Making History by Jim Harris
I'd like to make some suggestions as to how you can create your
own historical document.
The first thing to consider is your choice of a subject. Ask yourself
what it is that you have a special interest in, knowledge of,
or access to. It could be a person (yourself?), place, church,
club or business with which you have some connection. Your collection
can be writings, photographs, audio or videotapes or a combination
of media. It can include newspaper clippings, drawings, menus,
programs, etc., and even larger items like clothing or common
For my subject, I chose a local park and its surrounding neighborhoods.
I used video as my primary medium, but I also created accompanying
collections of news clippings and artifacts (everything from T-shirts
to old bottles that I dug up). I also kept a journal of my experiences
regarding the project, including recollections of interesting
people that I met in the process.
If you own a camcorder, video is the best way to go. It can incorporate
all the other media (sound, motion, printed word and still photographs),
and it is cheap. Consider this; you could ride up and down the
streets of your town or neighborhood and capture every house,
tree, pillar and post for the price of a few 2 hour tapes. A word
of caution, you can shoot anything you want from public thoroughfares,
but once you step on private property, you must get permission.
Even at public gatherings, it's best to check with the person
in charge as a matter of courtesy. You will most likely find that
once they understand what you're doing, they will be most helpful.
Keep a "shot book" in which you write down everything
you want to record, and at what time of day and what time of year
you wish to do it. Also, keep a log book containing brief descriptions
of every shot on every tape. You can review footage and make log
entries after every shoot, or whenever you fill a tape. It's important
to review all recordings to make sure that the shot was captured
properly. Label tapes numerically and by the date begun. All this
paperwork may seem tedious, but it's imperative if you want your
work to be utilized in the future.
If you "shoot to edit", i.e., with the intention of
rearranging the order of shots at a later date, you don't have
to follow any logical sequence of shooting, and you will build
a large collection of shots that can be drawn from for different
outlets. You can also add music or narration after the fact. Even
if you don't have editing capabilities now, you (or someone else)
may later on.
Remember, most subjects have "hardware" (places and
things), and "software" (people and activities). Shoot
plenty of both. Scan local newspapers regularly for articles and
calendar listings that might have relevance to your subject. As
for equipment, a sturdy tripod is needed for steady, professional-looking
camera movements, and a wide-angle add on lens will come in quite
handy, too. If possible carry your camera with you always. The
one time you leave home without it is the time you'll miss the
shot of a lifetime (I have cried real tears over this)
Finally, a bit of research into your subject will help you know
what to shoot, and give you some credence as a documentarian,
which may, in turn, open some doors for you. So that's it. Find
that story that you alone were meant to tell, and give it your
best shot. I bet you'll find it fun and rewarding, and it might
even make you a legend in your own hometown.