Thursday, October 30, 2008

Design For Social Impact

I think that this is the next big thing in Design.
Its heartening to see the efforts by different foundations and also leading consultanting firms like IDEO and Continuum, being actively involved in this.

Here is a link to their website.

Friday, October 17, 2008

Understanding Realism in Photography and film

I have always considered myself a realist. As mentioned earlier, I have been inspired by Bresson, who is considered to be the father of Photojournalism (which I believe will always remain an example of realism) and is the inventor of the term “the decisive moment” in photography.

Bresson mentions in his books and in interviews that it was never the photography that he was passionate about. What interested him was life as it unfolded to him. His photography was an attempt to capture the experiences over time; in a fraction of a second, of the lifeworld as experienced by him.

“For me the camera is a sketchbook, an instrument of intuition and spontaneity, the master of the instant which, in visual terms, questions and decides simultaneously. In order to “give a meaning” to the world, one has to feel oneself involved in what frames through the viewfinder. This attitude requires concentration, a discipline of mind, sensitivity, and a sense of geometry - it is by great economy of means that one arrives at simplicity of expression. One must always take photographs with the respect for the subject and for oneself.

He goes on to say this,
“I prowled the streets all day, feeling very strung up and ready to pounce, determined to “trap” life- to preserve life in act of living. Above all I craved to seize, in the confines of one single photograph, the whole essence of some situation that was in the process of unrolling itself before my eyes.”

It is not completely evident whether Bresson adopted a very phenomenological approach to clicking his photographs or a structuralist one. When he talks about the composition it almost appears that there is the structuralist approach, whereas when he talks about the entire experience that he wishes to capture in the photograph, it is a phenomenological approach.

There are far more challenges being a realist, as a photographer than a film maker. With a photograph (and I am not talking about a photo-story comprised of multiple photographs) you have to create a story out of that situation you are in and in which you had an embodied interaction; to the outside world. Then you leave it for interpretation to the viewer. This is another difficult part. It is just one photograph. There is no music to lay the emphasis and neither any cut shots. There is no timeline and no other cues in the later frames to lay significance to a particular metaphor used in the frame. Thus in this frame it is equally challenging to know what signifier to not put in the frame. To do photography based in realism, is all the more challenging as the real world is changing all the time. The challenge is to perceive this reality, almost simultaneously recording in the sketchbook (camera).

Another misconception that I generally had was that Realism always meant something that was in black and white. While on one hand it is true that it prohibits us from seeing the distractions and that the essence of a composition (be it of a real life as Bresson , or of the real Nature as Ansel Adams would like to) is brought about only when looking at the images in its Black and White form.

I have nothing against color photography, and perhaps I do propagate the usage of it when necessary. Bresson however himself was not too inclined towards using color.
He mentions:
“I am half afraid that this complex new element may tend to prejudice the achievement of life and movement which is often caught by black and white.”

I do think that realism is not in the medium of the black and white or the color. As, how can one think in black and white, when they are viewing the world in its true color. Its kind of a paradox, of having to deliberately having a mismatch in the real and the perception. It is just that the interpretation of the cultural expression changes.

In order to illustrate the point above, while in the black and white one, my focus is on the abandoned house and a photographer on an abandoned path; which is situated in a hilly area. My interpretation says that the photographer is perhaps lost or is going to unfamiliar territories.
This same artifact when viewed in color, creates a different impression. Apart from the above, the presence of the color enhances the other things like essence of nature, the time of the day, the season of the year and hence results in a more complete understanding of the situation.

The Photographer

My understanding of reality in both these situations seems to be different, even though the subject is the same.

I am not propagating that Realism (in color or in b/w) is good or bad. In the end its all about the technique. Technique is important insofar as one must master it in order to communicate what one sees. Thus in the case of Bresson, it happened to be those decisive moments. In the case of Kieslowski it was the longing and the grief which he was trying to convey.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Experiencing Experiences...

I have often heard the expression that the movie was not as good as the book and vice versa. I have not seen /read many movies /books of the same title and hence I would not be in a position to critique on it. But that was till today. I witnessed an amazing spectacle. This was a musical Sweeny Todd in the auditorium. I had seen the movie back in January this year.

This is the trailer of the movie.

This is the poster of the musical.

What surprised me was that inspite of knowing the tone of the expression here and the storyline, I still enjoyed it to the core. Also, because I was aware of the story line, I had the freedom to actually reflect on what I was witnessing in respect to the class. On trying to understand the experience that I was having, with a more phenomenological and / or structuralist understanding of the interactions that I was having here. This one would call the Stage-Audience Interaction. This interaction was not at the visible or tangible level, but at the conscious level. On further analysis I noticed that I was constantly making comparisons with the image of the movie that had been implanted in my mind. Since I knew the story, the interpretation of the story was devoid of the surprise element. However the brilliant usage of music, acting and lights made this experience a totally unforgettable one.

In order to start off the presentation I was analyzing the signs and the units of meanings that were there for the stage performance. Here the meanings were created by multiple ways. At the lowest levels we had the
ambiance lights, the music played by the characters (which again was further broken down into the various instruments), who also were acting out the play, and the songs that were actually the conversations that they were having. Here the actors were also the signs.

What was interesting here that when seeing a theater performance I thought about the on stage actors as elements that add meaning to the piece. Whereas the same was not in the case of the movie.

Maybe this was a result a phenomenological impression of a movie that I had in mind, the whole notion of it not being there, as compared to the notion of the actors in front my eyes and everything being said / done / sung/ acted was happening in front of me in reality. The reviews that I had read, the trailers that I had seen had helped me form an interpretation of the movie much before I actually went and saw it.

It was interesting that in case of the movie, now if I recall, it was a phenomenological approach to understanding of my experience, where I was going in with a previous notion of the movie and the actor Johnny Depp. In the case of the actors of the theatrical performance, since I did not know the cast, and had no idea absolutely about what this was going to be like, I did not have any pre-conceived notion of the thing I was going to see.

What I am trying to say here is that for the same artifact, presented in two different ways, I felt that I was adopting different approaches to understanding the experience. And I find that really fascinating!

Oh btw, watching a show in the auditorium sitting in the center and in the second row from the stage.. totally rocks!! Thanks to a friend who got me the tickets that close to stage!

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Definitely Male : A structuralist approach to understanding brand identity

A bit of a background, Bajaj Automobiles is one of India's industrial powerhouses. In the 1980 and the 1990's their flagship product was a scooter.Their advertisements were targeted at the general Indian public and were only showing a scooter. Till this time I am sure hardly people in India would have known that the scooter was associated with a female following and that it stood for what we read in the Barnard book and also seen in this ad.

This is the ad that appeared in 1989 and aired for a few years.
Instead of focusing on the usage of the metaphor of a feminism with scooters, Bajaj here was trying to capture the attention of a nation with something more important to people in this lifeworlds. So they promote the issue of Indianism and being a proud Indian and how that a Bajaj scooter defines being Indian. The signifiers that is used in this ad above were that which were very traditional. So we have the person meditating, the family values, the emphasing on social interactions, the pride in owing a scooter, the worshiping of the vehicle and the rural roads that signified that the scooter was all about being proud Indian. It signified that the scooter was ruggid, was able to resist to harsh conditions and still be a loving commodity in the lives of the people.

In 1984, the Hero Group, then the world’s largest manufacturers of bicycles, entered into a joint venture with Honda Motors of Japan to create Hero Honda Motors Ltd, which has gone on to become the world’s largest manufacturer of two wheelers. In the 1990s Hero Honda starting to eat the scooter market. There was a strong emphasis on fuel efficiency and mileage. Bajaj Motors too entered this segment, in partership with Japanese giant Kawasaki. Hero Honda with its focus on the middle class became the household name for motorcycles in India. There was no mention about the bike being a male dominated commodity or otherwise.

Come to Bajaj Pulsar in 2001. This was perhaps one of India's most successful campaigns. Notice the emphasis on "Definitely Male".

What's more surprising is that the campaign was done by a Tokyo based firm called O&M. Which I think were trying to understand the lifeworlds of Indians, which were culturally so different than that of the Japanese.
According to agencyfaqs, the birth of the "Definitely Male " campaign is interesting. The creative honchos found the new product from Bajaj distinctly different. It was Bajaj's first bike without Kawasaki label. The new bike was an R&D and design marvel.Pulsar was designed by the renowned design house Tokyo R&D. O&M knew that the communication of this brand should also be different.Starting with lot of ideas, O&M stuck upon the Big Idea of India's He-Bike. Although lot of bike take the persona of Macho bikes it was more oriented towards being "sexy". The Big Idea was to position the bike as World's first bike endowed with a Sex ( Gender).Thus born the classic campaign of all times " Definitely Male".
(this part is an excerpt from this post


Note this ad till 0:55 timeline mark.
So here we se how the signifiers for the same brand was changed. Here we have more of a flirtatious nature of the ad with the Bike signifying the male population. The approach to target the audience to the youth in particular is also interesting. This is a time where globalization is making big in India and the youth is all about western attributes and modernization.
And now with the bike having captured a decent market share, the "definitely male" campaign has been dropped and others taken their place.

What is interesting to note is how the brand has built itself from being associated with scooters to motorcyles. The journey from what one may call as being Feminine to Definitely Male.