Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.

9/23/2009

Mini-Ethnography - Funtown!





Salt loves trial by fire! In our first week at Salt we dove into a mini-ethnography project for the Approaches and Fieldwork course. The purpose of the mini-ethno is to go out and immerse ourselves in a community, find an interesting story to tell, and learn how to work as a team of photographers, writers, and radio producers. By the first weekend, we were out in the field looking for a story.

My group ended up in Funtown, a family-run amusement park outside the town of Saco. What am amazing experience! We focused on a particular ride called the Astrosphere, a fast and furious ride and visual light show of black lights, strobe lights, spot lights, and projections onto an pressurized dome. The same song, Fire on High by Electric Light Orchestra, has been played for every show since the 70s. The family let us spend two full days that first weekend at the park interviewing and photographing people about Astrosphere. I was amazed at how open and approachable people can be when you overcome your initial fears of invading other people's space.

One question I did have was the issue of finding conflict and tension in telling a compelling story. I didn't quite understand what our professors wanted, especially since our story was about an inanimate object. I began questioning myself: What is conflict? What does it mean to look for conflict in a story? Is it right or ethical to prod or seek conflict when a subject is opening up to you? I don't believe we should direct the conversation so a subject reveals conflict in his/her life. With our mini-ethno, the subject of our story is an amusement park ride. How do we find conflict there?

Due to this mini-ethno, I've had to deconstruct my idea of conflict. It doesn't necessarily have to come in the form of conflict between people. Conflict could come from dealing with the weather, economic hardship, competing against other corporate amusement parks, etc. The Astrosphere as an object does not engage in conflict itself, but it is subject to the trends of culture and weather. But I still question why compelling stories can't just be positive without seeming like fluff pieces? Can't a profile be an engaging story? Don't we need more essentially positive things in life? I am sure these feelings will evolve throughout my time here at Salt!

Adrienne M. (Photography Track)

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