Blurb for the Photography Portfolio Above: NASA Data Visualization Conference Hosted by the New Media Studio (http://nmri.org) at the Upham, Santa Barbara, California. October 27, 2009. Conference participants include: Bruce Caron, Marty Landsfeld, John Moreland, David Nadeau, Marit Jentoft-Nilsen, Jeff McWhirter, Chris Torrence, Tommy Jasmin, Suresh Santhanavannan, Kevin Ward (out sick?), Eric Russell, Robert Simmon, and Tom Rink.
Dr. Bruce Caron of the New Media Studio asked me if I wanted to engage in some photography and errand-running for a conference on data visualization funded by NASA, and of course, as curious as I am, I said "yes"! This conference or "data summit" was quite a unique and humbling experience in several respects:
(1). The group was very small and interactive, in the "sherettes" format; people worked in groups of three, and these groups were rotated throughout the day based on a mix of numbers, shapes, and colors designated to each individual; participants were given problems and challenge questions, and they were encouraged to write answers on a webiste as well as brainstorm on sheets of papers, which were posted up on walls around the room; this sherettes conference format is quite unusual--compared to the routine 15-minute conference powerpoint talk that allows very minimal two-way street interactivity that can be displayed in a tangible format--I think that if this style of conferece were adopted at a much wider scale then research collaborations would end up being a lot more meaningful.
(2). The meat of the conference--Technical Issues in Data Visualization--was pretty much way over my head and made me realize how much I don't know. I am an "environmental media" graduate student, but I'm as primitive as "paper and pencil scanned into photoshop" (I'm so primitive I even DRAW out my maps rather than use GIS!) whereas the people around me are individuals who... who... design weather maps that my dad and my fishermen friends stare at all the time! It's fantastic! I also heard several concerns about "data compatibility issues" and "the structure of grant funding sources." The group was clearly interdisciplinary, and they were frustrated on how funding sources "frame" the way how research is directed and is preventing true "interdisciplinary" pursuits to address fundamental issues such as data compatibility. Funding sources are limiting the capacities of advancing research simply by constructing arbitrary boundaries on disciplines and projects.
(3). I was encouraged to create a Twitter account for this NASA data summit conference.... It's very limited... only two posts... http://www.twitter.com/stokastika... I'm not so sure how I feel about USING Twitter yet. All I know for sure is that I think that Twitter continues to promote ADHD thinking. I like to express myself in larger chunks of information rather than trying to continuously and compulsively sell myself in a sensationalizingly smack-dabbing 140 characters.... Okay, all novel things intimidate me. If I were truly open-minded, I would be experimental with Twitter.... Okay, okay... another day....
(4). I have to admit, I was nicely paid to help out! And I had a stock of doughnuts and cookies for the week which I tried to distribute to my housematies. I had so many sweet things myself that I ended up not wanting to eat any sugar for 3 weeks.... I couldn't even enjoy Halloween!!!
From a photographer's point of view, it was an "ideal" photographic setting for me. Low, soft light... reflections in windows... it reminded me of several shoots during my short-term apprenticeship with Mark Robert Halper over the summer; I think even he himself would have been intrigued by the lighting in the conference room. Since my internship with Mark, I met 3 or 4 photographers from renowned newspapers in southern California. Honestly, there's no comparison in quality. Mark's work is just a step, significant leap beyond the standard. Honestly, a vast majority of news journalism photography isn't all that great... unless you get into the National Geographic big leagues. It's funny to think how a short-term internship can profoundly impact me; I hear Mark's voice in my head almost all the time when I shoot: "Create something that doesn't necessarily exist in the world outside" and "Build a photograph from the ground up, from scratch, from a blank slate" are notions that keep coming back to haunt me....
Dr. Caron is organizing a book surrounding this conference, which I think is fantastic! It will be nice to see what research may turn out of such a conference. I also admit that there were a lot of "cool buzz words" floating around... it was a jarble of a semantic jungle to my ears, to my brain... goes to show how much I need to learn... and surely another bout of inspiration for a semantic jungle cartoon!