My Documentary Screening at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston
Sunday May 18, 2014 was the first public screening of my documentary, “Martin Elkort: An American Mirror” at The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. It showed to a crowd of about 200 people, which is an terrific turn out for an early Sunday evening, on a graduation weekend.
Anne Wilkes Tucker, The Gus and Lyndal Wortham Curator of Photography, gave a wonderful opening speech where she helped the audience to create a context of what it was like to be a photographer during that time period and how Martin Elkort’s photographs were distinguished by a lens of optimism.
After the movie screening I read a short piece I had written. Here it is for your enjoyment:
I can’t tell how gratifying it is to bring this film – which is really like bringing my father – into this venue. And I thank you for that Marian Luntz, and for all you do for film in this city.
8 years ago, I wanted to capture my parents on film. It’s what I do as my profession. My business, Legacy Multimedia, focuses on telling life histories in a way that communicates who you are to future generations. So it was important to me to gather their stories while they were both still alive and in good health. As an adult, I wanted to know about them in a much deeper capacity then the experiences I had of them growing up. So a lot of this footage of my father was shot back then.
About three years ago, the stirrings of a storyline surfaced after taking on the management of my father’s street photography archives. So I set about pulling clips from that original footage and forming the first version. Honestly, it was horrible, and a bit incoherent, but the line was there, or the arc, as we call it in storytelling.
Like a photographer developing an image in a darkroom tray, slowly the story began to appear and after several tries, and a lot of contribution from my friends and co-workers, I came to what you just saw here tonight.
I grew up with a man who was a devoted father and husband, had several careers, and who had done some photography sometime in the past. But I never heard much about his work. I saw him as he was.
Fortunately, my parents gave me a lot. I learned the skills of being in a family that works, and stays together. I learned to give to my community. My first career was as a social worker. Eventually my artist emerged and I became a filmmaker. Like my father, I too was interested in everyday lives and the stories that become a legacy.
I became an artist, and none of these things would have happened the way they did had my father not placed his camera down, and chose a life devoted to his family.
I sat down to create that legacy with my Dad without knowing what it would reveal. What I saw was that my father did not put a camera between himself and life. He did not spend time staging or crafting images. He focused on a world where life happened on the sidewalks and street corners, beside pushcarts and under boardwalks.
His photos show a dignity in every day life that is often absent in the barrage of sensationalized and over-manipulated images we are exposed to today. We resonate with these photographs because seeing images of a world which no longer exists, and the sense of nostalgia it evokes, gives us an optimism about our own world.
My Dad was a story-teller with a camera. He wasn’t there to serve himself as a photographer, he was there to accurately and simply convey what was going on in the street. And from that perspective it makes total sense that he chose his family over a career as a photographer.
There is so much talent and generosity in this room tonight, and seeing you all here, many of you are friends, makes me realize how fortunate I have been to find my voice as a film maker in THIS community. What we have available right here is an amazing venue for established and new filmmakers like myself. Thank you Marian and Anne, for being the strong clear path for great film in Houston.
Filmmaking is an intensely collaborative process and I could not have found the story in this work without so many of you.
I didn’t set out to be a filmmaker, it just sort of happened. I did not set out to make this film. Yet, after it was said and done, I saw that there was a story in these photographs that had eluded me. Your encouragement, love and support pushed me to make all this happen.
Mostly I want to thank my father for being so generous with his time and stories.
Many of Martin’s photographs are on display at the Catherine Couturier Gallery on Colquitt through the end of May and I encourage you to drop by and see them.
I am proud to offer you the world as seen by Martin Elkort and I am grateful for the opportunity to do so.
Martin Elkort’s stunning photographs from the late 1940s and early 1950s can be seen on his website or at select galleries around the United States.
Stefani Twyford is a personal historian sharing life stories, connecting generations and preserving legacies. To learn more, visit her web site, find her on Twitter as @stefanitwyford, visit the Legacy Multimedia Facebook Fan Page, or send her an e-mail.