On February 7, 2014, our team went to the Library of Congress and met with Todd Harvey, the curator of the Alan Lomax Collection and Betsy Peterson, the Director of the American Folklife Center. Following are some reflections on the trip and the collection:
Each visit to the Library of Congress never fails to engulf me in a sense of adventure and excitement, however last Friday I had a different feeling. Walking down past the “stacks”, down several floors, into a narrow hallway I saw a treasure. I saw years worth of research and knowledge locked in a room – waiting for time to erode our culture away. At first, i was fascinated at how detailed Alan Lomax was in collecting and analyzing performances from around the world. Then sadness took over me, as I realized it was all locked away in a corner of a library. From the movie “Rhythms of Earth”, a piece of Alan Lomax’s work, I remember many performances, each very distinct from another. Each movement telling a story in itself. And these shelves were filled with these stories I had never before heard or seen.
In the storage unit dedicated to Alan Lomax, I saw clips from every corner of the world, from Russia, to Greece, to India. So much of our past, and it was in danger because the quality of these films are degrading with each passing moment. Why is one of our greatest archives of movement this state? The next performance version of the famous “Mona Lisa” is hidden away from everyone! At that moment, all i wanted to do was to watch every second of it, hoping to save a little piece of it in my memory. But that’s not enough. I know that if I don’t act now, I will be the culprit of smothering one of our greatest knowledge about our history, culture, and body. These films need to be shown to the world. ~ Sargoon Nepaul
Karen Bradley, Emma Sessions, Drew Barker, Sargoon Nepal and I were interviewing Mr. Todd Harvey, the curator of Alan Lomax Collection. “The great thing about Lomax was that he found his way into the arts when academia strived for grand unifying theories of everything”. Coming from an anthropological, movement and performance studies background I think that the least we could do is take Alan Lomax’s idea and move it forward in ways that we could not even yet imagine.
When Mr. Harvey took us down to the basement, I found a very well categorized and organized world that includes more than 2000 films and more than 3 huge corridors of textual ethnography; materials that need to be re visited, re lived and re embodied. Even beyond ethnography’s false dichotomies that distance the “database” from its cultural soul, one thought keeps coming back “This archive should be out there”.
Lomax documented movement and movement is meaning. Therefore, Re – Imaging and Re – Imagining Choreometrics is a call for a collective of e – motions through crowd sourcing. After all, to paraphrase Foucault, movement does not move, people do. ~ Christina Banalopoulou
I moved to Bethesda, MD about 4 years ago, and after my very first trip into the city, the Library of Congress was by far my favorite building. From the incredible architecture and the beautiful artwork, to knowing that housed under the brilliant marble floors is some of the most amazing collections of literature, music and film, I was in constant amazement. I had the privilege of meeting with Todd Harvey, the curator of the Lomax collection, and began to realize the true breadth of this collection and how truly important this project is. As we wound through the hallways and bookshelves, rode the elevator, crouched under the corridor, and arrived at the door to the collection, I was filled with awe. I couldn’t believe that I was walking underneath the building that I had walked through so many times. When we reached the door to the Lomax collection I still couldn’t believe it. We were there, looking at the reels of film, boxes of notes and shelves of books that were all integral to creating his Choreometrics project. This whole experience made me exponentially more excited about this grant and the work we are doing and acutely aware of its importance. I am so grateful to be a part of this amazing project, and I am so excited to see where it will go. ~Emma Sessions
Dr. Todd Harvey calmly and seriously opened several sample archival boxes upon a large table. As the curator of the Alan Lomax Collection, he possessed a quiet solemnity while introducing us to papers of great cultural ambition. These items, certainly at least the Choreometrics boxes, had never been looked into by any visitor during their ten-year stay at the Library. As Dr. Harvey revealed fact after fact of archival wonder, I had to often control my jaw from dropping and my eyes from widening. The potential of bringing the Choreometrics project up out the Library’s basement almost boggles the mind. I was immediately struck by some of the photos Dr. Harvey showed us of Lomax editing some of the short films he produced. If we can share not only images of Lomax’s process but also a vision of the potential for re-imagining the project, it should not be too difficult for people to see the cultural value.
Lomax’s “southern journey” exploring blues music has a sexy aura which many people recognize. How can we make the Lomax Choreometrics collection attractive? Just as we will be focusing on the past, present, and future of the project, we should also consider those who may have a beginning, intermediate, and advanced knowledge of dance. If we can engage the curiosity of all three levels of knowledge, then I believe we will garner the largest amount of interest. Juxtaposition with famous dances of today may be another effective tactic.
After speaking with Dr. Betsy Peterson, we should think about how we can frame a progressive orphan policy in order to more readily ensure publication of certain film clips. This will require lots of hours of research it seems, but perhaps a policy that sets limits could free up some copyright issues within a shorter period of time. Also, because of the Lomax centennial arriving next year, we should also include a banner or box about that on our website. Framing the future of this valuable project should enable support of this project. ~Drew Barker