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I’m really interested in the current debate about how you best get all those qualities – those intimate qualities – of oral history recorded. And that debate is whether it should continue to be solely with the microphone, in sound, or whether on camera.

 Now I come to that debate from a background which started in radio. And a background in oral history which began in sound only as well. And that undoubtedly affects the way I think about it, but I relish the way in which it works.

Having said that, I remind myself that a camera and a microphone are both invitations to perform. I don’t think there’s any human being who’s ever been presented with a microphone or a camera who does not perform in some way; and that means that you change your behaviour and perhaps even change the way you do it.

I think of the microphone as an instrument of internal spaces: the mind. I think of the camera as an instrument of external spaces: the environment.  I think the microphone encourages thoughtfulness. I think the camera can do the same: but, without exception I think it also makes people conscious of their body:-

  • can that camera see the stye in my right eye?
  • I’ve never liked that side of my face; I’d prefer to talk to you that way;
  • I’m always told that I shouldn’t drop my head when I’m talking;
  • or I must remember to keep my head up. Those sorts of things.
  • And I scratch my nose a lot and I must remember not to do that!

In the end the only important thing is not about technique or mechanisms. The only important thing is content and meaning: and to the extent that a camera might distract an interviewee I would now make my decision based on that.

I think I still lean towards the microphone and what I’m used to, as the feeling of thoughtfulness that I can evoke with an interviewee.