In Front of the Camera
In Front of the Camera
Since the widespread use of 35mm motion picture film, numerous companies, such as Bell & Howell and Eastman Kodak, sought to expand their business and relevance in the growing field of filmmaking by producing a smaller, low cost film stock and accessories. On January 28, 1923, Eastman Kodak launched the 16mm safety (inflammable) film gauge and the Cine-Kodak camera. It was marketed as a safe, compact, less expensive production medium for amateur filmmakers. However, while the 16mm filmmaking process was certainly less expensive than that of 35mm, film equipment was still outside the range of what most average Americans could afford to spend on a leisure activity. It quickly found its place as a luxury consumer item, and was a hobby mainly practiced by the middle and upper class. As a result, many of the films shot by the middle and upper class during this time captured others from an outside perspective. In the specific case of the African American community, most films between the 1920s-1950s would primarily feature the author’s family and personal experiences, while any African American subjects would be “guest stars” in their personal story. “In Front of the Camera” is a collection of home movies that, while not shot by African Americans, still depict various African Americans engaging in a number of everyday tasks.
All of the collections shown below are from the Texas Archive of the Moving Image. Descriptions are based on the original TAMI records.
Exhibit Home Page
Behind the Camera
This home movie captures scenes of professional football player Junior Coffey at the Easterwood farm, followed by images of wheat fields. In his senior year at Dimmitt High School, the year before he began his football career at the University of Washington, Coffey throws around a football with Paul Easterwood in the yard. The first African-American to integrate Dimmitt High School and the first black athlete ever to play in a Texas UIL state basketball tournament, Coffey would go on to play football for the Green Bay Packers, Atlanta Falcons, and New York Giants.
Part of the Robert H. Frye Collection, “Bob’s Trip” contains home movie footage of a trip to New York City, including a trip across the Verrazano Bridge and a view of the World Trade Center. Also included is black and white footage shot from a car, primarily of African-Americans on their front stoops and porches. At the end of the reel is a short film entitled “Dazed” that is the only section that has a soundtrack (“Two People in the World” by the Imperials) and tells the story of an unrequited love and a fight involving a phone booth.
This home movie captures scenes from two performances made by African-American sororities and fraternities at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches. In the first segment, sorority sisters perform a song and step routine for the crowd. In the second segment, fraternity brothers show off their step dancing moves. The performers in the second group are from the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, the first black, intercollegiate Greek fraternity in the nation.
Filmed by Texas-native Marcellus Hartman while serving in Vietnam, this footage of the Long Binh Post Exchange captures custom painted jeeps in the parking lot and people carrying out their business, including African-American soldiers greeting each other with a special handshake, called a dap.
The Orris D. Brown Collection (1930s)
This home movie captures scenes of the Brown family driving to then vacationing in New Orleans, Louisiana in the late 1930s. The family makes stops in Lake Charles and New Iberia as they drive to New Orleans, where they see farm workers harvesting sugar cane. In New Orleans, they spend time in the French Quarter, visit St. Louis Cathedral and St. Louis Cemetery, and walk along Chartres and Bourbon Streets where they shop and enjoy the city’s architecture. Footage of excursions to Algiers and the Chalmette Monument are also included.
The Ross S. Sterling Collection (1920s)
This home movie captures scenes of Ross Sterling at his vacation home at Morgan’s Point with his family. Three young girls, possibly granddaughters or nieces, pick flowers in the garden and present them to Mrs. Sterling, and the mansion staff, in uniform, waves to the camera. Images of Main Street in downtown Houston are also included.
This home movie captures scenes of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s funeral procession in Atlanta, Georgia on April 9, 1968. After a restricted service at Ebenezer Baptist Church (the church could only hold 1,300 people), where both Martin Luther King, Sr. and Jr. were pastors, a procession made its way to Morehouse College, King’s alma mater, for a public service. The three and a half mile procession was walked by King’s inner circle, family, friends, civil rights leaders, politicians, and mourners from the general public.