John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative
John B. Moore Documentary Studies Collaborative

 Storytellers' Institute : Space and Place in Documentary

May 30 - June 30, 2017

Adams, 2 images, Manaznar

Different spaces in Ansel Adams' photography: Manzanar Relocation
Center, California.  From the Library of Congress photography collection

APPLICATION DUE: Fellow Applications - January 6, 2017 | Skidmore Applications - January 6, 2016 (EXTENDED)

The theme for the Summer 2017 MDOCS Storyteller's institute is "Space and Place" in documentary work.

The inaugural Storytellers’ Institute in 2015 explored whose stories get told, delving into family and storytelling. In 2016, the Institute considered what constitutes documentary, asking practitioners to consider the lines between fact and fiction. 
For the third Institute in June 2017, MDOCS invites documentary creators whose work engages with the where of documentary, the operation of space and place.

People think that geography is about capitals, land forms, and so on. But it is also about place —
its emotional tone, social meaning, and generative potential.

— Yi-Fu Tuan, Professor Emeritus of Geography, U-W Madison

Spaces matter: streets, kitchens, forests, gardens, schoolrooms, public squares, boardrooms, legislative chambers, battlefields, operating theaters, steamships, mountaintops, ocean floors, lunar craters.  Anywhere that people live, work, play, worship, create, and cross sets the stage, backdrop and context that shapes human experience. In fact, human activity is what gives these locations meaning.  In the words of geographer Doreen Massey, spaces become places as they are "constructed out of articulations of social relations (trading connections, the unequal links of colonialism, thoughts of home) which are not only internal to that locale but which link them to elsewhere (Places and their Pasts). But how?

Individuals, communities and societies wage military and ideological wars for control over physical, virtual and conceptual spaces, of geographical and human bodies.  They set limits and mark boundaries, promoting or limiting access.  In the process, they marginalize individuals, groups and populations, constructing a lived landscape of inclusion and exclusion. Voluntary and forced movements across space—of people, identities, cultures, information, money and material — shape human and physical geographies.

Place, in whatever guise, is like space and time, a social construct.
This is the baseline proposition from which I start.

The only interesting question that can then be asked is:
by what social processes is place constructed?"  

― David Harvey

Place emerges when space is layered in time (past, present, future). Henri Lefebvres The Production of Space found that "[n]othing disappears completely ...  what came earlier continues to underpin what follows ... Pre-existing space underpins not only durable spatial arrangements, but also representational spaces and their attendant imagery and mythic narratives.” Memory etched in the landscape helps those in the present commemorate and preserve a sense of the past, from monuments and palaces to killing fields and detention centers. Twenty-first century technologies look forward to what could be.  They challenge perceptions and interaction with the world from the virtual places in which stories are told, second lives are lived, and games are developed. Pilots manipulate drones thousands of miles from their location, families collapse space in bedtime stories read thousands of miles from where they are heard.
Understanding how space, place, and spatial relationships operate and communicating those relationships and impacts is a fundamental part of documentary work. How does our appreciation and understanding of documentary depend on or change when considering space and place? 

Documentary interprets, navigates and represents unmediated spaces and constructed places, evoking them as claustrophobic and expansive, natural and built, accessible and forbidden, privileged and marginalized, permeable and bounded. From the expansive beauty of Yosemite to the constrained lives of Japanese Americans in the Manzanar Relocation Center photographed by Ansel Adams, in Jacques Cousteau's underwater explorations in film, Wim Wenders' The Salt of the Earth (film, 2014) juxtaposes Sebastião Salgado's photography of global workplaces, places of exodus and deprivation brought on by international conflicts with footage of Salgado reclaiming his family's Brazilian acreage for native flora and fauna. The Pulse of the Planet radio series places listeners in natural environments, while Radio Ambulante's stories highlight Latin American soundscapes.  Installation artists from Medea Electronique's Soundscapes Landscapes tour of an Athens neighborhood (accessible only on site) to Michelle Angelina Ortiz' work with the separated families of Mexicans in Philadelphia map and layer story and history onto urban places, introducing visitors and residents to peoples, issues, and activities often invisible to passersby.

MDOCS welcomes applications from evidence-based storytellers who transport audiences to, and then guide them through, places they have never been or places they experience anew through the eyes, ears, and work of others; who map and remap paths taken and avoided, borders made and transgressed; who refocus our gaze or open our ears to provide new understanding and insights into familiar spaces; creating spaces and places for reflection, engagement and inspiration.