Participative Processes on the Web: Making of Passengers 2012

We thought it would be interesting to explain how this book was developed. Barcelona Photobloggers have been producing participative web projects since 2006, some of them in collaboration with important cultural entities of Barcelona city. We’ve often noticed interest in our approach to work and organization.

In writings, two types of participative processes are distinguished. Some call them participatory art and some – participatory projects. We make the same distinction, but we call them participatory and collaborative processes.

In a participatory process, a group of participating artists produce or deliver their works in order to construct a new collective piece according to the criteria of the organizer. This piece rewrites the meaning of each individual work in a new discourse guided by the organizer.

In a collaborative process, the role of the participating artists is extended and includes discussion of the process, submitting works and discussing the outcome of the project. In these types of projects, the process in itself is part of the final outcome. As an example of this category we produced Arrinconado between eleven authors who got together to do “something” that ended up becoming a piece based on a short story, complete with a book, an exhibition and a video. None of that had been defined in the beginning. The only rule was that all of the participants would sign themselves up for collective authorship. This project took a year and a half of work with weekly meetings.

Passengers is a participatory process through the web. The call for entries, work submission and the consequent exhibition is done mainly on the Internet. Many of the participatory art processes are used as a medium of social intervention in communities, not the way Passengers uses it.

For us, the web is a fundamental part of the concept, as Godo Chillida explains in “Street Photography: Shared Experience of the Mundane”. The web is not only a vehicle but also an integral part of the work. The real-time component of participation is very important in this process. The web publishes the photographs within a maximum of five minutes after the author has uploaded them. The other key component is ubiquity: the photographs come from any part of the world and are consumed the same way.

In 2011, in order to explain the state of mobile photography, David Lladó created the concept of Ubiquography, based upon which Barcelona Photobloggers organized an exhibition that could be seen in real time in 35 centers in 7 countries. The photographs were shown on screens or projectors at the same moment that the authors published them on the social network Instagram. With that we wanted to differentiate mobile photography from the previous technologies and explore the elements of its own language: the immediacy, the ubiquity and the socialization of the process.

Printing photos taken with a mobile to put them up on a wall seemed the same to us as recording a video of a theater play with a fixed camera and calling it cinema. Cinema has a lot in common with theater but uses its own language. Explaining something new with old terms is a typical error that’s committed in the face of a shift in paradigm. Mobile photography must be explained to the public without forgetting its distinguishing elements.

Photography taken with devices connected to the internet and social networks, with the capacity to edit the images, is something very different to a Leica loaded with a 135 mm film.
Although both machines are capable of capturing an image, the way of capturing, transmitting and exhibiting it has changed drastically. It’s necessary to explore new capacities of the medium.

One of the characteristics of the new technology that stands out the most is that the devices are self-sufficient. You can achieve a complete cycle of communication with one gadget. You can capture, process and send the image to your public without the need for another device. The other characteristic is that your public is not geographically limited. And the last characteristic is that all of that can be done in seconds. For example: with Palaroid, we could have a positive image in a short time, but those cameras were not popular. And although we could have an instant copy, only those in geographical proximity could see it.

Passengers also explores these new elements that serve the same purpose: to document our time and place. Using the same system as Ubiquography, we can see participation in real time on the web. But that’s only half of the project. The other part is the “time capsule”.

Besides exploring the capacities of the new media, Passengers aims to be a time capsule, a recipient where documentation of a part of our reality is stored. The part we live through while traveling by public transport. As we’ve said in the introduction, one of the main reasons for producing this series of books is to recreate the magic we felt looking at the 1950 books about passengers.

The new technologies are constantly changing. A website requires a lot of maintenance and there’s no guarantee I’ll keep on with it. In order to leave a document that’s accessible in 50 years, we thought it would be best to create a physical book to transmit a message over a long period of time. Surely the copies that are printed will last longer than the website.

In order for the contents of the capsule to be relevant, it’s necessary to edit and structure them. This part of the job allows us a more relaxed read and some time to meditate on what we’d like to leave inside.

Editing Process

The editing process of the book was based on collaboration between four project managers. They had received 3651 photographs from 45 authors, taken during 2012. Open participation through the web always tends to bring in huge amounts of content.

In order to be able to edit it, we used a combination of recipes that are not quite a methodology but have been used in many projects successfully.

The editing of Passengers was done in four sessions. The first one, the immersion, took 12 hours of work with just one one-hour break for food. During this session, 3651 photos were reviewed. All throughout the year the editors saw the photos as they were being published in the context of leisurely Instagram use.

Before starting on editing stages, we did a visualization of all of the photographs at a relatively fast speed, a second per image.

In the first round, the editors had to respond based on their first impression. Each photo that received a favorable vote from any of the editors made it to the second round. From this review, we got 832 photos.

After the first review, we did a second one over the result of the first one. After having seen the images twice, the impact would change. At that stage there was already more awareness of the themes in general. This visualization was done under the premise “you have to tell us what photo can’t be missing”. Once again, if an editor selected a photo, it would pass to the second stage.

Now we had 200 photographs for the third round entitled “I don’t like this photo”. At this point some photos were left out. The editors could decide to include or exclude a photo and with just one of them making such decision, a photo could be left out or included. At this stage the dialogue between the editors was minimal because the number of the images was too high.

The third session left us with 110 photos. At the fourth phase, the voting process changed. Here each photo would receive a vote by each editor and the rule was “I want this photo in the book”. Forty seven photos received 4 votes, 29 photos received 3, and 13 were left with 2 votes. Since we’d set the number of photos to approximately 80 for the final edition, the ones that received less than two votes were kicked out.

Left with 89 photos, we looked at the themes and the proportion of photographs per participant. Since the objective was 80, we subtracted photographs from the authors that already had the most representation. After that, we were left with 81 photographs by 35 authors. That’s how the first session ended.

A funny thing happened during the first day: we found two people photographed by different authors. None of the four photos made it into the book but it was fun to discover it.

The second session took place after two weeks of not looking at the book at all. After the immersion, it was necessary to let our subconscious analyze what we had seen during the twelve hours. In the second session we identified and grouped themes. As part of that exercise, we added up photos and authors. From that shift we had a project made of 114 images by 36 authors. At that point dialogue between editors was essential. The interpretation of the photographs of each one had to be shared in order to identify the best themes.

The last two sessions were aimed at establishing the sequence of the book. The themes were grouped in order to create a photographic run through the trip: getting to the platform and moving through the corridors towards the train or the bus, the wait, the trip, and the exit. During this voyage we discovered friends, anecdotes, portraits, parts of the body that drew our attention, and the self-portraits. Since the printed book has special value in the project, during these sessions a lot of attention was paid to spreads and images that faced each other.

As a result, the book contains 105 photographs by 36 authors that portray 26 cities.

Fran Simó