We conducted a larger
scale study over three weeks in August 2003 in three locations in Mali:
Bamako, Timbuktu and Ségou. Our primary goals were to observe the
ways people here would use the tool for different purposes, and to assess
the value and relevance the tool potentially has in this culture that
is very different from the one in which it was designed.
We worked with a total of 23 persons from different age groups. Five of
our participants were women.
Most of the participants we worked with spoke French in addition to their
native Malian dialect. When it wasn’t possible to communicate in
French, our guides would act as translators. The occupations of our participants
spanned a wide range: academics, officials, artists, musicians, craftspeople,
students, shepherds, and others. We had a large number of participants
involved in creative professions, a profile that does in fact reflect
a larger reality in the country. Several of our participants had never
before taken a picture with any kind of camera.
Our method was inspired from the workshop we undertook in Paris. For each
participant, we took the time to introduce the project in a discussion.
We made a specific point of telling them we were not anthropologists coming
to their country to document aspects of their culture. Rather, we described
ourselves as technology and design researchers on a field study, hoping
to investigate how a variety of different kinds of people in different
cultures use a new tool that we are developing.
After they agreed to participate, we demonstrated how to use the tool
and helped each participant take a couple of test shots until they felt
comfortable to take it out on their own for up to an hour or so.
We left each participant for a couple of hours and then returned to retrieve
the device and discuss the experience with them. We would also load the
images onto a laptop computer for them to review and perform the selection
of the point of detail. We recorded each participant’s contact details
so that we could later send them both hardcopies of their photographs
as well as a CDROM containing the digital images and audio (there are
Internet cafés in most cities where these could be viewed).
Each one of our participants captured
perspectives on their lives that we felt we clearly could not have matched
in richness if we were acting on our own as photographers or documenters
of some kind. The average length of use was around one hour, though one
person used the tool for only 5 minutes and several others exhausted the
full 80-minute available duration.
The most significant result
of our experience in Mali is that we began to observe some clear categories
for how our participants exploited the RAW tool for different kinds of
capture or storytelling purposes. These span a range from personal reflection
to more outward styles of engagement, with either a passive or active
stance toward the later audience. They emerged despite the care we took
to not suggest any particular styles or themes to our participants in
our initial discussions with them.
Type 1: Social glances
This category represents uses of the tool that occur primarily in a social
mode, or in which social contacts and spontaneous encounters are the primary
content underlying the audio and visual media captured by the user. Many
of our participants used the tool as a means to strike up conversations
with people in their workplace, at home, or on the street. Or conversely,
sometimes friends of the user would be curious about what he is doing
and interrupt him during his session, resulting in a social exchange.
No particular audience is addressed by the user. The relevant RAW records
convey a rich impression of the social fabric and relationships that exist
in the society, and they are also the records in which we hear the greatest
variety of spoken languages.
Type 2: Caught in activities
Some people chose simply to perform their everyday tasks or livelihoods
and capture impressions of them in more of an individual mode. Again,
no specific audience is actively addressed, but the user is aware that
these moments are indeed a kind of “performance” that will
be experienced by an audience at a later point in time. Musicians were
the most likely to share their daily experiences in this way, often capturing
themselves playing in a jam or rehearsal session. One woman recorded her
daily journey to obtain water from a community well in this fashion. Another
woman who dyes fabrics for a living used the tool to capture glimpses
of the processes employed in her profession, including final models as
she depicted with photographs of other photographs from her portfolio.
Type 3: Active documentation
In this category, the user of the tool actively addresses the eventual
audience of the record he is creating with spoken narration or even live
interviews with people he encounters, as a way of documenting some aspect
of his everyday life or his society. There may be a specific theme, determined
in advance, or a looser structure based on spontaneous encounters with
interesting scenes or personalities. In some cases, the user clearly has
a foreign audience in mind that would wonder what life in their Malian
city is all about. Hence, the language most often used in this context
is French, sometimes even English. One participant walked around Timbuktu,
interviewing people along the way about the development of the city infrastructure.
Another provided narration about the various aspects of a Muslim baptism
ceremony while he was capturing them.
Type 4: Intentional discourses
This group refers to exploitations of the tool in which the user has a
very specific message or commentary that they wish to relate to the audience.
The user’s speech is not intended as a narration of the audio or
visual moments they are capturing, but rather it is the other way around—the
pictures and sound are an augmentation of the commentary. The user may
operate alone with a more “political” or “activist”
perspective, and the record might take the form of a monologue or spoken
contemplation. For example, one participant used the tool to convey specific
thoughts concerning the development and position of academia in Malian
society, which he illustrated with loosely related audio and visual impressions
from his university.
We see the main advantage
of undertaking studies in multiple cultural contexts as being the opportunity
to discover behaviors and gain feedback that can potentially guide the
development of a prototype such that it will be understood and valued
by a much larger segment of the world population than it might have been
otherwise. For RAW, this kind of study was particularly important, as
we saw the tool as something that could possibly be used as a way of capturing
a new kind of portrait or historical record of a culture. Everyday life
happens everywhere, and interest in it comes from many directions and
often grows in the years after it happens. Thus we wished to articulate
a tool and process that could be considered meaningful as broadly as possible.