COURSE OVERVIEW AUDIO DESCRIPTION: THE VISUAL MADE VERBAL Arts Access For People Who Are Blind Instructor: Joel Snyder, President, Audio Description Associates Director, Audio Description Project, American Council of the Blind Telephone: 301 920-0218 or cell-301 452-1898 E-mail: [email_address] Class Meetings: TBD
Course Description Audio Description (AD) makes the visual images of theater, media and visual art accessible for people who are blind or have low vision—the visual is made verbal. Using words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative, describers convey the visual image that is not fully accessible to a segment of the population and not fully realized by the rest of us—people who see but who may not observe.
In pauses between pieces of dialogue or critical sound elements, describers insert narrative that translates the visual image into a sense form that is accessible to millions of individuals who otherwise would lack full access to the arts.
In training describers, focus is on four fundamentals: OBSERVATION We learn to see the world anew. In his book, "Seen/Unseen: A Guide to Active Seeing,“ the photographer, John Schaefer, coins the phrase "visual literacy." Schaefer refers to the need to “ increase your level of awareness and become an active ‘see er’." The best describers will truly notice all the visual elements that make up an event. What do you see in this image?
2) EDITING Audio describers must then edit or cull from what they see, selecting what is most valid, what is most important, what is most critical to an understanding and appreciation of an event. Often, only a few precious seconds are available to convey those images.
3) LANGUAGE We transfer it all to words—objective, vivid, imaginatively drawn words, phrases, and metaphors. For instance, how many different words can you use to describe someone moving along a sidewalk? Why say "walk" why you can more vividly describe the action with “sashay,” “stroll,” “skip,” “stumble,” or “saunter”?
11/24/10 4) VOCAL SKILLS Finally, in addition to building a verbal capability, the describer (or whoever will voice the descriptions) develops the vocal instrument through work with speech and oral interpretation fundamentals. Try the tongue twisters on the next three slides just for fun. “Speak the speech trippingly” as Hamlet says— after you read each one aloud, click on the button following the line to hear me give it a try.
“ Make mother mad!,” cried mischievous Marvin, munching a marble. Maybe Marvin meant much more as he moved motionlessly. 666 seasick sailors slinked over the steel sides. A big black bug bit a big black bear and the big black bear bled black blood. Rubber baby buggy bumpers.
National Shropshire Sheep Association. “ Are you copper-bottoming them, my man?” “No, I’m aluminuming ‘em, mum.” Dr. Pepper’s pink pills for poor, pitiful, pepless people. Amidst the mists and coldest frosts, With stoutest wrists and loudest boasts, He thrusts his fists against the posts, And still insists he sees the ghosts.
If a Hottentot tot taught a Hottentot tot To talk ere the tot could totter, Ought the Hottentot tot be taught to say ought? Or, what ought to be taught her? If to hoot and toot a Hottentot tot Be taught by a Hottentot tutor, Should the tutor get hot if the Hottentot tot Hoot and toot at the Hottentot tutor? Katy Krocker cooked a cup of proper coffee in a proper copper coffee cup. Caesar sighed and seized the scissors. Whether the weather be cold, whether the weather be hot, We’ll be together whatever the weather, whether we like it or not.
Course Goals: By the end of this course students can expect to know/experience: -- who are "the blind"? -- the history of Audio Description -- Active Seeing / Visual Literacy -- the art of "editing" what you see -- using language to conjure images -- using Audio Description in live theater productions, in video/film, with visual art exhibits, and on the web
Sessions 1 and 2– Introduction; W ho are "the blind"?; The history of Audio Description; Viewing of audio description documentaries; Viewing/analysis of audio described samples. For private study and Discussion Room: www.audiodescribe.com; www.adinternational.org
Sessions 3 and 4– Active Seeing / Visual Literacy; The art of "editing" what you see; Using language to conjure images; Viewing/analysis of audio described samples. For private study and Discussion Room: http://www.dcmp.org/descriptionkey/
Final Exam The final exam will involve the development of and the live or recorded delivery of an audio description script for a half-hour video of his/her choosing (subject to prior review and approval by the instructor).
* FRACTURED UNIVERSITY * presents “ AUDIO DESCRIPTION: The Visual Made Verbal— Arts Access for People who are Blind” with Joel Snyder President, Audio Description Associates Director, Audio Description Project, American Council of the Blind
11/24/10 What better way to begin our work together than with description of two visual images: “ The Fan” by John McPherson On a stage – at left, a woman in a flowing gown, her hands clasped in front of her, stands before a kneeling man in a doublet and feathered cap. He croons, “Why dost thy heart turn away from mine?” At right, a man at a microphone speaks: “Basically, the guy with the goofy hat is ticked because this babe has been runnin’ around with the dude in the black tights.” The caption reads: “Many opera companies now provide interpreters for the culturally impaired.” AUDIO
11/24/10 “ Red and Rover” by Brian Basset In the first panel, Red, a red-haired eight-year-old boy, is outdoors, lying on the ground against a tree, facing away from us and his right arm is around Rover, a white, short-haired dog, a lab-beagle mix. A leaf falls – Red announces, “Brown.” In the next panel, as Rover’s tail taps, Red notes, “Orange, Red, Yellow.” In the following panel: “Red, Orange, Yellow, Yellow.” Next, Red turns toward us, eyes wide, and tells us: “Dogs only see in black and white.” The final panel depicts a more full view of the tree, leaves scattered about the pair as Red continues: “Yellow, Orange, Brown, Red, Orange …” AUDIO
What is Audio Description? Audio Description is a kind of literary art form. It's a type of poetry--a haiku. It provides a verbal version of the visual‑‑the visual is made verbal, and aural (he points to his ear), and oral (he points to his mouth). Using words that are succinct, vivid, and imaginative, we convey the visual image that is not fully accessible to a segment of the population and not fully realized by the rest of us--the rest of us, sighted folks who see but who may not observe.
It’s useful for anyone who wants to truly notice and appreciate a more full perspective on any visual event but it is especially helpful as an access tool for people who are blind or have low vision. You’ll find AD these days at arts events but also at weddings, parades, rodeos, circuses, sports events, even funerals!
A Brief History of Audio Description Audio Description or AD was first developed in the U.S. It was the subject of a Masters' Thesis in San Francisco, California in the 1970's by the late Gregory Frazier. Mr. Frazier was the first to work out the concepts behind the act and the art of AD. In 1980, a theater in Washington, DC, Arena Stage, assembled a group of people to provide advice on accessibility issues. Among the committee members was Dr. Margaret Pfanstiehl (then Dr. Margaret Rockwell). Dr. Pfanstiehl founded The Metropolitan Washington Ear, a closed-circuit radio reading service for people who are blind or for those who don’t otherwise have access to print.
11/24/10 From there the Washington Ear's AD program was developed. I was already a volunteer reader at The Ear, and a professional voice talent/actor and English teacher and I became one of the first audio describers in The Ear’s program, the world’s first ongoing audio description service. Joel Snyder uses an FM steno mask microphone and transmitter to describe a glass-blowing show for Marlaina Lieberg who uses an earpiece and an FM receiver.
Audio Description and Literacy Not too long ago I conducted a workshop in New Haven with day care workers and reading teachers on what I think represents a new application for audio description--literacy. We experimented with developing more descriptive language to use when working with kids and picture books. These books rely on pictures to tell the story. But the teacher trained in audio description techniques would never simply hold up a picture of a red ball and read the text: "See the ball." He or she might add: "The ball is red--just like a fire engine. I think that ball is as large as one of you! It's as round as the sun--a bright red circle or sphere."
The teacher has introduced new vocabulary, invited comparisons, and used metaphor or simile -- with toddlers! By using audio description, you make these books accessible to children who have low vision or are blind *and* help develop more sophisticated language skills for all kids. A picture is worth 1000 words? Maybe. But the audio describer might say that a few well-chosen words can conjure vivid and lasting images.
“ AD on TV” In the United States, in areas where a television station is equipped to participate, AD lets all television viewers hear what they cannot see. Up until June 12, 2009, it’s accessible via a special audio channel available on stereo televisions. Viewers select the SAP (secondary audio program) channel in order to hear the regular program audio accompanied by the descriptions, precisely timed to occur only during the lapses between dialogue and significant sound elements. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rr9JYWY7in8 Go to SHREK III:
I’ve produced thousands of hours of hours of description for broadcast television. Sighted viewers appreciate the descriptions as well. It's television for blind, low vision and sighted people who want to be in the kitchen washing dishes while the show is on! But the Digital Age is fast upon us and other countries may have an edge on the U.S. in mandating the use of this new technology to provide greater accessibility to people who are blind. Once digital television is in place, it will be far easier to transmit a secondary signal like that that is employed for audio description.
“ I am a blind parent of a sighted child. “ We watch Sesame Street almost everyday … The descriptive component gives me an opportunity to discuss with my child the silent action that is occurring on the screen. I always enjoyed Sesame Street as a child myself, but I really find the production even more fun now that I can participate fully in the programming given the audio description service. “ My daughter and I can watch Sesame Street and I am never left wondering about the action of the characters. We can both laugh along together when Big Bird is searching for Ernie and Big Bird keeps bumping into a hay stack. With the description, I can view the show with the same information that the sighted world is receiving.” Karla Hudson
AD on DVDs and in Movie Theaters That’s the broadcast story -- there's still much to be done in other formats: the percentage of all video and film that incorporates description is still miniscule. DVDs are an ideal format for description because the audio track can be turned on or off as desired and an audio menu can be programmed. Given that fact, it’s unfortunate that there are still so few DVDs produced with description in the United States – we’re working on that.
AD in the Performing Arts and Museums Back in the “live” arts area, about thirty States in the U.S. have AD in live theater and in museums via audio tours or trained docents. In a live theater setting, at designated performances (depending on the availability of the service and how it is administered), people desiring audio description are provided headsets/earplugs attached to small receivers, about the size of a small pocket calculator. That’s me—describing a live show!
Often, before the show, a taped or "live" version of the program notes plays through the headsets, after which a trained describer narrates the performance from another part of the theater via an FM radio or infrared transmitter. The narrator guides the audience through the production with concise, objective descriptions of new scenes, settings, costumes, and body language, all slipped in between portions of dialogue or songs.
Museums can use Audio Description techniques to translate the visual to a sense form that is accessible. Using these techniques for the description of static images and exhibitions, museum docents find that they develop better use of language and more expressive, vivid, and imaginative museum tours, greatly appreciated by all visitors. How would you describe this image? What are the gloves made of?
11/24/10 In this way, docent‑led tours are more appropriate for the low‑vision visitor and docents find that their regular tours are enhanced. A lively and vivid descriptive process enables docents to make the museum experience more accessible and more meaningful for everyone.
Some museum administrators are interested in having a recorded tour, specifically geared to people with low vision. Combined with directional information, these recorded tours on audiocassettes enable visitors who are blind to use a simple hand-held audio player to tour at least a portion of the museum independently and with new access to the visual elements of exhibitions. Other curators are interested in having certain videos within an exhibit or a special film described.
A TRUE STORY Speaking of museums -- I have a true story for you: a blind fellow visiting a museum with some friends was once asked, “Excuse me, but what you doing in a museum? You can’t see any of the exhibits.” ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! ! His response? “I’m here for the same reason anyone goes to a museum. I want to learn, I want to know and be a part of our culture.”
That gentleman’s inability to see shouldn’t deny him access to our culture. It the responsibility of our arts institutions to be as inclusive as possible. It’s all about access to our culture and that is everyone’s right. There is no reason why a person with a particular disability must also be culturally disadvantaged.
But reasons remain -- and those who control cultural venues may not loosen their grip on excuses for non-action until folks demand the access that is their right -- to paraphrase Star Trek, demand the opportunity to go where everyone else has already gone .
Part of that has to do with, you should excuse the expression, VISIBILITY. Visibility of folks who desire the service making their wishes known, and visibility of the service itself — that’s why it may be that when description is more prevalent in the media, other art forms and venues will follow suit. Ultimately, in this tremendously prosperous nation, with all of its bountiful resources, there shouldn’t be a state in this nation or a television network or a cable channel or a movie theater that doesn’t offer full access. All people are created equal. We all have a right to equal access
Who are "the blind"? They are not "the blind." They are individuals -- housewives, scientists, artists, business people ... maybe you or me, sometime. That must be emphasized: our individuality, the individuality of folks dealing with some kind of sight loss. And most blind people are not blind -- most at one point had all or some of their sight and now they may have low vision, impaired vision, residual vision, partial vision . Some see shapes and only shapes -- shadows, blurs, blobs -- or have "tunnel vision."
Folks who have low vision or no vision and who generally use other senses/capabilities to perceive the world. And they are people with a wide range of ABILITIES – blind skiers, blind photographers, blind visual artists, blind bowlers, blind restauranteurs, And blindness need not rob anyone of his or her sense of humor! Have you heard the one about Stevie Wonder challenging Tiger Woods to a golf game? Or the story of the blind airline pilot? Both told to me by blind friends …
STEVIE AND TIGER Stevie Wonder and Tiger Woods are in a bar. Woods turns to Wonder and says: "How is the singing career going?" Stevie Wonder replies: "Not too bad! How's the golf?" Woods replies: "Not too bad, I've had some problems with my swing, but I think I've got that right now." Stevie Wonder says: "I always find that when my swing goes wrong, I need to stop playing for a while and not think about it. Then, the next time I play, it seems to be all right.” Tiger Woods says: "You play golf?" Stevie Wonder says: "Oh, yes, I've been playing for years." “ I get my caddy to stand in the middle of the fairway and call to me. I listen for the sound of his voice and play the ball towards him. Then, when I get to where the ball lands, the caddy moves to the green or farther down the fairway and again I play the ball towards his voice.” Woods, incredulous, says to Stevie: "We've got to play a round sometime. When would you like to play?" Stevie says, “Pick a night.”
we're in Sacramento for almost an hour. Would you like to get off and stretch your legs?” The Blind Pilot I was flying from San Francisco to Los Angeles. By the time we took off, there had been a 45 -minute delay and everybody on board was ticked. Unexpectedly, we stopped in Sacramento on the way. The flight attendant explained that there would be another 45 -minute delay, and if we wanted to get off the aircraft, we would reboard in 30 minutes. Everybody got off the plane except one gentleman who was blind. I noticed him as I walked by and could tell he had flown before because his Seeing Eye dog lay quietly underneath the seats in front of him throughout the entire flight. I could also tell he had flown this very flight before because the pilot approached him and, calling him by name, said, "Keith, Keith replied, "No thanks, but maybe my dog would like to stretch his legs." Picture this: All the people in the gate area came to a complete standstill when they looked up and saw the pilot walk off the plane with the Seeing Eye dog! The pilot was even wearing sunglasses.
Now let’s allow a very young Russell Crowe and Hugo Weaving provide a chuckle or two courtesy of the savvy blind character in the Australian film PROOF. Following this excerpt, join us in the discussion room.
The person that confronted the gentleman in the museum is the individual with the “disability.” I call it “attitude impairment,” or “hardening of the attitudes” ( attitudinal sclerosis ). We all need to acknowledge that our attitudes—built up over time like plaque in the veins and aortas of our psyche—can cloud our perceptions when we encounter someone who perceives the world differently. Generally, a person who is accustomed to living with no or low vision views his/her situation as less about the loss of sight and more about perceiving the world in new ways--ways which are not dependent on images and vision.
Can sight be a liability? The fourth tale, "To See and Not See," is about partially restored sight and how it was not a blessing. This sad story illustrates how sight is learned from infancy and is largely a constructive and interpretive function of the brain. This tale also lets us see how the world of the sightless can be rich and fulfilling beyond our imagination.
Still, many people have never met a person who is blind. He/she is A PERSON first—with low or no vision and a wide range of abilities. Strive to “See the person not the disability.” And keep in mind a few things that may help:
Finally, it’s so important to remember that there's only a thin line between "ability" and "disability" – let’s rid ourselves of any semblance of “able-ism”, any sense of separateness between those who can see and those who cannot. “To be able" is a relative condition ‑‑ the great majority of Americans are only “Temporarily Able‑Bodied" (TABs) anyway! One moment Christopher Reeve was “able-bodied”—the next minute, he wasn’t. But he was still Christopher Reeve.
Speaking of “supermen” … In providing AD, we establish a foundation of respect for all individuals, and their individuality, and learn to appreciate their abilities. That starts with our own skills and abilities. When we come to terms with, even embrace our own situations, find and nurture our abilities, we can accomplish things that seem amazing ... we are/we can be as supermen just by developing our own capacities. For describers, we start with our sense of sight and the first of four fundamentals of audio description— OBSERVATION
I recall being simply amazed when I first encountered Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's brilliant detective, Sherlock Holmes. Brilliant ... and incredibly observant.
In developing AD in any context, I emphasize four elements – the first of which is all about the skill that Sherlock Holmes honed:
OBSERVATION The great philosopher Yogi Berra said it best: "You can see a lot just by looking."
An effective describer must increase his level of awareness and become an active "see-er," develop his "visual literacy," notice the visual world with a heightened sense of acuity, and share those images.
“ Those who have never suffered impairment of sight or hearing seldom make the fullest use of these blessed faculties … their eyes and ears take in all sights and sounds hazily, without concentration and with little appreciation.” Helen Keller 11/24/10
2) EDITING Next, describers must edit or cull from what they see, selecting what is most valid, what is most important. Ask yourself: “ What is most critical to an understanding (he points to his head) and appreciation (his hand is on his heart) of that visual image?”
“ The great struggle of art is to leave out all but the essential.” Oliver Wendell Holmes 11/24/10
“ Sometimes to accomplish more, you have to see less.” Accenture ad featuring Tiger Woods focusing on a putt (DFW airport) 11/24/10
3) LANGUAGE We transfer it all to words--objective, vivid, specific, imaginatively drawn words, phrases, and metaphors. How many different words can you use to describe someone moving along a sidewalk? Why say "walk" when you can more vividly describe the action with "sashay," "stroll," "skip," "stumble," or "saunter"? Become a walking thesaurus!
The best audio describers objectively recount the visual aspects of an image. Qualitative judgments get in the way ‑‑ they constitute a subjective interpretation on the part of the describer and are unnecessary and unwanted. Let listeners conjure their own interpretations based on a commentary that is as objective as possible.
So you don't say "He is furious" or "She is upset.“ Rather, "He's clenching his fist" or "She is crying.“ Let the audience make their own judgments! Perhaps their eyes don't work so well, but their brains and interpretative skills are intact.
Always remember— “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Anais Nin 11/24/10
Or put another way— “What we see depends on the history of our lives and where we stand.” Walter Lippman 11/24/10
Because the image is created in the minds of our constituents, avoid labeling with overly subjective interpretations and let our visitors conjure their own images and interpretations, as free as possible from the influence of coloring. As Nin and Lippman observed, there is no specific, objective thing. Indeed, “labeling” – “naming” is not describing . Labels lead us to pigeon-hole and we tend to then dismiss the thing we see.
“ Seeing is forgetting the name of what one sees.” Paul Valery 11/24/10
We try to convey our descriptions with a kind of “inner vision” that results in a linguistically vivid evocation of the scene being viewed. In other words, there aren’t any elephants there — but you may evoke them in order to convey a particular image — (the height of the Washington Monument!). BECAUSE …
“ Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.” Jonathan Swift and … 11/24/10
“ You cannot depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” Mark Twain 11/24/10
Go to DISCUSSION ROOM Audio Description — by the blind, for those who cannot see [Anonymous] Two men, both seriously ill, occupied the same hospital room. One man was allowed to sit up in his bed for an hour each afternoon to help drain the fluid from his lungs. His bed was next to the room’s only window. The other man had to spend all his time flat on his back. The men talked for hours on end. They spoke of their wives and families, their homes, their jobs, their involvement in the military service, where they had been on vacation. And every afternoon when the man in the bed by the window could sit up, he would pass the time by describing to his roommate all the things he could see outside the window. The man in the other bed began to live for those one-hour periods where his world would be broadened and enlivened by all the activity and color of the world outside. The window overlooked a park with a lovely lake. Ducks and swans played on the water while children sailed their model boats. Young lovers walked arm in arm amidst flowers of every color of the rainbow. Grand old trees graced the landscape, and a fine view of the city skyline could be seen in the distance. As the man by the window described all this in exquisite detail, the man on the other side of the room would close his eyes and imagine the picturesque scene. One warm afternoon the man by the window described a parade passing by. Although the other man couldn’t hear the band, he could see it in his mind’s eye as the gentleman by the window portrayed it with descriptive words. Days and weeks passed. One morning, the day nurse arrived to bring water for their baths only to find the lifeless body of the man by the window, who had died peacefully in his sleep. She was saddened and called the hospital attendants to take the body away. As soon as it seemed appropriate, the other man asked if he could be moved next to the window. The nurse was happy to make the switch, and after making sure he was comfortable, she left him alone. lowly, painfully, he propped himself up on one elbow to take his first look at the world outside. Finally, he would have the joy of seeing it for himself. He strained to slowly turn to look out the window beside the bed. It faced a blank wall. The man asked the nurse what could have compelled his deceased roommate who had described such wonderful things outside this window. The nurse responded that the man was blind and could not even see the wall. She said, “Perhaps he just wanted to encourage you.” [J.S. — The man who was blind had tremendous vision. It allowed him to describe with a clarity and vividness that we as audio describers can only hope to achieve.]
Go to DISCUSSION ROOM Check out the following article from BBC News, March 19, 2001: “ Imaginary Art Show Opens” “ A new art show called The Exhibition To Be Constructed In Your Head is relying on the power of the imagination to create its artworks. “ Go to the following URL for the rest of the story: http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/entertainment/1229586.stm
4) VOCAL SKILLS Finally, in addition to building a verbal capability, the describer develops the vocal instrument through work with speech and oral interpretation fundamentals. We make meaning with our voices!
Say the phrase on the next slide aloud … If you agree with its sentiments, I suspect that you few female friends. If you don’t, say the same words aloud—don’t change their order—and with your voice alone, change the meaning so you convey a sense that is quite the opposite of the “original.”
SUMMARY Effective describers must learn to— 1) "re-see" the world around us‑‑to truly notice what it is perceived with the eyes (OBSERVATION); and then 2) express the pertinent aspects of those images (EDITING); 3) with precise and imaginative language (LANGUAGE); and 4) vocal techniques – that render the visual verbal!
Let’s try it— Take five minutes to study each of the three following Images (15 minutes total). Note— - all that there is to see, - consider what’s most critical to convey, and then - focus on the words you’d use to convey those images most clearly, succinctly, and imaginatively. Afterwards, join us in the DISCUSSION ROOM
Kate Gainer Disability Affairs Coordinator, City of Atlanta Photo of a black woman, mouth open in a broad smile, nose crinkles, as if to flirt with the camera. Her cheeks shine echoing lights suspended behind her; she twists toward us, seated in a power chair facing right — on its side, a round decal reads “ADAPT — We Will Ride.”
Kate Gainer was one of 18 students to attend Atlanta’s first special education class for black children. It was an empowering experience for a black child growing up in a Southern segregated city. She says the most frustrating thing she went through as a teenager with cerebral palsy was that she couldn’t “strut” like the other girls could. “ If I ever write my autobiography, I’m going to title it: ‘I was born colored and crippled but now I’m black and disabled’.”
Al Mead Paralympic Medalist, Track and Field Photo of a black man, in profile, facing left, he stretches his body into the shape of an upper-case T — his left arm, sinewy, sculpted, extends left — dark skin against a white tank top; his right leg and arm point right while he balances on his left leg, a prosthetic nestled within a running shoe.
As a youngster, Al Mead lost his left leg above the knee due to circulatory problems. Meda has grown into the quintessential Paralympic athlete -- he holds a U.S. high jump record at 1.73 meters. He set the world record for the long jump with a gold medal performance in the 1988 Paralympic Games in Seoul, Korea. “ I grew up in a Christian home so when I was told that my leg would be amputated, it didn’t really affect me like you think it would, because I thought God would grow it back.”
Lauren McDevitt Paralympic Medalist, Equestrian Backlit, and in wispy silhouette, a photo of a white girl in her teens in profile, facing right — only inches away, a horse (his head, the size of her torso) nuzzles her open hand in her lap as she rests in a wheelchair.
Lauren McDevitt was ten when she experienced a muscle cramp in her thigh. She went to the school nurse to lay down. Within an hour, she lost all feeling and movement from her waist down. It has stayed that way. Now in her mid-twenties, she is working on a master’s degree in therapeutic recreation. She captured a bronze medal at the 1996 Paralympic Games in dressage, a test of ability of ride and horse to communicate and work together through a series of complex moves. “ Riding a horse is something that gives me an immense freedom. In a [wheel]chair, you have a lot of barriers on the ground. But you get on a horse and none of those barriers are there. The horses are your legs for you. And they know that.”
The following three images come from my home town—Washington, DC. In the last year of the Clinton administration, I began developing an audio described tour of the White House. Those plans were disbanded after 9/11—there is no longer a self-guided tour of the White House. But the Obama administration may find a way to have me pick up where I left off—and you can help! Write 100-word (give or take) descriptions of each of the next three images. Remember—start with the general and move to the specific; don’t forget our AD Fundamentals. Then join us back in the Discussion Room.
The next four slides are visual “jokes”. But if you can’t see, you won’t find them very funny. Your job is to make them funny for an audience who is depending on your words—and your delivery— to create the comic effect. How will you structure your phrases to accomplish that? In voicing your descriptions, how will you use certain inflections, volume, pitch to convey your meaning?! Write 100-word (give or take) descriptions of each of the next four images. Then join us back in the Discussion Room.
Not too long ago, I developed an audio described tour for Washington, DC’s International Spy Museum. Let’s observe two stations on that tour and take time to develop descriptions for them in the same format we’ve been using. We’ll review them in the Discussion Room and then I’ll share my own descriptions of the exhibits.
Bug Desk Now, to the right, is a desk about three feet wide and two feet deep. A text panel warns us to “Shh! Someone’s listening! Spy agencies have developed scores of ingenious devices to eavesdrop on enemy conversations.” On the desk is a display of eavesdropping devices—tiny microphone-transmitter combinations may be concealed almost anywhere—hidden in a cigarette lighter and telephone mouthpiece. Each item is cutaway so you can feel the bugs. They are at the top of the desk: the lighter is at 11:00 and the phone at 1:00. (Continued …)
Just above and behind the phone, within a bookshelf, is a framed picture of former Secretary of State Madeline Albright. Reach forward and examine the frame—notice anything out of the ordinary? On the shelf above the one with the picture frame is a row of books—with unusual binding. And to the left of these shelves, jutting out from the wall, is power outlet adaptor. How does it differ from one you might find in your own home? A skilled agent selects the right device to suit a particular place or to pick up certain sounds. With digital technology, modern bugs are more compact than ever, often as thin as a human hair!
At the end of the hallway is a life-size black-and-white photo portrait of Mata Hari. Her dark-haired is topped with a bejeweled tiara and she is costumed exotically: fabric drapes her left shoulder and her right arm is raised with her hand at her tiara; her top is bare save for jewel-encrusted arm and wrist bands and brassiere. Her midriff is exposed and the lower portion of her body is swathed in additional folds of fabric. A placard tells us that she was a “ Legend in Her Own Mind-- Mata Hari embodied all the romance of espionage. This exotic dancer turned World War I spy supposedly seduced diplomats and military officers into giving up their secrets. But history shows that most of her exploits took place only in her imagination.”
But maybe we’ve tackled too much—these are complex images! Let’s take a breath and focus on simple geometric shapes—a breeze! I will email you each an image. Please post your consise descriptions in the Discussion Room. I’ll then ask one of your colleagues to reproduce the image based on your description. But before we let the games begin, consider (and take to heart!) Williams Ivins’ words:
“ The moment anyone tries to seriously describe an object carefully and accurately in words his attempt takes the form of an interminably long and prolix rigamarole that few persons have the patience or the intelligence, to understand. A serious attempt to describe even the most simple piece of machinery … a kitchen can opener … results in a morass of words, and yet the shape of that can opener is simplicity itself compared to the shape of a human hand or face.” William M. Ivins, “Prints & Visual Communication”
As a screening mechanism designed to cull applicants for positions as a full-time media describer, I would have applicants view the following image and describe it in 25 words or less. You try it—then let’s meet in the Discussion Room. Then I’ll share with you a variety of the descriptions submitted by prospective describers over the years.
“ A robed figure on a beige building holds a trumpet under a lightning streaked sky.” “ Looking upward, a sculpted figure playing a long trumpet emerges against a lightning filled sky.” “ Looking skyward, lightening [sic] illuminates stone building’s massive sculpted façade of person, flowing robes, blowing horn.” “ An angelic statue, complete with robes and wings, plays a trumpet against a stormy sky.” “ Lightening [sic] bolts streak across the sky. A prominent building features a statue blowing a horn.” “ Pale stone building façade in relief, angel blowing trumpet, viwed from ground toward a stormy sky.” “ Looking skyward up the wall; lightening-pierced [sic] night illuminates bas relief angel playing ancient trumpet.” “ We are at the base of a gargoyle-carved building under a stormy sky.”