MCDM students document scientific voyage

Katherine Turner, top-right, and Carlos Sanchez capture photo and video footage of work being done onboard the Thomas G. Thompson research vessel.

Katherine Turner, top-right, and Carlos Sanchez capture photo and video footage of work being done onboard the Thomas G. Thompson research vessel.

Katherine Turner and Carlos Javier Sanchez are professional photographers who enjoy taking on unique opportunities to practice their art. Nearing the completion of their graduate work in the Department of Communication’s Master of Communication in Digital Media program (MCDM), they tackled the challenge of combining photography and science. For their master’s project they boarded the Thomas G. Thompson research vessel for the Enlighten ’10 mission that took them 200 miles off the coast of Oregon. There they spent two weeks collaborating on multimedia projects for the UW Oceanography Department.

“One of the things I like about video editing is you learn whatever you’re shooting. I’m really interested in oceanography so it was a great chance to learn about it,” said Turner. Turner and Sanchez worked together previously at Evergreen State College where they both earned their bachelor’s degrees. They both saw the voyage as an exciting assignment for their background in multimedia, as well as a prospect for learning more about science. “That’s what draws me to this work,” Sanchez said. “You become a pseudo-whatever-you’re-covering for the day, whether a scientist, mechanic, etc.”

Their mission was to document the research being done on board. “There was the mission of the cruise, the first of a several-year series, of laying down high-power, high-bandwidth cables on the ocean floor,” said Turner. “They were mapping the ocean floor to see where they could lay these cables. There were scientists and students from all over the country studying different things.” Bob Morris, Assistant Professor of Biological Oceanography, was also on board studying the light sensitivity of microbes on the bottom of the sea. It was he who first realized the advantages of including multimedia documentation aboard the ship.

“More and more any kind of scientific research needs outreach in order to be funded, and it is tending toward multimedia to get the research out there,” said Sanchez. “He saw the opportunity with the MCDM, and it was a perfect fit.” While on board, Turner and Sanchez took hundreds of photos and filmed and edited a number of videos, which they uploaded to the web in real time. Their work will be used for recruiting and outreach tools for the Oceanography Department, as well as serve as the makeup of the two longer videos for their master’s project.

When Turner and Sanchez found out about the mission last spring, they applied and interviewed with Morris for the positions, putting emphasis on their preference of working as a team, not as individuals. “We were very adamant about collaboration. There’s no way one student could go out there and put all this together,” said Sanchez.

Throughout the two weeks on board, Morris made himself available to explain and verify the scientific side of things. “We’re not scientists so he would look at our work and tell us if it was right, combining his and our expertise,” said Turner. Morris also occasionally joined in on the production side of things. According to Turner, “Bob is really fun and down to earth. He would hold a diffusion panel with us, and help us when he could. Without him it would’ve been very difficult to get this done.”

Out on the open sea, Turner and Sanchez worked 18-hour days, taking turns filming and editing. With so much action within arm’s reach, they had to stay on top of their games to turn out the product. “In terms of subject matter it was awesome. People were smashing rocks, things were being lowered into water. There was always a story to tell,” Sanchez said. For much of the action, it was imperative that the duo produce and post the images and footage quickly or it would no longer be relevant. “It was kind of crazy, some of the things we had to do to get what we needed and get it out. All of it was pretty timely. So, if it wasn’t out in 24 hours it wouldn’t matter anymore,” said Sanchez.

They also had to learn how to adapt their shooting styles and obtain content without interrupting the research. Shooting footage in the onboard container where the scientists concentrated on controlling JASON, the remotely operating vehicle (ROV) that did the underwater mapping, was especially difficult. Sanchez said, “It was a really quiet and sensitive area. You don’t shoot inside with a camera because of the shutter, so bringing in the HD-SLR camera that was really quiet went unnoticed.”

Being the eyes of the ship also meant getting into odd positions; whatever it took to get the shot. “The approach was blending in. We got good at crawling into spaces while staying out of the way,” said Turner. From the plethora of advanced production equipment they used on the ship, the flip cameras proved to work best for getting unique point-of-view shots. When the JASON was being dropped into the water, Turner and Sanchez used gaffer’s tape to attach the light-weight cameras and string them down the side of the ship to get the best perspective.

While the MCDM students had specific jobs as two non-science majors aboard the research vessel, many of the scientists, in the beginning, did not understand their purpose there. The duo had to make their subjects feel comfortable about being recorded. “When you have a camera it goes with the territory that people are going to be suspicious of you,” said Sanchez. “For the most part, once you let them know what your role is, they are fine with it because they want their research published. It’s a new venture for them.”

Reflecting on the voyage, Sanchez credits the MCDM program for helping him develop his skills and interests, which have brought him to newfound plans for his future. “Because of the MCDM, we were able to take the skills we’ve learned, and apply them in a real-world situation. After coming back from the boat, I have a unique perspective on where storytelling is going,” said Sanchez. “I’d like to stay on the academia side of things to bring together other departments and fields that need help on how to tell those stories and be a consultant in how to put all this together.”

Turner also has great appreciation for those who have helped her along the way. “The MCDM program teaches students how to have a voice in a noisy digital landscape,” she said. “These opportunities make the program really special and I’m really grateful for having those. I want to keep producing content, whether that takes me into marketing, advertising, or freelancing.  I just love shooting so any opportunity would make me happy.”
As they continue readying their final videos, Bob Morris anticipates that the work of Turner and Sanchez on the Enlighten ’10 mission will positively impact the Department of Oceanography, as well as the MCDM. “I think that Carlos and Katherine initiated a great program that Hanson and I hope to continue for as long as possible,” said Morris. “They were very professional and a pleasure to work with. I couldn’t be happier with the quality of their work.”

pelcdvMCDM students document scientific voyage
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