Multimedia Project Evaluation: The Ninth Floor
Warning: this video includes nudity and explicit images of drug use.
This was an assignment for my fundamentals of photojournalism class. We were told to identify an online multimedia photojournalism project that we admire (or abhor) … to examine it from its photography, audio, design aspects … and to articulate our observations and insights.
I watched a project by photojournalist Jessica Dimmock entitled “The Ninth Floor.” I did not expect to see the degree of exposure of such personal stories. I was shocked and slightly disturbed by the content of her photos. While this raw and incredibly personal story of heroin addicts made me cringe at times, I truly admired Dimmock’s work. It was honest. I was impressed with her ability to photograph and interview individuals at some of their most vulnerable moments. There were photos of one woman topless in the shower, of a couple having sex, of a woman in a hospital bed, of a couple fighting, and of a man injecting his scarred arms with drugs. Somehow, she gained the trust of these addicts enough to photograph such private aspects of their lives.
Looking at the project from the technical side, Dimmock let the story tell itself and presented the images in a simple way. Without any video photography or extensive graphic design, the intensity of the photography alone grabs the audience’s attention. A simple presentation of the photographs was appropriate in order to not distract from the emotional images and overwhelm the audience. Audio from interviews of three of the heroin addicts was embedded into the slideshow of photos along with an instrumental piece of music. At times, the photos were shown just with the music. The narration was also minimal, yet straightforward, as it appeared in white text across the dark screen.
The photos, audio clips and music truly captured the darkness in these individuals’ lives. Several photos were blurred, possibly representing the confusion and lost emotions felt by the addicts. Dimmock used a lot of shadows and dull colors to create a sinister feel. Her candid photography captured the personalities of each character, exposing their passionate emotions and their casual expressions. The audio also added depth to the project, tugging at the audiences’ feelings more subtly. The interviews were genuine; you could hear the anxiety, the hopelessness and the desperation in their raspy voices. The music, too, was simple as it moved between jarring chords and a distressing piano melody.
Dimmock pays close attention to detail – the look in someone’s eye, the tattoo on their bottom lip, the type of shoes they’re wearing, the plastic rosary around their neck – she draws your attention to the things one often looks over. Her photography is uncensored. It captures the harsh reality of life.
The story follows the lives of three different individuals over almost three years, yet it succeeds in maintaining a flow and focus. Some photos are shown in moving sequence, almost like a video. Others show one scene and then skip months ahead, with narration in between providing context when the photos alone could not tell the story. There are several stories within the overall project, but they all relate back to the ways in which heroin affects these people. For example, Dimmock documents each stage of Rachel and Johnn’s relationship, from the fighting and the romance to the birth of their first child, all while showing how their addictions control these parts of their lives.
I also noticed the contrast in photography between the first photos and the last. The video opened with very dark and mysterious shots of a window and explicit images of the addicts injecting themselves. The music and photos reflected the feelings of disparity. The video concluded with audio clips of baby laughter, images with more color and a more promising tone in the voice of the individual being interviewed. The combination of these changes provides an uplifting ending to the story.