Thursday, August 19, 2010

Video of Zora Neale Hurston’s Fieldwork in Florida (1928)

African-American anthropologist Zora Neale Hurston, before she became a noteworthy novelist, used the loan of a camera to photograph fifteen reels of film preserving the heritage of southern African-American culture.

Of these reels, only nine are known to have survived and contain black & white, occasionally grainy footage capturing children at play, a baptism in a river, a logging camp, and footage of octogenarian Cudjo Lewis, the final survivor from The Clotilde, the last arriving slave ship to America (in 1859). No intertitles are presented with these clips, although the musical accompaniment is comprised of spirituals and bluegrass music.

Hurston’s patron was Charlotte Osgood Mason, a rich supporter of the Harlem Renaissance art movement. Mason provided Hurston with travel expenses and the 16mm camera to capture her evocative documentary footage. Although the footage photographed by Hurston was to be spliced together into a documentary, this never occurred.

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