About “This Is Radio: The Kitchen Sisters”
Nikki and Davia were very hospitable, flexible and patient. But this episode was still an intimidating task. First, they are the Kitchen Sisters! And also their work is so steeped in visuals already. I mean they have a whole Transom article about collecting visuals. So the bar was high.
But that meant every corner of their office was filled with photos, notes, postcards, books and audiocassette tapes. The place was bursting at the seams with lovingly selected found photographs that encapsulated their quest for stories. Borrowing from their collection of images made visualizing who they were a bit easier. So the challenge was in carefully selecting what I wanted to show.
Slow Simmer vs. Pressure Cooker
If Nikki and Davia’s approach to telling a story and collecting tape is like a slow cooker, gently marinating in a subject’s world, coaxing out all the aromas to create a complex story — my approach was like a pressure cooker. All these folks were busy and I didn’t have much time with them. So I had to quickly focus on capturing their essence.
I had to be hyper honed about what details I wanted to capture. Which things do you shoot when time is limited? Where do you take the subjects? What do you ask? When’s lunch?
But it’s like reporting an audio story. What bits do you instantly pick up on? What catches your eye that’s telling of that person? Start with those. The homemade banana bread in the classroom — for some reason that seemed just so them. Or a painting on the wall of Nikki’s home workspace. But it also could be a personal note pinned up, or certain items collecting dust, revealing the past. I find this stuff so telling. These are the things that you want to collect with your lens.
And on that note I always like to shoot old photos and bits of ephemera with context. Show a bit of the corkboard; show what kind of pins they use to stick it up. Again, all that stuff says something.
- I’ve made it a personal challenge to try and add subtle movement to my shots every once in a while. The Lost & Found Sound poster at 17 seconds. The open window fluttering the portrait at 41 seconds. The blinking stereo lights at 3:48. Little things like that help me stay out of creative bad habits. In this case, not enough motion.
- A two-person on-camera interview presents a few unique challenges. For the footage, I had one camera with a wider lens on a tripod running the whole time with both Nikki and Davia in the frame. Chris Wardle was working a second camera, panning back and forth, fine-tuning focus as each of them spoke. In hindsight, three cameras would have been best. One tight on each and a third wide. Because with two cameras, if people go back and forth quickly in an interview, it takes a second to pan and adjust so you sometimes lose parts of the interview on one camera.
- For audio, I used two lav mics, each running to a separate channel on an H4N recorder. I then split the stereo track in Hindenburg and made two separate audio files — one for Nikki, one for Davia — and while editing, switched between them accordingly.
- Take a picture of the room before you re-arrange everything for the shoot — Chris did this when we filmed the interview. Maybe that’s a no-brainer, but I thought it was clever.
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