A Mediated Experience with Sarah Jane Rhee

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Our longest running debate within Team CG is about what Diana calls the Mediated Experience, referring to moments that we experience through a screen, behind a piece of equipment or though some other channel. It’s a discussion we’ve rehashed time and again, understanding each others point of view but continuing to disagree. The difference between our thoughts on the subject are best demonstrated by the way we each react to spectacle or moments we can’t be recreated.

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If I have a camera while something interesting is happening, I shoot. My default impulse is to preserve moments to appreciate and share later. Diana prefers to experience moments fully and create a memory that she feels is more genuine. She’s often gotten so caught up in a moment that she’s forgotten there’s a camera in her hand, pointing away from the action. I, on the other hand, have to restrained myself from shooting out of respect for the experience of others at times.

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I bring this up because of a Facebook status from Sarah Jane Rhee after the CPS board voted to close 50 neighborhood schools:

It’s been an exhausting several days for me, emotionally and physically. I am simultaneously broken hearted and furious at the board’s decision. Because I’m always documenting, I often don’t get to participate fully in the actual protest part of the moment, but often when I am home editing photos later and looking through them, the emotions captured in those images come flooding back. Today, watching tears stream down the faces of some fierce student organizers, the emotions hit me hard but I kept it together so I could continue documenting. It’s now as I look through these photos that I let the emotions flow over me,and I am reminded once again that what I do, this documenting the movement, is a labor of tender yet fierce love for me. We make the road by walking, and I am honored to walk with so many badass warrior lovers of justice.

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One thing that’s come up in our discussions with other artists is that operating a camera gets in the way of the emotional gravity of a moment. While I agree with this, I think the camera’s acting as a shield for heavier feelings. Sarah’s description of processing images in the privacy of an editing cove, and letting emotions flow over her, is the penance for delaying our reaction to the power of what we’re gathering. Sometimes my reaction to emotionally charged footage proves that I needed a shield from what was in front of me. Other times, you gotta put the camera down and deal with what’s there.

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Don’t mistake my metaphor for calling image makers weak. After all, what better weapon than a shield when fighting dragons? It takes great strength to do what Sarah does; facing conflict, bearing witness and amplifying cries for justice. Her eye holds a ferocity to match the problems of our day and she’s always in the midst of the battle for the heart of Chicago. She reminds me that Mediated Experiences capture more than just light, time and sound. They capture hopes and dreams, pain and suffering. They remind us of mistakes we’ve made and who was there to fix them.

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