VSW Day Two: Images [Doing]

[Day Two, Part 2 of 2]

As I started to map out yesterday, I am interested in the potentials of using digital tools to create a layered representation of Evangeline through various forms of media. This begins with a base of the original Longfellow poem. This text will be annotated with commentary on the poem and by splicing in other texts other texts: primarily, Felix Voorhies’ local re-telling of the “real story” of Evangeline rooted in South Louisiana. However, I am also interested in including text from tourist brochures and other textual sites of collective memory. The idea here is locate the connection points between the original poem and historical memory and to weave these narratives together with digital annotation.

Since today’s focus is on visual culture, I spent the afternoon experimenting with ways to engage with/incorporate images in this annotated version of Evangeline. I have four ideas: create a visual archive; use image annotation tools; juxtapose images; and glitch images.

First, I plan to create an Omeka collection of Evangeline imagery by pulling representations of Evangeline out of my research. I think there will be something worthwhile in viewing these images extracted from their context in scrapbooks, newspapers, and brochures (I’m using Omeka so that I can also retain metadata to locate them again when I need to cite). I’m hoping this will allow me notice both repetitions and deviations in how Evangeline was depicted in different places, by different groups, and in different historical moments. I find myself remembering certain images in other places as I write, but I think something valuable will come from viewing them all together. Examples of four of these images are below, as I did not have the time to begin adding images and metadata into Omeka today.

Another reason I am using Omeka (rather than a tool like Tropy, which I considered and use in other ways) is so I can take advantage of the exhibit and annotation plugins. The Exhibit Image Annotation plugin allows me to annotate close readings of an image and present that reading to the audience. The plugin allows you to draw boxes around elements of an image and embed textual comments onto the image itself. This creates an interactive and immersive way for the public to view the image and follow along with my analysis (or, cultural critique?) of it. It also helps in my own process of analysis, forcing me to pay careful attention as I decide what parts of the image to highlight.

A still image of the image annotation tool in action. For the full experience, visit http://jessicadoeshistory.com/imaginingacadiana/exhibits/show/evangeline/back-to-ancient-days.

Next, I wanted to experiment with how I can use KnightLab’s Juxtapose tool to compare images. For instance, here I imported two images: one of a tourist brochure from Grand Pre in 1930 and the other from Louisiana in 1955. Both are directly referencing the same Evangeline myth and the shared history of the Acadian expulsion of 1755, but are rooting those memories in two different locations and two decades apart. Juxtapose allows me to quickly make a visual argument/comparison between the two, and the ease of sliding between them has the potential to reveal something that might otherwise go unnoticed. (If the Juxtapose slider doesn’t appear below try refreshing; it can be a temperamental tool.)

Finally, I’ve used glitching with my students but have not yet incorporated it into my own research. I am very curious about the generative potentials this method can have both for research and presentation. My dissertation considers how myth, history, landscape, and identity are weaved together through the figure of Evangeline, and glitching seems to be an interesting way to digitally pull at these threads. I think that glitching could not only help me to see these familiar images in new ways, but could possibly create some visual representations of my larger historical arguments. This does not only mean random disruption of the archive, but also potentially adding a new layer to the Evangeline myth . One thing that has struck me in my research is the use of the phrase “the modern Evangeline” to describe various images of a young women costumed in “Norman cap and kirtle” and often posed by a pastoral landscape or next to a spinning wheel or other historical object. What might a “modern Evangeline” (Evangeline 2.0?) look like in the digital age?

As a preliminary experiment, I took an image of Mildred Dessens, a woman from St. Martinville, Louisiana, taken around 1930. In this image, Dessens is dressed in an Evangeline costume and is sitting at a spinning wheel. It is unclear if Dessens knew how to use the wheel; the regional interest in contemporary artisans wouldn’t really take off until later in the decade. Regardless, the spinning wheel was included in several images of “Evangeline” (most of them played by Dessens) in order to reflect some kind of connection with the past lifeways of Cajuns and/or Acadians (the line between these identities is blurred, as my dissertation explores). In the original image, Dessens sits at the wheel but stares straight ahead, into the camera, into the eye of viewer, as if the past is looking back at us. Hers is a resolute yet expressionless face, perhaps trying to mimic the wheel in her historical neutrality, an emotionless window into the past.

The glitched image retains only this expression, causing us to look even deeper into it. Her body, originally costumed in anachronistic clothing sitting at an anachronistic household item, is disappeared, replaced by a stream of rainbow lines of various colors and widths. All that remains of the original image is her face and the cap upon her head, which without the rest of the costume appears even more anachronistic than before. Her expression is the same, but now my eyes are drawn to the blackness of the background that surrounds her. Without the wheel, it is only a young women’s face against a void, expressionless but focused. Can we interpret the vivid colors against the dark background as an antidote for the kind of historical preservation in the first image; the kind that freezes the past in place, objectively waiting to be called upon but not truly used. Instead, the glitched image presents the past shrouded in active color, even though we may have lost some of its relics in the process. The colors create a new tension between past and present, light and dark, maybe even freedom and confinement. Is Dessens (or, the modern Evangeline) trapped by the past, perhaps made an object of it herself, or is she being trapped by the encroaching wave of modernity that strips her away from the wheel, the homespun of her ancestors? Or, does she sit at the intersection of the two, most fully embedded in modernity but focused on the past?

With all of these techniques at hand, I still find glitching the most interesting and generative, especially for the kinds of slow or deep looking that our readings promoted today. Glitching seems to be a direct affront to this nagging question of objectivity (in cultural criticism, in history, in the archive): it not only reveals the binary quality of the digital image as a mutable one, but also reveals the potentials for new ways of seeing the past. I also think this works best through comparison, so Juxtapose could be a great presentation tool. It also lends itself to yet another layer of digital manipulation through Omeka’s annotation tool. This is now leading me to think that the Evangeline annotation I want to build should be done as an Omeka exhibit, perhaps broken down into its parts as different pages, so that I can take full advantage of Omeka’s plugins and incorporate other tools (like Juxtapose). This is an option I will continue exploring tomorrow, when I focus on sound.

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