Observation is an extremely important skill, fundamental to many areas of learning and study. For documentary production, one of the most important skills is learning how to do field research – this includes both looking at the physical and visual elements of an area by taking photographs, drawings and notes, but also noting the particular characteristics, uses, and possible story-lines that are present.
We will visit Shanghai Street as a site for exploration and discovery for a documentary project. You will have a specific section of the street to focus on – approximately 4 blocks.
Think about the ways in which space was used in the past, and how it is used in the present (in terms of urban transformation, inequality, work, leisure, and politics). Think about ways that space is constructed by the everyday uses and practices of people in the city, as well as by your personal memories or feelings about the space.
Think also about the function of this space to the city.
Take detailed field-notes for a minimum of 30 minutes. You may use a pen and paper, or you may use a computer/tablet. You must find a place to sit, observe what you are seeing, and write what you have observed. Do not worry about grammar or spelling. Your goal is to write what you see. Later, you must type up & clean up these observations (about 500-1000 words), and hand them in.
Chiseri-Strater and Sunstein (1997) have developed a list of what should be included in all field notes.
Your field notes must include all of the following:
- Date, time, and place of observation
- Specific facts, numbers, details of the site
- Inventory of the businesses, parks, shops, residential or other areas
- Sensory impressions: sights, sounds, textures, smells, taste
- Personal responses to the fact of recording field notes
- Possible characters or storylines you found in your section of the Street
- Specific words, phrases, summaries of conversations, and insider language
- Questions about people or behaviors at the site for future investigation
- Page numbers to help keep observations in order
You must also take 5-10 photographs during your observation. These photographs will act as storyboards, or visual note-taking.
Upload your photographs and notes to your blogs to eventually be included in a visual network map of Shanghai Street.
*If done well, you research will be noted as part of the documentary film credits.