Magazine article American Heritage

Get out Your Photographs! Producer Thomas Allen Harris Is Launching a Web Initiative That Seeks to Digitize, Archive, and Intepret Thousands of African-American Photographs until Now Hidden in Attics and Shoeboxes

Magazine article American Heritage

Get out Your Photographs! Producer Thomas Allen Harris Is Launching a Web Initiative That Seeks to Digitize, Archive, and Intepret Thousands of African-American Photographs until Now Hidden in Attics and Shoeboxes

Article excerpt

Family photographs have long played an important role in accessing the past--and now an innovative web-based multi-media project has started archiving thousands of African-American family photos in an attempt to explore lives and history through this uniquely intimate lens.

Digital Diaspora Family Reunion is the brainchild of Thomas Allen Harris, a New York-based documentary filmmaker. He is on a campaign to encourage African Americans to share the contents of their old family albums with the world via the web.

"We're taking these images out of attics and shoe boxes and making them part of the public record," says Harris, "so we can assemble a more complete idea of African-American life as well as American life in general." Until recently, says Harris, the work of both professional and amateur African-American photographers has rarely been preserved and interpreted by archives, museums, historical societies, and similar repositories.

The project evolved out of the documentary film Through A Lens Darkly, which Harris is producing about professional African-American photographers. The material inspired Harris to push out and explore broader themes about how photography illuminates the African-American experience. The web provided an ideal vehicle to do this.

"New media outlets are a way for people to insert their own stories into the record," he says. Once Digital Diaspora Family Reunion goes live in September, individuals will not only be able to upload their family photos to a central archive, but they'll also have the opportunity to explore other family stories, make comments, add information, and compare experiences. The project taps into a growing trend generically called Web 2.0, which encourages collective filmmaking and the sharing of information among participants, or what's called "user-generated content" in the lexicon of the web. "I see the internet not just a source of entertainment but also as an educational tool. …

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