Archive for August, 2010
Recently, I have watched the movie, “The True Meaning of Pictures”, which is based off the photographer Shelby Lee Adams on his photography of the Appalachia people. The issue that is brought up in this movie is the potential for misrepresenting your subjects in your photography.
The movie takes place in the Appalachia area Kentucky. It is a compilation of archive footage and recent footage. The movie allows you to see the people that Adams photographed. You take a look at their homes and their way of life. Throughout the movie you see art critics discussing Adam’s work and how it can be offensive to his subjects. They believe that he misrepresents his subjects by staging events, lighting and positioning them in certain ways.
I find it very difficult to determine what you photograph, or film for that matter, to be misrepresenting. In Adam’s photographs it’s hard to decide what misrepresents his subjects. The dilapidated buildings, torn screens of doors, and overall run-down-looking homes are not put together like a set, but reality. The clothes that the people wear that seem rugged or dirty is not staged, but also a reality. The elements that make up the photographs are very real and not fake. Although, the fact that there is such a large mass of media that has been put out there to describe what the Appalachia people look like, which are “hillbillies”, that makes Adams’ work seem demeaning. The media has not portrayed the Appalachian people’s way of living in a very bright manner. In the movie, “Deliverance”, the “hillbillies” are represented as violent ignorant people, and because we see this theme repeatedly in our media we as a people start to associate the way the Appalachia people act, dress, talk, live, etcetera as “hillbilly” ways.
Now, the question is how can you document through photography or film something that is reality for a people, and not represent them as a certain way to a mass audience. The answer is you can’t. Every single person in the world will view art or media in their own way, and judge it through their eyes. Meaning, that when a person looks at something and analyzes it they analyze through their own personal views and knowledge. For example, if someone viewed Adam’s Appalachia photos and they were from the Appalachia area they would view the photos as normal, but if you have someone from a suburban or upper-class area from the Midwest viewing the photos and the only knowledge they had of these people’s way of life was through the media they would be judged in comparison with the “hillbilly” ways they’ve seen in the media.
As an inspiring cinematographer/artist I find this issue to be mind-boggling. How can you satisfy everyone? There really isn’t a way to satisfy anyone in your work, so the only way you can remedy the situation is being constantly aware of the message you’re trying to convey, and who will be viewing your work. Another way to prevent misrepresenting someone is constantly talking to your subjects. If you explain exactly what you’re going to be doing with your work involving them it will prevent any confusion or burning of bridges with your subjects.
I have recently viewed a documentary called, “The American Experience: New Orleans”, and after viewing this documentary I have found that New Orleans is a city full of diversity, pride and culture. Although, New Orleans cannot be just good, for with good comes the evil. In the paragraphs to follow I will be discussing the evil of racism that has burrowed its way into the heart of the “Crescent City”.
New Orleans has always been a city full of diversity. The first settlers in New Orleans were the French, and still today you can see many of the French’s influence on the city. After, the Louisiana Purchase more and more Americans started flooding into the city. New Orleans was also a prime place for trade, so people from all over the world would flock to the city to start their new life.
New Orleans had a huge racial mixing among its people. As mentioned in the above paragraph there were many different ethnicities living side by side with one another and mixing together to create a community that you could not tell who was black or white. Yes, there was still racism within the city, but people got along and could coincide with one another. There were Whites, Slaves, free Blacks, Italians, Irish; the list goes on living in harmony.
The city of New Orleans suffered dearly after the Civil War, and would never be the same again. The Civil War soldiers occupied New Orleans for three years, and once the war was over “Reconstruction” was beginning to be implemented. “Reconstruction” was the new law of the constitution giving Blacks absolute equality under the law. Under this law Blacks would be able to flourish, and many of the Blacks in New Orleans were educated people and had been free before the war even began. The most surprising thing to come from this “Reconstruction” was the fact that New Orleans was the first to elect a person of color to office. The governor of New Orleans was a black man named Harper. Now, the elite of New Orleans, which happened to be made up of wealthy white men, did not like this whole idea of Blacks having equal rights, so they formed a secret society called the Pickwick Club. In 1877 the Pickwick Club helped raise a league that was very similar to the Ku Klux Klan called, the Crescent City White League, and this league rallied several thousand white men and raided Harper’s office and took control over the city. After this event New Orleans would slowly start to turn into a city separated from black and white.
After the Crescent City White League raid the Pickwick Club spent their time trying to separate the whites and blacks, but as mentioned before there were so many racial mixing that it was extremely difficult to tell who was white or black. If you didn’t know which race you belonged to when New Orleans had their carnivals whichever group you associated yourself within the carnival was your race. New Orleans began to implement segregation laws such as, the Separate Car Act that separated Blacks and Whites so they could not sit in the same area. On top of segregation acts taking place within the city Blacks were being lynched at a rate as high as 2 Blacks a week. The separate but equal laws and Jim Crowe laws were absolutely ridiculous, and the Blacks that were educated and free before the war wanted a change. Therefore a group of Creole Blacks that worked at a black press that went by the name The Crusaders devised a plan. The leader of this group was a man named De Dune. The plan was to have someone of color got onto the train and sit in a whites only car and refuse to leave when asked. The man that was chosen was 7/8 white and was called Homer Plessy. Plessy went forth with the act and was arrested for breaking the segregation law, and the Crusaders took full action and brought this case to court. The case went all the way to Supreme Court, and in 1896 Plessy v. Ferguson the Supreme Court chose segregation. It was a huge loss for the Blacks of New Orleans and the nation as a whole, but De Dune still believed that they were right.
New Orleans never really changed its racial views over the years. The segregation laws grew worse and Jim Crowe laws went into affect. It wasn’t until after the Supreme Court case on Brown v. Board of Education in 1955 that allowed racial integration in the schools that some changes started to occur in New Orleans. In 1960 little Ruby Bridges, a black girl, went to school at an all white school. The girl came from the 9th Ward that remained racially mixed. Although, once Bridges had attended school that day the white parents pulled their children from the school in outrage and began to move. New Orleans had created a bridge that crossed the Gulf and lead into a place called, St. Bernard Parish, and this place became a suburban haven for white people escaping integration. Due to the mass sums of middle class white people moving from the urban area it left the schools in horrible condition and the city to suffer from crime and corruption. New Orleans became a predominately black community and the majority of those people lived below the poverty line.
In conclusion, after watching this movie I found that New Orleans has never had the opportunity to overcome racism. If you look at other places in the country they get along fine with one another, because they were allowed to become equals. I now understand why New Orleans is predominately black and why some communities are suffering from poverty. It was a shock to myself that instead of uniting together after the integration the people of New Orleans separated themselves further. Although, it may seem like everyone gets along in current times it is very easy to see the underlying tension between New Orleans’ people.
This site will be about me, Whitley Hawkins, taking on a huge filming experience, and the journey along the way. A group of Art Institute (Ai) students, including myself, from Minnesota are packing up our bags and traveling down to New Orleans. We go down there carrying video cameras, photography cameras, and just enough equipment on our backs to make a NFL line-backer weary. Our goal is to get some experience with filming and capturing moments with photography in the United States’ “Big Easy”.
We leave on September 24th, and the time spent before that date will be spent on researching ideas, reading, writing, movie screening and much more, and this blog will reflect that work! As you can see, the work involved in this project will be difficult and time-consuming, but rewarding as well. I’m super excited for this experience, and am glad to share this experience with the rest of you.