Earlier this month, I attended a talk related to a project called CHROMA, which is intended to foster “pluralism within the field of photography and lens-based media by supporting the work of emerging artists of African, Latino, Native American, Middle Eastern, North African, Asian, and Pacific Island heritage.”
The conversation tended strongly toward academic/fine arts inside baseball. Not surprising, considering the venue and audience — but not really our beat. However, something that came up in the question and answer period struck me as interesting and within the 1/125 remit:
One of the audience members was worried about changes related to ephemera (like written correspondence) and the impact of those changes on biography in the arts. What, if anything, will take the place of letters in providing biographical detail about the artists of our time? Are emails and tweets likely to be preserved in a way that will be usable for future biographers?
I expected the ensuing discussion to be either a stultifying technical speculation on digital archiving, or else a dirge for old media. But the response from Deborah Willis went in a different direction.
She talked about the upcoming Centennial of Gordon Parks’s birth, and about researching an article she was asked to write about him. She said that Parks wrote five memoirs — which seems like a rather excessive number for anyone. But Willis pointed out that while Parks wrote extensively about himself, few other writers have done so. It seems biographical work on him is scarce, and Parks is missing from a number of recent works which survey documentary photography and photojournalism. (Which seems crazy.)
Willis said, “If Gordon hadn’t written his stories, no one would know he existed,” and so, “My suggestion to you as an artist is: start writing your story.”