Sunrise ceremony and the voyeuristic tendencies in 360° video
I feel like every time I breakout the N360 (my shorthand for ‘Nikon KeyMission 360 4K Action Camera’ – no way I’m writing that out), I learn something new. Not just the technical stuff, which is what I was already expecting. But the social implications of the camera. What it does for the individual and how the 360° medium is inherently voyeuristic.
I’m used to setting up a shot, getting it, moving on, setting up, getting it, moving on, etc etc. That’s what we’ve all been trained for. You are using your own artistic and technical expertise to create an experience for the viewer. But with 360° video, you’re doing none of that. You put the camera on a monopod and hit record. There’s no panning, no tilt, no real set-up besides the initial stuff. You are not the DoP. The viewer is.
It’s still jarring and goes against everything I know to think this way. The viewer is the one controlling what they see. When they put their HMD on (or view in YouTube or Facebook or SamsungVR), they explore the shot. You’re not in control. You’re just a technician. This will change somewhat when I acquire a gimble and can move around without shake, but for the most part the job of the DoP is greatly reduced when it comes to 360° video.
And this brings me to the voyeuristic tendencies of the medium. There is no angle that you cannot see, so you are going to look. I find myself searching each face, often replaying to check every angle. This is most obvious when it comes to the shooter. She is never not in the shot (unless you set up the shot and run and hide behind some obstruction and hope no one steals your equipment), so the viewer can watch what you are doing.
This has been a fun (and unnerving) part of the experience of shooting. During editing I can watch myself shoot. And I gotta say, I look really serious. Not quite resting bitch face, but something like it. And I keep looking up at the camera. I’m not sure why I do this actually. There’s no notification light on the underside of the N360 (a pretty big oversight on Nikon’s part), so I can’t tell if the camera is still recording. And I know it’s still there because I’m holding it. I suppose it’s because I’m used to being out of the shot. But in 360°, you’re never not in the shot. You are a part of the experience.
This time, the experience was located on Alcatraz Island during the sunrise ceremony. It’s a Native American tradition and over years has drawn more and more tourists. While walking towards the ferry terminal, there were perhaps 500 people lined up to get tickets. They were all turned away. This is before dawn. I’m not sure the exact number but perhaps 3,000 people did get on the ferries and participated in the ceremony.
The sunrise ceremony is a religious ceremony. It’s also a protest, so there’s a very interesting dynamic going on. With the #NoDAPL movement going on, Standing Rock was the go-to topic. (I was a fan of their phrase “Standing on the rock for Standing Rock”). There were speeches – one maintained the first Thanksgiving was a settler dinner after the settlers massacred 600 natives, much different from the tale we’ve been taught as kids (though I can’t find evidence to corroborate this story), prayers and dancing to behold.
Because of all these things, filming became a contentious thing. Personally, I believe in documenting everything and often have a camera close at hand. But since the sunrise ceremony is technically a religious service (think going to church), it was always a question mark. There were professional filmmakers on site – I could see them with a GoPro VR setup in the middle of the service next to the huge bonfire – but there were also individuals like myself with cameras ready to go, and countless others with iPhones snapping away.
It was only mentioned once to turn the cameras off – during the Four Corners prayer – when I dutifully switched off. But when it was over and a speech began, I thought the no camera rule was lifted. Then this happened:
I don’t like being chastised, but I always want to be respectful and so I kept my camera off for some time. The problem in all this is how unclear it was when it was okay to film and when it was being disrespectful. I’m not a Native American, so I’m generally unclear on the customs. It’s also hard because you’re standing in the middle of a crowd and so many people have their cameras out already, many of them native. So it’s this ethical question that you wrestle with, but ultimately I believe in documentation, and I turned my camera back on. If that is wrong and I have crossed over some boundary, I do apologize.
All those things aside, it was a powerful experience and one that I hope to attend next year. I think when I do, I will leave my cameras at home. Not because of fear of being chastised again (though that has crossed my mind), but because it would be a different experience to watch instead of document. I’m sure by next year a lot more 360° cameras will be up in the crowd.
Some quick things I learned this time around. Use a monopod! I forgot mine at home (hey, waking up at 3:45 AM can do that) and so I held up the N360 on a mini tripod and I felt like the statue of liberty. Your arm gets tired and I probably looked pretty ridiculous. Not recommended.
In terms of sound, the N360’s microphone is completely blown out when any sort of wind whips by. I’ll need to start thinking about recording audio from a separate system.
Lastly, which way to point a camera with two lenses? I had read an N360 review that stated the ‘front’ lens is the lens without the Nikon branding above it. This is not true. It’s possible this reviewer had an early iteration of the camera and the company switched that. But just to be clear, the front is where the Nikon branding is (which makes sense anyway).
I’m really glad I got out to the sunrise ceremony, and I recommend to everyone who is in San Francisco during Thanksgiving to try to attend. Just be sure to buy tickets beforehand!
November 27, 2016