Highlights from a recent project:
AIGA: Why Baltimore
by Alec Walker
"So, what's your niche?"
This is a question people often ask me when they first hear about our little videography company. As Stereoscope has grown over the past three years, so has the need to define what makes us unique. There are a lot of videography companies out there, so how are we different? To answer that question we had to reflect not only on what we are, but what we are not. And through that process, we’ve come to realize some interesting things:
One thing I’ve learned about our team is the fact that we don’t stick to the same subject matter or visual style. When it comes to consistency, we fail big time. We try not to pigeonhole ourselves and I love that about us. Every project is different, demanding a fresh approach and bold spirit. Nearly every project we take on fuels our passion for storytelling and challenges us to try something new. At the end of the day, our niche is less about what and more about how. No single visual piece embodies this more fully than Why Baltimore.
We were recently approached by our good friends from the Baltimore chapter of AIGA, the largest professional association for design, to make a short piece for their annual leadership retreat. This year, the Baltimore chapter was chosen to host more than 300 attendees from across the nation for a week in our dear city. They wanted a video to kick off the welcoming ceremony. No pressure, right?
Our challenge was to create a minute-long piece that told the story of Baltimore. Our team knew going into the project that the one thing we would not do was sugarcoat anything about our city. If we were going to tell the story of Baltimore, we were going to do her justice by telling it right. We’re proud of our city; but we also acknowledge its many problems. The rest of the country knows Baltimore has problems (#TheWire). Even people in Iceland know Baltimore has problems (#truestory). So why not tell the truth, but this time the whole truth?
So why not tell the truth, but this time the whole truth?
To get a clear pulse on the good, the bad and the ugly, we had to put the city under a stethoscope and listen closely. We spoke with newcomers, natives and artists about everything that makes up this city from its architecture to its social issues to its politics to its food. As we combed through the Baltimore experience, we discovered something truly remarkable:
Not a single anecdote we captured tried to separate what’s good about Baltimore from what’s bad. The two were described as though they were inextricably linked like two sides of the same coin. The truth is that the things that make Baltimore great often result from the things that make it bad. Poverty and crime fuel art and social activism. You could even argue that the unsavory aspects of the city also drive the brewery craze. Sometimes you need the darkness to see the light. That’s the true story of Baltimore.
Keeping this in mind, our team decided to construct a spoken word piece to use as a voiceover for the video. Spoken word poets are major drivers of the Baltimore art scene. So if we wanted an authentic voice for Baltimore, a spoken word piece was the way to go. We worked with a handful of local poets and cultural innovators to craft the message. We then partnered with Eze Jackson, a well-known Baltimore rapper, to deliver it.
The result was an authentic, visual representation of a collective voice as emphatic and colorful as the aerosol art that paints our streets. I can best describe this piece as a love letter to a deeply flawed, yet equally endearing relative. Our city is imperfect, but we love her still.
a love letter to the deeply flawed
Unveiling Why Baltimore at the AIGA National retreat revealed to me that the complicated relationship we have with our city is not exclusive to Baltimore. Following the opening ceremony, I was repeatedly told by many attendees how much the project reminded them of the mixed relationship they have with their own hometowns. I was not expecting this. In just over a minute we had not only succeeded in displaying Baltimore’s story, but we sparked a conversation around how anyone can relate to some aspect of the Baltimore experience.
So what makes this piece, and our team, unique? It’s our commitment to developing authentic narratives. We don’t make videos, we create stories designed to move the hearts and minds of our clients and their target audiences. Creating impactful projects is as much a creative opportunity for us as it is a learning experience. Working with us is agreeing to be shown a mirror and have the truth reflected back at you. Those are the stories we want to tell. That is who we are and the path we are on as a company. If the response we received to Why Baltimore is any indication, authentic stories are the stories that matter.