Early in May I was lucky to be part of a very cool project. Birmingham and other sites in Alabama are reaching out to UNESCO, the cultural heritage department of the United Nations, for recognition for sites of significance in the struggle for civil rights in Alabama. Part of that ‘application’ process is a book to show the sites. Working with visionary talents at Luckie and Co I was privileged to travel to seven sites and photograph each one. The shots were to be ‘beauty’ or ‘hero’ images showing the sites as they are today. But the challenge was that they also were to replicate as exactly as possible historic photos from the era with the idea of placing the historic shots on a half-page with my matching photo underneath. Working with a great art director and the historic photos he diligently researched from each site we did our best ‘guesstimates’ and recreated the work of great photographers…but without the strife. Trying to match lens and scale exact was a very fun exercise. When the historic shots were created, most back in the early 1960’s, the photographers weren’t creating ‘beauty’ shots of the locations. Often working in frightening situations they were simply trying to capture human moments in the lives of people in conflict. However, that put me in the position of having my camera height, angle and lens (mostly right at 35mm) pre-chosen. And from that I had to make our beauty shot.
Time and those struggles have moved on and many details around each location changed with the rest of the world over the last 50 years. Shockingly bright orange construction barrels and high chain link fencing surrounds one site while streets had been realigned and telephone poles moved at others. Some were in disrepair and others beautified. Like the civil rights stories they tell the sites have moved on. With the great help of the art director and a bit of fudging here and there we were able to get what we needed.
Yesterday I was pleasantly surprised to see this story about the UNESCO effort and and footage of one page showing our efforts shared on local TV.
I would encourage anyone who can to visit all the sites and learn the stories they tell.
In Birmingham-16th Street Baptist Church and Bethel Baptist Church
In Tuscaloosa-Foster Auditorium
In Montgomery-The State Capitol and Dexter Baptist
In Selma-Brown Chapel and the Edmund Pettis Bridge