Tuesday, May 17, 2011
Some Calibration Required
Just as soon as I can remember how to turn on the TV, I'm going to watch Freedom Riders, PBS's potent tale of a bus ride into Hell. It's been fifty years since a caravan of activists gave Jim Crow the finger, traveling deep into the South to protest the segregation of the day. Recently I backpedaled before a group of young people retracing that dangerous journey and because I wasn't careful, learned a thing or two along the way. Mainly, check your equipment before diving into history. Seems a would-be auteur borrowed my gear and switched enough internal settings to offset space and time. This in itself is a violation of the cameraman code, but by the time I stumbled across the crime, I was deep into the International Civil Rights Museum. You remember the old Woolworth's building in my adopted hometown, the very store where four college students once plopped down at a lunch counter and helped bring a generation of bigots to their knees. A couple of Februaries back, the former five and dime reopened as a shrine to the sit-ins that followed that courageous act and though I was inches away when the ribbon was cut, I'd yet to venture inside. Too bad I had to do it under duress.
But how else do you describe the mounting frustration at a camera that doesn't work as advertised? Never once suspecting sabotage, I ran through a series of system checks but couldn't figure out why the pixels before me seemed so grainy, so dim, so... orange. Turns out it was someone's idea of Cinema Verite, a shallow fixation that hosed me at the worst possible time. Sure, you'd hope I'd focus on more noble goals while backing up through time, but when you're paid to caddy history's first round, mulligans aren't allowed. Thus, the grimace on my chin in the above photo has less to do with the injustice at hand and more to do with the out of tune instrument in my face. If that makes me a technician, so be it. At least I know how to return tools like I found them! Yes, halfway into the museum's 'Hall of Shame', I was in a pretty good lather. That's when I noticed all the stark images around me: African-Americans scorned and tortured solely for the skin they were born in. Suddenly, my umbrage seemed so out of place and before I escape that corridor I had more on my mind than a simple lensman's revenge.
Guess the museum works, after all.