“You don’t make a photograph just with a camera. You bring to the act of photography all the pictures you have seen, the books you have read, the music you have heard, the people you have loved.”
― Ansel Adams
This woman de la tercera edad, as we would say in Spanish, is a quiet representation of pride. In her pollera, the national costume of Panama, with her gold hair pieces and tembleques, the white hair ornaments, she is intently working on another hair adornment, seemingly unperturbed by the men around her in t-shirts. She isn’t in Panama. She is in Washington, D.C.
The first time I saw this picture in the Anacostia Community Museum Archives, I felt.
As the opening quotation alludes, every viewer brings something unique to the photographs they view. Viewing pictures is not passive; it is an active interpretation. Sometimes we can articulate why we like an image or why we do not. But other times, images just touch you. They simply make you feel.
This picture touched me for various personal reasons, related to the quotation by Ansel Adams. Of the thousands of pictures in the Black Mosaic archives, this image would of course catch my attention.
I look at this, as you do, through multiple lenses. For example: as a woman, the daughter of a Panamanian father, someone that was very close to my grandmothers, someone who works directly in visual representation, as an anthropologist concerned with the politics of the quotidian, as a scholar that studies international representation in U.S. spaces, as someone that loves polleras… the reasons I am drawn to this image are countless.
Often times, nation and pride are visually represented by flags and/or children. This picture has neither. And yet, to me, perhaps because of what I’ve seen, read, the music I’ve heard and the people I’ve loved, this is a strong and sweet representation of love, nation, and pride.
It’s Holiday season, and I can’t think of a better way to celebrate it here at the Anacostia Community Museum than remembering our very own Santa – Wee Wee (Milton Jones) from the 1970s and 80s. Back in the “old days of the 1970s,” we had our own Santa Claus in the neighborhood of Anacostia. Santa came to see the children and bring them toys and goodies by way of parade car, in the jitney bus, walking, and even by helicopter.
Wee Wee was the Santa Claus for the museum for over ten years. He was a member of the Smithsonian Anacostia Neighborhood Museum’s Exhibition Department, and also ran the gift shop at the museum. The neighborhood had a Christmas parade, featuring our neighborhood Santa. The streets were lined with people all the way down Martin Luther King Jr., Ave. (then Nichols Avenue) and children and parents were lined up at the Anacostia Museum door to go talk to Santa about their Christmas wishes and receive a toy.
Our Santa had helpers too! YAC (Youth Advisory Committee) members would assist Santa with the toy giveaways and goodies. As a member of YAC in the later years, I was not present during our Santa years, but I vividly remember working with Wee Wee in our gift shop. Wee Wee (Milton Jones) was a real pillar in our community and museum.
“A Mind Is a Terrible Thing to Waste” is the well-known campaign slogan for the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The fund was established in 1944 by Frederick Douglass Patterson, the third president of Tuskegee Institute, who was initially seeking financial support for the school (now Tuskegee University). Realizing other private black colleges encountered hardship in garnering funds, Patterson decided that a combined fundraising effort would benefit all universities and colleges involved, thus forming the UNCF. The founding of UNCF and his other contributions to the field of higher education earned Patterson the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 1987.
Patterson was born on October 10, 1901, in the Buena Vista Heights area of southeast Washington, D.C., near Historic Anacostia and the home of his namesake, abolitionist Frederick Douglass. Patterson’s parents died of tuberculosis, leaving him an orphan before the age of two. Patterson lived in Anacostia with a family friend until the age of seven when his older sister moved to Texas and took him with her.
Frederick Douglass Patterson papers at the Anacostia Community Museum include correspondence, manuscripts, research material, published writing, photographs, and other materials documenting his personal life and professional career. Researchers will find of interest a scrapbook commemorating Patterson’s founding of and involvement with UNCF. The correspondence in the papers includes a note from George Washington Carver to Mrs. Patterson which accompanied a bottle of peanut oil with instructions to “use the same as “mothers [sic] friend, (as a massage).” Most of the photographs in the collection were taken during Patterson’s tenure as president of Tuskegee and include dignitary visits to the institute. There are also images by official Tuskegee photographer and renowned portrait photographer P. H. [Prentice Herman] Polk, as well as images by Arthur P. Bedou, who is celebrated for his photographs of Booker T. Washington and jazz musicians. You can learn more about this native Washingtonian in Chronicles of Faith: The Autobiography of Frederick D. Patterson.
A reoccurring question faced by the collaborators on the Urban Waterways Project has been “What are the end products?” “What will be the outcomes of your research?” While the project has produced an exhibition, citizen scientist program, a survey on local attitudes towards the Anacostia, a newsletter, a collection of oral histories and documentation, a surprisingly overlooked and misunderstood component of the project has been to provide a space.
A space for what? The Anacostia Museum, through our projects, exhibitions, and programs, provides a space in which personal experiences can be shared, frustrations and fears voiced, solutions explored, and victories celebrated.
The Urban Waterways’ exploration of the relationships of communities to local waterways is not confined to one city. Efforts to restore the Anacostia River, shape East of the River Development, reconnect residents to their river and surroundings, while taking place in DC, have much in common with efforts in Baltimore, Honolulu, L.A., London, Pittsburgh, and Turkey Creek. The seven cities in the Urban Waterways Network share similar histories and face similar challenges. Through the exchange of their experiences, the stakeholders in the communities along the seven rivers which make up the Urban Waterways network are reminded they are not alone in their efforts and answers may be found by looking at communities in similar situations.
The work of Raul Macias and the Anahuak Youth SoccerLeague highlights the importance of ensuring all communities provide safe, active, green spaces which serve as a focus of healthy, connected communities. Led by Irma Munoz, Mujeres de La Tierra serves as a reminder of the changes that can be wrought when residents are reminded of the power they can wield by giving voice to their demands for the communities they want for themselves and their children.
The respect for the natural world taught at the Hālau Kū Māna School in Honolulu will continue to influence how students define their places in the world and their responsibilities to the environment. Such values are echoed in the work of educator Tony Thomas, as he leads DC students in an exploration of the interconnectedness of the Anacostia Watershed and the possibilities that await them as they contemplate their next steps into the future. Patrick White’s memories of growing up in Turkey Creek are central to his commitment to protecting it from the pressures of development just as Dennis Chestnut’s experiences of learning to swim and ice-skate on the Anacostia River inspired a career in which he dedicated himself to the protection of the river and its environs and to the education of neighborhood youth through his work with Groundwork Anacostia.
If the stories of the partners in our network remind us of the commonalities in the experiences of those living along the nation’s urban rivers, their actions and successes can serve as examples. Robert Garcia’s efforts through The City Project in LA championed Environmental Justice as a civil rights issue and were essential in ensuring the development of green spaces along the LA River. Derrick Evans’ work with the Turkey Creek Community Initiative highlights the power of harnessing a place’s historical value to protect its environmental present. The successes of David Karem and the Waterfront Development Corporation and Lisa Schroeder and Riverlife, in redeveloping the Louisville and Pittsburgh waterfronts, serve as points of comparison and contrast to the successes of former Mayor Tony William’s vision of a redeveloped southeast waterfront in DC.
By providing a space for the histories, present, and futures of the various partners in its network, the Urban Waterways project is continuing the Anacostia Community Museum’s commitment to active engagement with communities both local and national. By celebrating the work and accomplishments of residents and organizations such as The City Project, Mujeres de la Tierra, The Anacostia Watershed Society, Groundwork Anacostia, the Turkey Creek Community Initiative, and the Waterfront Development Corporation, the project reminds communities of what can be accomplished and the next possible steps in efforts to reclaim urban waterways for the benefits of all living along them.
The resulting communities that can evolve out of such engagement were made evident to me on a research trip to LA in the summer of 2013. On a June afternoon after school the Rio de Los Angeles State park was the scene of a vibrant, healthy community. Parents and siblings cheered on Atlan and Los Santos as they faced each other in a soccer match. Other residents strolled or jogged by on paths. A paletera’s bells chimed in the distance and the basketball courts became crowded. Had it not been for the efforts of community members, leaders, and local politicians the scene could have been very different. The sound of cheers of encouragement, the chimes, and children at play…the vibrancy of community life could have easily been replaced by rows of warehouses. For many such a future would have been a poor substitute.
I will be participating on an interesting panel discussing Photo Trends & Evolution in our digital age at the Martin Luther King Library Tuesday Dec. 9. This meetup is sponsored by Net2Squared DC. Please join us and bring your thoughts and questions!
Tuesday, December 9, 2014
6:00 PM to 8:00 PM
Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Library, Digital Commons
901 G Street, NW, Washington, DC (map)
In this panel discussion we will be exploring how the world of photography has evolved from the days of the film camera to mobile phone cameras. It has evolved tremendously as an art form and as a profession. Camera technology is more accessible than ever. Everyone is a “photographer.” What are the implications of this for both amateur and professional photographers? Media outlets are now crowdsourcing photography from their audience. What does it mean to be a photographer in this age of “phoneography”? The event is free and open to everyone from hobbyist and professional photographers to photo enthusiasts.
o James Campbell, Photographer & Founder of InstantDC
o Joshua Cogan, Documentary Photographer
o Holly Garner, Mobile Phone Photographer & Instagram igdc Organizer
o Susana Raab, Documentary Photographer & Photographer at Smithsonian Anacostia Community Museum
o Matt Rakola, Editorial Photographer & DC Chair of American Photographic Artists
Roshani Kothari, Photographer & NetSquared DC Organizer
1. How are things evolving in terms of camera technology–DSLRs, mirrorless cameras, mobile phone cameras, etc.?
2. What are the online technology trends in terms of photo sharing communities, like Flickr, Instagram and other sites?
3. Now all media outlets are about multimedia. NPR has photography and video. An article on National Geographic’s website includes video along with images. What is the role of photography in a multimedia world, and how is the profession being impacted?
4. How is photography being used for social good? Everything from community photography projects to nonprofits using photography to enhance their online campaigns.
These are just a few of the many questions we will be discussing. We look forward to an exciting discussion about photo trends and evolution!
The Anacostia Community Museum Academy is an after school program dedicated to broadening the horizons of some of the younger members of our local community. One late afternoon in November the ACM Museum Academy crossed international borders and paid a visit to the Salvadoran Embassy in DC. There, they met with Ambassador Francisco Roberto Altschul; learned about El Salvador; tasted traditional Salvadoran food like pupusa de queso (a thick corn meal tortilla filled with cheese) and served with curtido (a delicious cabbage slaw made with vinegar); and enjoyed a film screening with Oscar-winning Salvadoran director Andrè Guttfreund about a Salvadoran man who had an idea and turned that into a school that benefitted the entire community.
Andrè shared this story about Hector Morales , a director of a poor rural school, El Zapote, in El Salvador who changed the face of a community. In Andrè’s own words:
Hector Morales, El Zapote’s hero Director, took over 4 years ago. In that time he has done the following:
1) Introduced hydroponic gardening all done by the kids themselves in order for the school to feed itself. Leftover produce is sold by the kids to raise money for their other projects. In addition, 80% of the kids took hydroponics home, so that their families now also feed themselves, and barter what they don’t need with fishermen, allowing both parties to balance out their diets.
2) The kids and their parents, with the help of community members, have built two tilapia ponds and one shrimp pond. What they don’t eat has already been pre-sold to fish markets in the area.
3) Given that there is no artisanship in their village of 500, and because Hector felt the kids needed an activity which they would enjoy, instill pride, and help them make some money for themselves and their families, he brought a teacher in, from an area in El Salvador which weaves for a living, who taught the kids how to make hammocks. This program has been so successful that the kids are having to catch up with the orders. Each kid gets $25.00 for their hammock; the rest goes for the materials involved. Hector introduced them to branding, by having the kids choose the colors which would identify the hammocks as having been made in El Zapote. They are now sold to tourists at airport gift shops, and orders have started to come in from abroad.
4) Hector made a deal with local turtle egg fishermen in which they keep 70% of their crop and give the other 30% to the school. This helps conserve the species, and makes the kids responsible for taking care of the eggs, and then releasing the turtles before they imprint. This project is part of his biology class, and he has integrated ecology, environmentalism and self-sustainability into the entire curriculum
5) Every Friday, the whole school participates in a total community clean-up operation, ending with recycling and mulching.
6) Some of the recycled material is used to make puppets for a puppet show on environmental awareness, which the kindergartners perform throughout the county.
7) Before Hector, education at El Zapote would end at 8th grade for 95% of the students. The closest high school was a 2 1/2 hour bus ride away (each way). Now a ninth grade schoolroom has been built for the upcoming school year, and one will be added every year until the 12th grade is finished. Every eighth grader has been inscribed other than three whose families are moving.
Andrè finished his impassioned presentation by telling the students that they had the tools to create a film like the one he made (linked to below), with the ubiquity of personal technology like smart phones, and outlets like YouTube and Vimeo, we all can be the creators of our stories and share them with the world. Andrè Guttfreund’s movie served to create awareness of how one dedicated person harnessed a community to become positive conduits for change, and has since inspired the curriculum at schools around the world. Watch it below.