Susanne (Interview)

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AASusanneScreenshot.png
Femke works with a beta of the AA software

Our first interview is with Susanne A., archivist at the L√ľneburg Stadt Archiv. Michael's been busy with the idea of recording a live feed of someone's (digital) desktop (ie to record images directly from their own computer's interface). He has a script to screengrab from his own computer, but not someone else's. The night before the interview we spent several hours in Michael's hotel room testing various ways to do this and we end up with a somewhat kludgy use of Google's Chrome browser "screencasting" to another (linux) laptop where we can then screengrab. However, as we arrive in Susanne's office it turns out that connecting a laptop to the network isn't possible ... the wireless signal "doesn't reach" and apparently we can't plug straight in to the network with a wire. After attempting a weird construction with a second laptop in another room, we scratch the idea, and I set up a photo camera on a small tripod to record video pointed directly at Susanne's screen. For audio, we ask her to wear a USB headset connected to Michael's laptop which is recording.

Midway through the interview, while Susanne starts to show the actual work of entering data in the system, she moves to shows us the actual physical subject of the data she's (re) entering, a box with a film reel that lies before her on her desk. As she slips on the archivists' trademark white cotton gloves to handle the film spool and inspect the condition of the sprocket holes (for entry in the form), Michael pulls the camera from it's fixed position on a tripod to instead go "handheld" and capture images of her handling of the film. Returning to the keyboard she momentarily struggles to type with the gloves on, then with a laugh, tugs them off again. Seeing her work it's evident that the "interface" of note is in fact her literal desktop and the "manual" interactions of negotiating the physical with the digital.

As the interview "ends", Michael stops the audio recording and Susanne pulls off the headset. Her ears are red from contact with the unfamiliar object she seems relieved to have taken it off. We place the headset on the table next to the laptop. As often happens, once "over", the mood of the interview lightens and becomes less formal. Femke is curious about a comment Susanne has made about historical perspective. Michael restarts the audio recorder (just in case), but with the headset now off to the side. As the camera's memory card has filled from the (unexpected) video recordings, he quickly copies off part of the recording to make some space then proceeds to take still images while Femke and Susanne continue to speak.

Later in Femke's hotel room, we look at the material we've gathered. The "high quality" material, with tripod mounted video, and "proper" audio from the headset, are all there, but the "final exchange" that took place after the interview remains most prominent in our (collective) memory of the session. With some doubts, Femke starts attempting to "edit", working from the "accidental" audio. The process becomes one of reconstruction as the audio recording, too weak to "stand on its own", is however sufficient for the purpose of transcription and translation to text form. This timed text then became the basis (along with the transcriptions, Femke notes moments to better mute the audio, or to cut away a given portion) to highlight specific points in Susanne's story. Finally, in a second annotation, she places camera still images at specific times to provide some visual context. In a magical moment her mood shifts as she announces "this is going to work". The next morning back in Michael's hotel room when he has the script working far enough to actually see the pieces working together, the clip indeed not only "works" but in fact "comes alive" -- as the various losses and gaps become help to highlight key aspects of the story; the result not only "delivers the message" of Susanne's story but also embodies something of the very process it aims to describe. Each visitation of the materials of an archive becomes an act of re-writing.

First Transcription from Femke:

00:00:00,000 --> 00:00:05,285
MUTE
 
Conversation with Susanne A.
L√ľneburg, 16/01/14
 
00:00:05,285 --> 00:00:10,852
Just now I have for example the case a film ... wait a moment!
 
00:00:10,852 --> 00:00:17,702
(After we the interview ended, Susanna wanted to show us another example.)
 
00:00:17,702 --> 00:00:27,574
(She works since three years at the StadtArchiv Lueneburg, and is responsible for describing digitized films and pictures into their database.)
 
00:00:27,574 --> 00:00:33,801
("Usage of the archive material changes over time", she reminds us. "And also the kinds of questions that people ask will change".)
 
00:00:33,801 --> 00:00:39,847
Yes. There it is!
 
00:00:39,847 --> 00:00:43,326
It is the demolition of a factory.
 
00:00:43,326 --> 00:00:46,658
It is a large factory in Lueneburg.
 
00:00:46,658 --> 00:00:53,884
For ten years they have just simply described the demolition only.
 
00:00:53,884 --> 00:00:57,759
Large trucks (??), ruins.
 
00:00:57,759 --> 00:01:01,703
Nowadays people see mainly the aspect of the environment.
 
00:01:01,703 --> 00:01:07,792
The environmental degradation, destruction of nature.
 
00:01:07,792 --> 00:01:11,215
and so also the descriptions change.
 
00:01:11,215 --> 00:01:14,426
So you go back to certain items?
 
00:01:14,426 --> 00:01:29,046
Yes, indeed. With a bit of distance you need to really go through the database again and reflect once more.
 
00:01:24,548 --> 00:01:29,046
To look at what was captured and to think about the changes.
 
00:01:29,046 --> 00:01:33,433
Perspectives will easily change.
 
00:01:33,433 --> 00:01:37,427
So do you only add keywords, or also take away keywords?
 
00:01:37,427 --> 00:01:48,421
No, I prefer to add something. I rather add words than lose some things.
 
00:01:42,956 --> 00:02:06,355
MUTE
 
(We almost accidentally have left the recording running, but stopped filming and the microphone has already moved.)
 
00:02:06,355 --> 00:02:11,347
In a way only you know the history of the keywords, no?
 
00:02:11,347 --> 00:02:15,419
Yes, yes. Well, with our team.
 
00:02:15,419 --> 00:02:21,287
So together you have a memory of all the changes?
 
00:02:21,287 --> 00:02:33,923
I think especially in the case of using free keywords, it seems this process of changes itself is also interesting?
 
00:02:33,923 --> 00:02:37,781
Yes, indeed! Very exciting!
 
00:02:37,781 --> 00:02:43,752
And how do you keep an archive of these changes?
 
00:02:43,752 --> 00:02:51,548
Do you keep notes of when you make changes.
 
00:02:51,548 --> 00:02:53,711
No.
 
00:02:53,711 --> 00:03:00,026
Only here (she points at her head)
 
00:03:00,026 --> 00:03:08,699
I think that in the archive, the human factor cannot be overestimated.
 
00:03:08,699 --> 00:03:13,852
So Danny (her colleague at the StadtArchiv) is a living database. He knows where everything is.
 
00:03:13,852 --> 00:03:15,544
He helped setting up this archive, he has been accompanying it's development.
 
00:03:15,544 --> 00:03:26,080
The longer someone works in an archive, the more a colleague becomes also a database, and has everything in his head.
 
00:03:26,080 --> 00:03:44,000
MUTE
 
00:03:44,000 --> 00:04:00,000
(We are photographing paper index cards on her desk that she is currently working with)
 
00:04:00,000 --> 00:04:22,600
(It is surprising how little information per item is actually stored on each card, compared to the many database fields that she just showed us)
 
00:04:22,600 -->
But it is a wonderful work, that gives me a lot of pleasure.
 
00:04:27,447 -->
You really step into an image, or in a recording ...
 
00:04:35,826 -->
You take a step back into history, and suck everything out of the images.
 
00:04:44,533 -->
SNIP
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