A Conversation Between Two Sisters

The journalist in me was having a really hard time with this narrative interview assignment. I’m so used to extracting information – albeit interesting information – as opposed to finding a narrative within a personal story.

My chosen interviewee was also having a difficult time with the interview process in the beginning. Having never been interviewed before, and having to “squeeze” our talk in between planning her hens night and ensuring I didn’t leave Newcastle too late to get home at a reasonable hour, there was tension in the air.

But nothing a plate of cookies couldn’t fix, or at least make more comfortable.

 

I think I’m more of a do-er. But, at the same time, because I know what I value in a boss, I try and do that as well, so although I didn’t excel massively as a man – mmm, nah, that’s a lie – I am a good manager but to be honest, it’s not something I massively enjoy.

 

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The Ethics of Taking Photos of People In Public

As someone who does a two-hour commute to Sydney on public transport six times every week (I accept your pity), using devices in public spaces is the only reason I can maintain any kind of sanity.

But, does the use of these personal technologies by individual members of the public, in uncontrolled, unmediated, open public space pose any problems to things like privacy?

Consider this photo: 

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This is a picture I took of rush hour on the Bondi to Kiama train; both a tradie and a business man are using their phones, and a girl in the background is holding her laptop. We were absolutely packed in like sardines on this train, and not only did these people have their phones out – even though there was hardly any room for hands to be extended from the body – but most people did, including myself. There was also an abundance of people who were lucky enough to have fought for a seat who were using their laptops.

The tradie isn’t even holding on to anything on the train to stabilise himself, and he was almost falling over each time the train stopped and started, but he still continued to use his phone.

While public media places of the past, like cinemas, are managed and controlled by a set of formal and informal rules and ideals, the new public media space doesn’t really have any rules.

I have already explored the constraints put on the public in a cinema, and will now work to explore what – if any – are the rules of personal media use in public spaces, focusing on photography; and what happens when someone’s photo is taken and ends up all over the world.

The formal rules of public space

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The Arts and Law Street Photographers Rights information sheet outlines that:

“It is generally possible to take photographs in a public place without asking permission. This extends to taking photographs of buildings, sites and people. In a case involving street surveillance photography used as evidence in a criminal case, an Australian judge stated “a person, in our society, does not have a right not to be photographed.” (Arts Law Centre of Australia 2016, p. 1)

While there are no laws around permission, there are some limitations in place. You can not use someone’s image for advertisement purposes without their express permission, you can not photograph on private property, and some ‘public’ spaces (music venues, shopping centres, hospitals) might be owned by government or councils, and might be classed as private property.

The informal rules of public space

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Of course, most people would approach street photography in a polite way. For example, the photo I took above doesn’t include anyone’s face – I have made sure to conceal their identities in case they didn’t want their photo taken. If I was in a more relaxed setting, I might have asked if I could take their photo, but because tensions run high on the afternoon commute and people are more often than not frustrated and tired, I thought this would be the best way to approach the photo, while still remaining ethical.

Not taking photos of children (unless necessary), not including faces of people, keeping an open dialogue if anyone questions what you are doing and respecting someone’s wishes are ways to remain ethical if undertaking street photography. If someone asks you to delete their photo, even after explaining to them what you are doing, how the photo will be used and why you’re taking it, you should probably delete it.

This idea is supported by Joerg Colberg in his blog, where he states:

“In other words, it might be perfectly legal to photograph someone in a public space, but something being legal doesn’t mean it’s ethical as well… If that means that street photography is in some sort of trouble then, well, so be it…

…The onus is on photographers and not on the public. Art photography occupies a tiny niche in this very large world, and we cannot expect the general public to have the same kind of knowledge and/or understanding of photography the members of this tiny niche have… if someone clearly does not want to be photographed or if they are for their photo to be deleted after the fact, then I do think those wishes have to be respected.”

Why does it matter? 

As a journalist, the lack of restrictions on street photography and photography in public places is a great thing for me. I will be able to film and take photos of public locations for any stories I might end up covering, and still be covered under the law. But on a more casual level, there might be consequences.

Because people do not have a right to not have their photo taken, theoretically anyone can be photographed, and then that photo could be shared online and turned into a meme or viral image.

These two images, one of a girl at a school and one of a marathon runner were both innocently taken, and uploaded on the internet where they both became the memes ‘confused black girl’, and ‘ridiculously photogenic guy’ respectively.

While the photo of ‘ridiculously photogenic guy’ going viral was helpful to him, who was trying to break into the PR industry in New York at the time, sometimes these viral photos of unsuspecting people have a negative effect.

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‘Alex from Target’ was snapped by a girl who he was serving at his job (a public place), and the photo of him went viral and he was  thrown into instant internet fame. Because of this, he faced popularity, but also death threats and insults.

Of course, not all device use in public places, and not all street photography, will result in the creation of a meme, but because it is 2016 and social media and the internet make it incredibly likely your images will be seen by a lot of people and impossible to remove, there are more ethical questions to ask before taking photos of people.

REFERENCES:

Arts Law Centre of Australia 2016, Arts and Law Information Sheet Street Photographer’s Rights, Arts Law Centre of Australia, Sydney, <http://www.artslaw.com.au/images/uploads/Street_photographers_rights_2016.pdf>

Colberg, J 2013, ‘The Ethics of Street Photography’, Conscientious Extended, weblog post, April 3, viewed September 11 2016, <http://jmcolberg.com/weblog/extended/archives/the_ethics_of_street_photography/>

Alright, Come Close. Let Me Show You Everything I Know

Written in January of 2015


When you’re a writer and have fallen into a massive slump of writer’s block, you experience a great number of thoughts and doubts that will give your confidence a beating. I know, because I have just come out of the other side of a dark, blank and inspiration-less tunnel of writer’s block that had lasted years. Years with an ‘s’. Multiple. If I had to put a number on it, that number would be four. Four years of opening up a new word document only to close it not long afterwards, tapping a pen on the blank page of a notebook, staring up at the ceiling thinking “Ideas, ideas, c’mon, ideas, anything, c’mon, get an idea…”. As someone who has always wanted a career that was involved some way with writing, whether it was to be a successful, published author (“The Dream”), a journalist of a trendy magazine or journal (“The Degree”) or even to be an English teacher, grading papers and attempting to spark a love of language and writing in the thralls of half-asleep youths that filed reluctantly into my classroom (“The Back-up Plan”), to have not written a single thought down in four years was a tad worrying to say the least.

When I decided to change my degree from teaching to journalism so I would have a degree more closely linked to my passion – it is still a passion even if you haven’t been able to think of anything to do in that area in a number of years, right? –  I was terrified because of the lack of ideas and the lack of practice that I had been suffering from. But apparently, I needn’t worry, because they* say that inspiration will find you as soon as you stop looking for it, and that’s exactly what happened to me (and thank goodness it did!!!).

Around March in 2014 I was listening to the radio station Triple J and their segment “Like a Version”, and I heard a band covering Kanye West’s Love Lockdown. It connected with me on a level that no song had reached in a really long time. The soulful vocals on the track, the music, the vibe, the feel. The only way I can describe it was that the music was inside me. Corny, I know, but that is truly what it felt like. But as soon as it began, it was over. About two or three weeks later, I heard them on the radio again, this time, one of their own songs. It was exactly that moment I knew that this band from England, Glass Animals, was going to be my next big music obsession. I desperately needed more of it. I needed to listen to them all of the time. I started scouring the internet for concert dates, joining mailing lists so I would know when they would be touring Australia. I would put their album, “Zaba”, on repeat, for days, and I would never -and still am yet to- get sick of it. Their music style is just so weird, unique and unlike anything I have heard before, it has so many quirks and layers. Every time I listen to one of their songs, I discover new things and get a completely different experience from it and I think that is one of the things that makes this band so great.

If I have had a bad day, their music improves my mood, tenfold. If it was a particularly bad day, listening to their music lifts my mood until I’m swaying and grooving along to their hypnotic sound and I have forgotten about all of my troubles. Dave, the vocalist, well, his voice literally gives me goosebumps. I could ramble on about their music style for pages and pages, but it can really only be explained by listening to their music first hand (Do yourself a favour and go listen to some of their music right now!). I haven’t felt this passionate about a band in years, since I was 14 and was rocking out in my bedroom to My Chemical Romance, obsessing over band members, covering my walls in their posters and getting into deep discussions with my friends in which we felt like we really, truly, honest to goodness knew them on a personal level, because their music made us believe we did. That is what Glass Animals is to me.

On top of reviving the little fan-girl inside me and making me have feelings about music I hadn’t felt in years, once I started listening to Glass Animals on the regular, I noticed that I was starting to think of ideas. I’d be travelling on a train between Sydney and Newcastle (which, I will note, is one of the dullest train rides you will ever have the displeasure of travelling), headphones in, five tracks deep into “Zaba”, and I’d see a little blue painted house sitting on the very edge of a lake, a small, run-down jetty with planks missing jutting out in front of it, and all of a sudden, a story would start to write itself in my head. An old fisherman, a small tin dingy, the fish not biting like they used too. His grand kids coming to visit and exploring the bushland around his house, him showing them how to fish, the long trip down a small dirt road barely big enough for one car to get from the small waterfront house to the nearest town. Some may argue that it was the house that inspired me, but I had travelled this route a million times over and nothing had ever popped into my head as vividly as this. I hadn’t thought of anything like this on any of the four dozen return trips I had taken on this old train. It was Glass Animals. Their music connects with my soul in a way that had awakened my inspiration. I started writing in my journals, I started to play around with ideas for articles and blog posts. I seriously owe this band my new-found love for my lifelong passion. And that is an amazing thing. I can’t thank them enough for that.

I saw them twice in as many weeks. Once at a festival where they played around a half-hour set. It was mind blowing, but it wasn’t enough. So I bought tickets to their small, intimate show at The Hi-Fi in Sydney a week afterwards, and it was the best night I have had in a very long time. I had a smile that took up my entire face the entire gig. I sang along word for word, I stretched out desperately in an attempt to touch Dave when he came down into the crowd, I jumped, I danced (and I cannot dance, I have nearly no rhythm and no sense of style) and I screamed out in full fan-girl force. I left the concert, band shirt in tow, and just knew that I wanted to write my first article that would be published on the big wide world of web about them and the way that their music has inspired me to follow my dream of being a writer.

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Photo taken at the January 2015 gig

So to anyone out there who is in a bit of a slump, whether you are a musician, artist, writer or whatever, you will find something that will drag you out of it. And they* say a lot, but from first hand experience, this “inspiration will find YOU” thing that they* carry on about is not a cop out. It is one of the magical mysteries this hell of a life will throw at you. And even if it isn’t going to inspire you to paint a masterpiece or change your degree from something safe to something a little bit risky, throwing on some of your old favourite music, or going out and discovering something new, is never a bad idea.

* The all-knowing “they” of “Oh you know what they say, insert-cliche-blanket-statement-here” fame.

http://glassanimals.eu/

Art Therapy

“The thing with cancer is that you always have this amount of hope,” she says, dipping a paintbrush into a glass filled with water, “you just think you’ll get treatment and that will be that. And we had that hope right up until they told us that the treatment wasn’t working.”.

This conversation seems out of place in the colour-filled makeshift art studio, but being surrounded by paints and art is where Bathurst-born and South-coast based artist Madi Ryan feels the most like herself.

Her house is an eclectic hodge-podge of mismatched furniture, exactly what you would expect in a share house filled with twenty-something university students and recent graduates. Madi’s art studio – which doubles as the household dining room – is a paint-covered desk in the corner of the room. The coffee table is littered with paint bottles and colour-stained rags. A huge black cat sleeps in a square of sunlight that has landed on the dining table, pushed to the wall and covered in dust, a sign that no meal has been eaten there in some time.

Madi is sitting on the floor, lazily dragging a paintbrush over a wooden skateboard on which she is painting a David Bowie inspired creation set among a star-filled galaxy. It comes so effortlessly to her, she is barely paying attention to the paintbrush, but it continues to dance across the board. She muses, “you know, if tomorrow I had both arms cut off and I couldn’t draw or paint anymore, I’d probably start using my feet to do it. I don’t think I could ever do anything else.”

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The daughter of an artist-turned-librarian mother and a disability worker father, Madi was destined to be a book-lover and an overwhelmingly caring person, and later found out that art was a part of her, as if paint flowed through her body in place of blood. “I know my mum was a bit of an art buff in her day, but she didn’t really pursue her art and always regretted it. It reminded her so much of her dad so she was very supportive of me doing it. Lots of other people don’t ever get that kind of support.”

Madi knew what she wanted her life to be. She’d leave Bathurst and her strict Catholic all-girls high school behind, go to university, and become a full-time artist – ultimately, she wanted to be able to finally be herself.  In 2012, Madi started a Bachelor of Creative Arts in Wollongong and her parents, Noel and Trish, relocated to Mossy Point on the South Coast.

In March of her final year at University, her parents surprised her with a visit. “They said they’d just been to a doctor’s appointment but I didn’t think much of it. But then they said dad had cancer.” Madi barely looks up from her painting as she talks. The corners of her mouth start to turn up as a memory comes to her. “It wasn’t like in the movies. They just told me he had a tumor in his neck and then said ‘should we make tea?’ I think my families’ response to any sort of tragedy is just to put the kettle on.” That was her family dynamic. They worked as a unit, and any sad event was nothing that a cup of tea couldn’t fix. “Mum always makes sweet tea because the sugar helps you deal with things,” Madi explains, “and dad always had chocolate. He said it was medicinal.” The plan was simple; her dad would start treatment, Madi would finish University and everything would continue; it was business as usually for the Ryan family and no tumor was going to change that.

Madi wanted to drop out to go home and be with her dad, but he made it clear that that wasn’t an option. “Dad was always so supportive of my art and definitely didn’t want to be the reason that I stopped, especially so close to finishing.” In the end, staying ended up being the distraction that she needed or she would have just fallen apart. Her friends were the crutch that she needed to stay together and deal with the biggest challenge of her life. Gee Singh was Madi’s housemate at the time. “I remember telling her everything would be fine. I had no doubt in my mind that things would get better and it would just be a minor medical thing that was easily fixed. No one had any idea exactly how serious his condition was and we all hoped it would just go away.”

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Madi and her dad around March of 2015.

I ask her to tell me about her dad, and her eyes light up, a smile breaks out across her face and she starts talking faster than I can keep up. “He was just a cool dude. After they moved to the coast, he became this Ukulele teacher with a Hawaiian shirt collection. We would have a lot of family occasions where we would just sit and play ukuleles together.” She gestures to her left where a ukulele sits proudly on a stand. She tells me a story about how he had to celebrate his fifty-ninth birthday in hospital and the nurses (who all loved him, of course) blew up “balloons” out of gloves and wrote “happy birthday” on the whiteboard. Noel was so chuffed that he put a picture of it on his Instagram account, which he was proud he had – it made him a cool dad. “He had this moustache his entire life, and we always joked about how we’d never seen his top lip, so while he was going through Chemo, he didn’t care about anything except losing this moustache. And he didn’t lose it! It stayed there!”

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Noel playing his ukulele

In the second half of the year, the family found out that Noel’s treatment wasn’t working, and that any further treatment would just be preventing the inevitable. “She told me her dad stopped treatment and that her family had started planning his funeral.” Gee describes the night Madi told her and broke down. “I remember we drove up to the lighthouse and she just let go of all her strength and opened up about everything. How he would never get the chance to walk her down the aisle, know her children, or just be there. We sat in my car, in the middle of the night, while I held her, and we both cried. We didn’t say anything for such a long time, because, like, what words can you say at a time like that?”

Madi’s brother Luke became Noel’s full-time carer, and once she graduated, she moved home to help out as well. Madi said that watching her brother drop everything and do so much for their dad changed the way she would see him forever. “I always knew that my brother was a very caring person, but I have never respected him more than when he was dads carer. He was twenty-four and he gave up two years of his life for dad.” Her voice cracks. “I will be eternally grateful to him for that.” Her dad’s condition deteriorated quickly. He couldn’t eat, he couldn’t walk and would often have falls. The cancer spread through his whole body, including his brain. He started to lose his speech and his memory. He couldn’t remember ukulele songs and then, he couldn’t play at all because he couldn’t use his fingers.

“Having to watch someone you love go through that, and know that they’re going to die…”\

 

Silence.

 

She closes her eyes and doesn’t say anything for a very long time. She is trying her hardest to hold back tears.

“I have to be thankful for the time that I had with him. I was blessed to have him, some people don’t have fathers and I had the most amazing one. Just knowing him made you a better person.”

She wipes away the tears building up in her eyes, and starts painting again. This relaxes her, and her voice starts to break as she gives up on holding back her emotions. She talks about how in the end, her family just knew it was coming. Everyone was just so tired, and “in the end we were just glad that he wasn’t suffering anymore.”

One year on, things have started to fall into place for Madi and her family. Her brother is expecting a baby girl, her sister, Emma, is engaged and Madi has started her art business, and had her first art exhibition. “As cliché as it is, I believe he is making all of this happen. I just see all these little things every day and it is too much of a coincidence to not be him.” She smiles, and twists the ring on her finger – which she later tells me was given to her dad on his eighteenth birthday. She has a tattoo on her right arm; “Love you always, Dad” in his handwriting.

“I think of him everyday. A thousand times a day.”

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Emma, Madi, Trish, Noel and Luke Ryan at Madi’s Graduate Art Show in 2014

“I’m not him because I don’t know who he is.”

Thomas suffers from depression and anxiety and his family have always feared that he will commit suicide, just like his father did when he was only seven years old. Being so young and forced to cope with such an intense loss has left Thomas feeling numb and emotionless about death. Now, at age 24, he says that he doesn’t feel any sadness about his father’s death, but he feels resentment and anger that his family thinks he will hurt them the same way his father did.

You Never Should Have Come Here!

Why I’ll Always Keep Playing Skyrim.

“Hey, you! You’re finally awake. You were trying to cross the border right? Walked right into that Imperial ambush same as us and that thief over there…”

I’ve heard these words many times, because out of every game I’ve played, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, is one of my favourites to come back and replay again and again. Since being released in November 2011, I have started a new character four times, and am eager to start a fifth. The first character that I made – a Nord mage warrior called Valeria – definitely has the most hours clocked: a number that I am not proud of. If I put that much time into any other activity – one that is more socially acceptable than sitting on my bed in my underwear for 26 hours at a time, only getting up to make cups of coffee, use the bathroom and make another packet of 2 minute noodles – I would be an expert.

When push comes to shove, there are probably three main reasons that Skyrim appeals to me so much more than other games I have played. The fantasy nature of the game and the heavily explored lore and history, the beauty of the graphics and visual aspects of the game – which still hold up today, after more than three years – and just how expansive the world really is in terms of gameplay.

The Elder Scrolls universe has a very rich and deep history filled with lore, legends, religions and the like. There is magic, mythical creatures, like giants and dragons (DRAGONS!!!), cool armour, even cooler weapons… The writers of this game really gave it their all to attempt to create a fully immersive world for players to lose themselves in and become a part of. And it one hundred percent payed off. The final product is a game that sucks you in and holds onto you. In the first five or so minutes of the game, you are already becoming part of the world, and you haven’t even created your character yet! Everything from the loads of exposition they throw on you to get a better sense of the story (Ulfric, Imperials, Stormcloaks, details of the civil war going on. You are inundated with names and facts and story to fill you in to this very moment), to the look and feel of the world around you impacts you and helps you to decide what kind of character you are going to play this game as. And these decisions impact your gameplay. Skyrim is the homeland of the mighty Nord people, so choose to play as a Nord and you’ll have an easy time interacting with most of the NPC’s in the game. Argonians, Dark Elves and Kajiits, however, are less welcome in Skyrim, and so the NPC’s will react accordingly. The game has a very heavy fantasy feel to it (helped along with the inclusion of magic and DRAGONS!!!) which really appeals to me on a personal level as fantasy would have to be my favourite genre to read/write/explore.

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Did I mention that the game has dragons?

The second reason that Skyrim is a game that I keep coming back to is the high quality of the graphics. Seriously, this game is so beautiful to look at. I remember when I first started the game, before I could even get to start playing and could only move my controls to look around my surroundings (sitting in a horse-drawn cart with other prisoners as we were being taken through a forest at the bottom of a mountain to a small hold called Helgen), I was in complete awe of the realistic landscape and the detail of the whole thing. The visual quality of the game is so impressive that, in many instances, someone on the internet has posted a screencap of a Skyrim landscape and at first glance, you could be fooled into thinking it was a real life photo of a real life place. The environments are so varied as well, you have everything from snow-capped mountains and icy tundras, to swamplands and deep forests. All of the holds and villages are joined together by quaint little dirt paths with signposts every so often so you can find your way – although it is important to note that you probably will not use these paths, instead attempting to just jump your way up a mountain or get to where you’re going in the fastest and yet most difficult way possible. My favourite mode of transport is via Shadowmere – the undead horse, but each to their own. The designers of the game did one of the best graphic design jobs I’ve ever seen in a video game. This is evident because the game has been out for over three years now and it still stands up against games being released in 2015. The beauty of the game is something that I get excited about every time I play.

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Check out that lake!

The gameplay of Skyrim is the main reason that I love this game. Seriously, there is almost nothing I do not love because there is simply so much to do!!! I loved all three expansions – Dawnguard which deals with vampires and vampire hunters, Hearthfire in which you can build houses and have a family and Dragonborn where your character battles the first ever dragonborn. I felt like these expansions added to the experience of Skyrim all together and were very refreshing and exciting when they came out. Between these expansions and the original game, there is a seemingly endless amount of quests to complete and dungeons to explore and the levelling up system takes some serious time to complete. You could, in theory, start this game over fifty times over and have a different playthrough experience every time, whether that be because you play as a mage or a warrior, join one or all of the guilds, be an relatively good guy or a bad guy who deals with Deadra. The experience can be different every time. Some people I know only completed the main story lines, others did everything, or a bit of this and a bit of that. Some people grind to level up every possible skill to 100, and some don’t. I fall into the latter category here. I don’t necessarily try to “beat” the game to get to 100 or be the best at it. I’m more interested in completing quests and exploring dungeons than I am in smithing, but that is my personal preference. Everyone plays Skyrim a bit differently because the gameplay is so customisable to suit you and your personal playing style, and that is a wonderful thing. It’s also the number one reason that for the foreseeable future, I will always come back to play this game.

So even though the gap between playthroughs is forever getting larger (probably because I have stuff to do now, I mean, I’m a Uni student and I can’t just lie around all day playing video games. I have classes to sleep through, cheap wine to drink and sobbing stints of self-loathing to battle against…) I keep finding myself wanting to play The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim because it is one of my favourite games, and for me, isn’t boring or dated. It holds up, it stands its ground. What’s not to love about absorbing the souls of a dragon you’ve just killed and using those souls to shout words that allow you to breath fire or knock goats off mountain tops?


I wrote this in April of 2015.

Australia’s Domestic Violence Emergency

I wrote an article about Domestic Violence in Australia that has been published in The Greens Magazine.
Here is the link for anyone who would like to read it.
http://greens.org.au/magazine/national/domestic-violence-emergency

Kassi.