Sunday, April 04, 2010

517. A Continued Multi-Media Narrative for "California's Fading Wildflowers: Lost Legacy and Biological Invasions" By Richard and Victoria Minnich

Basically, last quarter I had an opportunity to attend a panel discussion of the University of California Press (with Naomi Schneider, Chuck Crumly, Niels Hooper, Jenny Wapner, and Lynne Withey), and my heart was thumping, my eyes burning with flames of anger: "Who in the hoohahey was drunk or tweaked or high or stoned enough to publish a WILDFLOWER book with BLACK and WHITE pictures?" (My father's book here: California's Fading Wildflowers: Lost Legacy and Biological Invasions, in which I was the ghost author of the existential last chapter). One kudos though. The book cover, which highlighted a meloncholy landscape hue of purple lupines and faint orange (poppies?), was very well artistically accelerated. No complaints there. But the black and white interior...?!!

Well, given the current economic crisis of nearly all publishing houses, I had to calm myself down, lower my blood pressure, take a step back and say... no, maybe people weren't drunk or tweaked or high or stoned (even my committee member Dr. Milton Love told me that he had to apply for an extra grant from the Packard Foundation in order to have his UC Press fish book published in color)... but this is clearly a case in which economics forces people to make irrational decisions, like publishing wildflower books in black and white!

At first the UC Press told my dad there would be an insert within the book of color images of wildflowers. Then that was taken away and all images inside would be black and white. And then many black and white images were edited out, which is absurd because it doesn't cost anything at all to include more black and white images (at least in self-publishing venues). My current environmental history professor said he will be allowed ten black and white images per chapter for his book. Lucky him, I think that's an even better deal than my dad's.

It turned out that I never asked the black-and-white image question to the UC Press panel back in March. I couldn't say that I chickened out, but I decided to ask a more pertinent question: "My name is Victoria Minnich, and I'm a Ph.D. student in environmental media. I am surrounded by a generation of students who are not only information overloaded, but they have greater tendency to process information visually and multi-media formats. What is the UC Press doing about this to account for this shift in information processing? Is multi-media packaging crafted with each book? And what is your response to the creation of Logicomix, a graphic novel on the history of Bertrand Russell's life?"

The response of the audience and the UC Press panel was overwhelmingly positive. When I was asking the question, I ended up watching people in the crowd nodding their heads in agreement. Naomi Schneider, who has worked in several prestigious New York publishing houses before joining the UC Press, stated that she would be very interested in seeing a graphic novel. Not a bad idea for a graphic novel Ph.D! Naomi heavily emphasized the NEED TO BE GENERALIST AND INTERDISCIPLINARY when submitting a book idea to the UC Press when the vast majority of academia is polarizing itself toward the opposite direction of hyperspecialization... and a graphic novel would definitely be a work of broadening horizons.

Chuck Crumly, a senior editor with a biology background, also mentioned a little snag in the process. Chuck flat out stated that the acquisitions and marketing team would be ECSTATIC to have a graphic novel come in as a project, but the DIRECTORIAL BOARD of ACADEMICS would most likely RESIST the idea. Chuck stated that we would need more turnaround time to eliminate the old hoagies and insert the newbies who would then be much more willing to embrace multi-media representations of academic topics... including graphic novels. Which is truth down to the bone demonstrating that academics and science is not truth, it's just the politics of common agreement on ideas. So sad.

Then again, when outer discourage starts to form Sylvia Plath belljars around me, the mind of environmental media, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) conference comes to town (in San Diego), and I meet a potpourri of people who are ecstatic about what I'm doing, and I receive nothing but encouragement. Someone I met at this meeting who was most encouraging was Stuart Greenwell, the Art Director for Science Magazine! Lucky me to meet him! I ended up helping Stuart out as a volunteer at the "fancy, sophisticated version of Kinkos," or the room full of cubby holes containing press releases for the latest and greatest of scientists doing presentations and getting drilled by the nation's top science journalists. Stuart gave me an orientation of the room. "See all this? It's analog. This is a generation that is going to phase out, die out like dinosaurs. You (as an environmental media student) are on the right track. What you are doing right now WILL be the future."

So now, I guess it's just a matter of phasing out the incumbent, old professorial dinosaurs in analog mode. Why wait for the clock? Why not dominate? Why not accelerate the process of their extinction? Why not be that invasive species biological bully of environmental media? I don't like waiting. I like doing... now....

I always carried the idea with me to continue this black-and-white book of my father (talking about "fading") in living color, through multi-media narrative--including photography, film, even cartoons--especially since the spring of 2005, when I shot my first solid set of images of the historic once-in-a-hundred-years wildflower bloom (mostly of the deserts of southern California). The photographic collection (included below) demonstrated at the time a mastered set of compositional skills, but unfortunately at the period of life I was technologically primitive: I only had a Nikon Coolpix 5700 and a laptop computer with limited processing skills. I didn't even know how to use Photoshop back in 2005! I was a a technological IDIOT! Now I am working with a new computer of high processing power, which allows me to shoot and work with RAW images. Yay, technology is allowing Josie Schmosette Consumer (that be me) to go pro!

But this dormant little seed re-emerged and blossomed to pursue once again for four reasons: (1) direct, face-to-face contact with the source of the black-and-white images, the UC Press (2) expanded technologies and workflow (as discussed above), (3) SPRING BREAK took me to places that were overflowing with wildflowers (okay, only in Baja California, southern California was pretty weak with wildflower blooms). Amen for spring break! and (4) my friend Shannon Switzer (Girl Chases Globe) gave me advice that she received from members of the International League of Conservation Photographers (basically, a whole bunch of famous National Geographic type photographers)--the advice being that it's best to know a region, a subject, very, very, very well (like your own backyard), and this is the way how you will master storytelling of a system, in photography and written word, and this will be your ticket towards bigger and better things.

Caption for Portfolio 1 Above: California's Fading Wildflowers: Lost Legacy and Biological Invasions (Portfolio 1). By Richard and Victoria Minnich. A continued multi-media narrative based on Dr. Richard Minnich's book published by the University of California Press in 2008. Portfolio 1 is a "warm-up" for the more intensive and extensive portfolios. Unnatural is Beautiful at Emma Wood State Beach, just north of Ventura, south of Carpinteria, California. Invasive mustard (brassica nigra) dominates the eroding slopes by the coast, interspersed with a few patches of native Encelia californica. April 2010.

Key words: multi-media storytelling, richard minnich, California's Fading Wildflowers, Lost Legacy, biological invasion, Naomi Schneider, Chuck Crumley, graphic novel, Logicomix, University of California Press, Stuart Greenwell, analog versus digital, analog versus multi-media, American Association for the Advancement of Science

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