Friday, December 7, 2007

Wagstaff, Mapplethorpe, and Smith

In among our glamorous life of science, engineering, fiction and technical writing, street performing and puppet shows, and the occasional truck driving/running a thrift store gig, Amy and I do some transcription work. One of them was during the brief existence of Wired Television, and boy, did they pay through the nose for having a short deadline over a major holiday. Another was transcribing interviews for someone's thesis on the psychology of transgendered individuals and I will say absolutely nothing more about that. Whatever the legal limits of confidentiality, some people deserve an absolute respect for their privacy.

Then there was the one from a conference at The Foresight Institute on Nanotechnology, back when nanotechnology meant little robots that would make you immortal rather than carbon nanotubes.

There are also the video projects, which often involve me stripping the audio off of a videotape, then digitizing it so we can use the cool transcription software on it. It's still typing, not voice recognition, but being able to slow the thing down to match your typing speed (just one of the whizbangs for digital transcription software) is a godsend. The first one we did was for a documentary project on a group that tries to keep military recruiters out of high schools, so we got to see Cindy Sheehan before she became famous. I can report that, whatever else has happened to her since, the loss of her son was as devastating as you can imagine, and, as far as I'm concerned, she gets a free pass on anything she's done since then.

Then there was the documentary on Sam Wagstaff.

Wagstaff was the patron and lover of Robert Mapplethorpe, of whom I've written previously. In fact, and this is a little strange to me, recently the Mapplethorpe essay here is the single most viewed essay on this blog. Is there some art course that is studying Mapplethorpe now? Many and mysterious are the ways of Google.

Anyway, Amy did most of the video transcription and I did the timestamping. Having a timestamped transcript allows preliminary editing to be done without having to watch the video. It saves a lot of time, and when you're done, hey, great, you also have the transcript.

The documentary was called Black White + Gray, and it seems to have been quite a success, and good on James Crump, the director and the guy who hired us to do the transcription work. I haven't seen the film yet; I've just seen pretty much everything that went into it, which is weird, isn't it? I do recommend the trailers on the linked web site.

The New York Times review of the film notes:

In particular, Patti Smith, the poet and rock star, offers tender descriptions of her friendship with both men.

Ms. Smith’s friendship with Mr. Mapplethorpe began in 1967 when they were both art students at Pratt Institute in Brooklyn. They were living together near the Chelsea Hotel in the early 1970s when Mr. Mapplethorpe first brought Mr. Wagstaff to meet her. “Sam came in and seemed totally at home in my mess,” she recalls. “We liked each other immediately. He had such a great sense of humor and had such a nonpretentious and nonsanctimonious spiritual air.”

Wagstaff was clearly a charmer, as the archive footage of him revealed. You can't help but like him in his interview with Dick Cavett and in the other footage of him in still earlier days. He charmed Mapplethorpe (though his wealth couldn't have hurt), and he charmed Patti Smith as well.

It's Patti Smith that was the revelation to me in viewing the raw video footage. I've been a fan of hers since the 1970s, of course, how could one not be? But seeing her in a simple setting, not performing, just reminiscing about those she loved, those who died, the expansiveness of her humanity seemed to flow from her like the wind from the sea.

I know I may being sappy here. But the only word that I could think of to describe her was "magnificent." The human race cannot be as vile as it sometimes seems, not when it can produce creatures as magnificent as Sam Wagstaff, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Patti Smith.


black dog barking said...

A woman I knew in the mid-1970's worked for a group of physicians transcribing dictated medical notes. Input: dictaphone replay, output: IBM Selectric inscribed hard copy. Her facility with the process (typing speed over 100 wpm) was such that, since the process taxed neither her visual nor mental subsystems, she'd read romance novels to make the work day go by a bit faster.

I never saw this process but a co-worker corroborated the story.

James Killus said...

I believe it.

On the Wired TV gig, we used a "hot seat" method, as we only had one good pedal dictaphone at that time (and none of the cool transcription software that we have now). There were three of us in the household and one of us was always on the job. We were also getting a little extra throughput with a regular tape recorder, but that meant two tasks for the hands, typing plus tape control, so it was much slower.

Amy tends to be overly meticulous in transcription, whereas I have no compunctions about going [unintelligible] if the speaker is mushmouthed. That might not be a virtue in medical transcription, but for TV interviews, especially when they are for timestamping, getting every word correctly isn't worth it. And putting in every "um" and "er" is downright pernicious.

I had by far the fastest transcription speed of the three of us; I just hated doing it. But I could use the bare tape recorder and just about keep up, needing to pause it only every couple of paragraphs or so.

Of course that was when I still had all ten fingers. I'm a bit slower now.

JP Stormcrow said...

OK, here is one big guilty secret. Despite a near lifetime of keyboard-related activities I am only now beginning to touch type. (and this after many years of being a target of much scorn from my children.) I must say that I am about the fastest "hunt and pecker" I ever met - but it really was suboptimal in so many, many ways. I always knew that I almost knew how to do it (and had half-tried it on many occasions) - but I always seemed too rushed to take the temporary speed hit. But for some reason in the last month I have begun to actually do it most of the time. What strikes me is what a different mental process it is - it really seems to be much more subconscious - and in addition to the enhanced speed and reduced typos, I think I can support a more continuous stream of conscious thought. What a putz I've been!

And in regard to Patti Smith, I completely agree. First saw her at the Agora in Cleveland sometime in the '70s, but am kicking myself for missing her this summer on her tour for "12". (I am not all that impressed with the CD, but I find her always worth seeing in concert - she brings a real presence to the stage beyond the mere music.)

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