred. Had the event not been documented, would this story have found itself in regular story telling rotation? The person who would be telling the story - the jumper, we’ll call him Ben- did not actually tell the story. His friend who filmed it on their cell phone had published it on the internet. Had the story just been told for the first and last time as it was uploaded out of physical reach onto the internet unleashing it to the world to view? If it never gets clicked, does it ever get told?

We had experienced the documentation of the event through digital doorways of organized information by how it was universally filed under Ben’s self published/tagged recent available activity – the fully available context of the story. (The detailed information was provided by a friend of the jumper who had filmed it on their cell phone and uploaded the footage.) Ben had publically accepted to be “the one” shown in the video jumping off a bridge. He had accepted it as what the world can now assume as his version of the story – why would they not? Quite a worthy authority to hear a story. We had allowed ourselves to experience the event by looking at the cell phone screen in the first place – looking for stories. The jumper really put in now effort at all to attempt to entertain us. If only telling long, mediocre stories at social gatherings were that easy.

For those situations one might find themselves the receiver of the luck that someone brings up the topic of an amazing story that happens to be in their “great story vault”, now the difficulty of finding an opening in the conversation for the story to smoothly transition into action. The storyteller has a chance to tell it better than last time, to make it real good this time. Or maybe, what if, somewhere there might be the documentation of whatever the story is about, and the story could quickly be told and shown with the highest efficiency - a visual story with first hand narration. This narration along with the presentation of the documentation would be an ideal form of a story telling. But without the Facebook context or firsthand narration, dealing with the documentation alone, the story would be left incomplete and incomprehensible to an outside viewer.

The visual story without context means the image or film’s potential could not be fully understood or appreciated. It would be like hearing a piece of music versus examening the physical condition of a burned cd copy of that same piece of music found in a friend’s car. Or how a tour t-shirt can be cooler than the concert. Heck, a 5k run t-shirt tells a story. Two stories existing about the same object due to the available information pertaining to its existence.

This outsider point-of-view “other” version of the story is the story of the object, the physical characteristics of the material – its context. This would be especially important if the image was vague or unreadable. This contextual information could be image quality, time stamps imprinted on the image, or any non-content related evidence. These qualities alone might not be enough to understand a story behind an image, but what if multiple images were found together. The combination of the found imagery plus the contextual information included could bring the full story of the images that much closer to understanding, realization, and appreciation.

The understanding of this formula could allow for images to be created which simulate context allowing an understanding of an image and a deeper reading of the image. An example of this could be forged time stamps on a digital photograph. Another example could be creating an image depicting the lack of a hard copy photograph – a picture about taking a picture and loosing the picture. This would create a limbo between the actual story behind the images and what sort of timestamps and photo quality offer as information. Creating these pictures would mean the consideration of the content of the image being aware of its intentions to be available and hoping for scrutiny.

The intentionally available forgery-style manipulated documentation serves as self-referential subtitles but instead of the subtitles having a direct correlation to what is being told, the subtitles subtly aid in explanation of the documentation. The image exists as descriptions of how they came to exist just as much as the subject depicted. Now if only the images could be arranged chronologically and printed in a physical storybook form. 



Nolan's Song poem by Joe Swiz