Hollow: Wistful Portrait of a Dying Town

Hollow: Wistful Portrait of a Dying Town

Hollow documents the inhabitants and their way of life at a dying McDowell County, West Virginia. Here out in the countryside there is a sense of community, solidarity; there is a love of the wilderness, a comforting familiarity with the towns customs and quirks, visions and dreams of what could be for the town. It is a fairly recently created piece and funded through KickStarter.

The piece is a series of six multimedia pieces constructed from photographs, snippets of video gifs, carefully constructed sound and audio. Viewers are thrown straight into the first piece, a detailed, illustrated background of the community juxtaposed against America’s historical developments and initially introduced with the note that 1 in 3 US cities are currently dying. Perpetually visible during the piece’s traversal is a number the viewers implicitly understand to represent the population of the city. Alarmingly the number, after topping off, begins to dwindle down dramatically and the snippets and cutouts that characterized the first half transitions to a series of photographs documenting the somewhat dilapidated, rugged worn appearance of the city in its present form.

The documentary could best be described as a sort of multimedia slideshow. Viewers scroll downwards to traverse the piece, and elements of the next major node, or slide, will move into position from the bottom up. The piece is highly polished and thoughtfully constructed. There are moments where the juxtaposition of elements, sound, the pacing and the order of their presentation truly shine and speak to the chosen method’s narrative potential.

There is a part, for example, regarding an alarming electrical outage that affected the entire town. The image of a lit warehouse is present, background noise of the storm that engulfed the city its accompaniment. The lights flicker and the sound cuts off. For a while, scrolling downward, all is silent and pitch black, before a chilling click of a bulb and information regarding the impact of this outage appears. The agency afforded the viewer during the traversal gives the viewer time to stop and pause at the strangeness of the sudden loss of sound and visual. The unexpected click and return to visual and sound, the return of the viewer’s sense of agency after their apprehensive scrolling downwards in inky blackness has a chilling effect that helps better drive home the hopelessness and that the outage had upon its residents.

Interspersed throughout these otherwise fairly linear montages are particular slides that provide a bio of a particular personality set and their relation to the town. These slides follow a consistent format, showing a cutout image of the focal target against a collage of snippets of them in their environment. Their name prominently figures and a quote encapsulating their feelings for the town are present Icons are scattered about the page, linking to more anecdotal text, audio clips, photos the resident may have taken and video. The viewer is enticed to view certain video through the presentation of extra content that cannot be viewed until the viewer has gotten to know the target via watching the main video snippet that illustrates their thoughts and beliefs.

On occasion a page that encourages active user input will slide into place, prompting the user to participate in an activity that adds to some database of information of some kind. One such prompt asks users to post photos regarding their feelings of home. Another asks users if they have ever had to move from their hometown for the sake of opportunity, and if so, at what age. The current store of information is then presented visually via a chart upon a US map, for example, or an embedded view of all photos on Flickr tagged in reference to the documentary.

The piece as a whole feels quiet and uses fairly unassuming serifed fonts of a generally white color against large photo or moving image pieces. There is a sense of quiet appreciation further punctuated by the viewer’s ability to scroll down at their own pace. The piece presents the residents in a respectful, somewhat melancholy and pensive manner, choosing to focus upon their quiet love and hope for the town despite its tragic state as a dying city and their salient, productive qualities that show glimmers of hope for the town’s salvation. Through presentation of these residents the documentary clearly hopes to humanize the town, evoke the kind of communal warmth an old town with history holds and portray an idealistic conception of the simpler agrarian lifestyle.

Note: the documentary does not seem to properly function in the Firefox browser.