Whither Audio or Video

Recording family stories: Which is better, audio or video? This question came up last week at the L.A. Podcasters meetup while talking to a podcaster (Karen “KFC” Blanchette, aka Podchick) about this site’s topic–recording and preserving family memories.

She asked me, “Why not video?”

I’ve been asked that before.

I talked about the barrier that video imposes—how things need to look good. The interviewee has to make him or herself presentable, and the environment also has to look good. I said, “The last couple of family members I interviewed, it would have been much harder to do on video. One was in a room that wasn’t photogenic at all, and when I interviewed my great aunt, she wore her robe and sat on the couch. I don’t think that she’d have let me videotape her wearing a robe. My boyfriend’s mother, who’d had cancer and lost hair from chemotherapy, always said, ‘Don’t take my picture!’ so there’s no way she would have talked on camera.”

KFC nodded. She’d recently visited a family member (Dad?) and videotaped an interview with him (cool!). KFC told me about getting ready—going to a nice outdoor location. She acknowledges that she might have recorded more stories if she’d done just audio.

I don’t mean to trash video recording. I want to be realistic. I want to acknowledge its limitations, and acknowledge my limitations as interviewer.  Would I have liked to get a visual recording of the family members I’ve done? Absolutely. (I say this with recent and vivid visual memory; I interviewed my Dad yesterday. Oh, and the location wasn’t photogenic, this time, either.) Is there more information captured, both facial expression and quality of vocal expression? Of course.

But will wanting to get something so perfect, so high-fidelity, stand in the way of getting anything at all?

One thing to remember is that The Perfect is the enemy of the Good. Here’s a variation: The perfect is the enemy of “Done.” 

Here’s perfection: You have a conversation with someone while recording equipment captures the discussion. The interviewer monitors the equipment, all runs well. The interviewee relaxes and forgets that it’s there, and feels free to keep talking.

For video recording, you need to consider the following:

  • There’s more equipment to monitor. This may require a third person, the videographer.
  • The videocamera intimidation factor. Interviewee has to get over the existence of the camera.
  • Location, lighting, and personal appearance of interviewee all need to be attended to
  • Longer time to set up video than audio.

These aren’t insurmountable obstacles. If they can be overcome, great. But if they stop the interview from happening at all, go with audio. 

I freely admit: my bias is toward audio and not video. I haven’t had a TV in my house for my adult life. (Boyfriends, TV, tiVo: it’s a good thing). I don’t want to speak for everyone. For someone who’s got a videocamera, who shoots lots of personal video, these factors may be greeted with a “yeah? And your point is? This is so doable. It’s a piece of cake!”

I do see one possible compromise solution, though. It depends on how much time you can spend with a particular family member. One way to combine both is to record a series of audio interviews. When you both are comfortable with the process, you can set up a video interview, and revisit certain stories or topics.

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Posted by Susan A. Kitchens on March 19, 2007 in • AudioDo it: YourselfInterviewingVideo
2 CommentsPermalink

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And then, of course, there is the question of how to archive audio. We almost have that figured out: Gold CD or managed digital storage.

For video, the demands are greater and there is no real equivalent to gold audio CDs for video. Managed digital storage, yes, but DVDs are not really archival nor are they full-resolution.

Richard L. Hess  on 03/19  at  09:53 PM

I must admit to a bias toward video for the reasons you mention (and I declare an interest - my business is making video biographies). But the overriding principle is:  just get it done. And once you have the audio, you can always add images, maps, old home movies, documents etc later to make it richer.

Jane  on 12/08  at  05:38 PM

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