|Sarah Springer,Zahra Rasool
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Providing direct access to personal stories and voices that matter is at the heart of AJ Contrast’s mission, and Still Here demonstrates the importance of inclusion and the necessity to democratize the creative process and push the boundaries of traditional narratives.
AJ Contrast, Producer, to DocuBase
Still Here weaves a first-person narrative, collaborative storytelling, and data visualization to articulate the challenges of re-entering society after incarceration. This project consists of an AR piece, a VR piece, and a photography installation, and is driven by the stories of over twelve women formerly incarcerated in the New York prison system. Still Here equips cinematic storytelling methods to tell the story of fictional character Jasmine Smith, whose story is crafted together with a community of formerly incarcerated women who are now a part of the Women’s Prison Association (WPA).
Still Here takes viewers through the shoes of Jasmine as she returns home to Harlem after 15 years of imprisonment after defending herself during a violet altercation. Jasmine narrates her memories as we follow her throughout her childhood home and neighborhood. Viewers watch Jasmine struggle to assimilate back into civilian life, find employment in her gentrified neighborhood, and ultimately reconnect with the teenage son she was separated from during her time in prison. This first-person narrative is coupled with data visualizations about incarceration statistics in the United States, with advocacy at the core of this story of emotional displacement.
The VR piece uses both interactive, volumetric VR and non-interactive 360 videos. In addition to scenes that allow users to interact with objects, it also incorporates the user’s body movement, such as standing up from their chair to reposition themselves for the next scene. The physical exhibit features a series of custom images that, when scanned with a tablet, unlocks AR portals that lead to different scenes. The exhibit also includes a photography installation with portraits and direct quotes from participants of the Women’s Prison Association. Still Here is a pioneering transmedia project that represents a new direction in collaborative and community-centered, immersive journalism.