Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve had numerous experiences where things I’ve done in the past have resurfaced in ways I couldn’t have imagined. Last week blues musician Willie “Big Eyes” Smith passed away. He was one of the only two Delta blues musicians still living who had been part of my first short documentary The Delta Bluesmen. That same week, I had a photograph hanging in an exhibit by the Copyright Alliance, Recording Our History: Faces Behind the Camera, in the Senate building rotunda in our nation’s capitol. It was a portrait of blues drummer Sam Carr, who I had photographed and interviewed for that same project, over ten years ago.
I knew if Sam were alive he would have been humbled and honored,
as was I, to have his portrait displayed in such a historic setting. I couldn’t help but “feel” proud at that moment in time. Sure, I felt proud of myself and Sam but I also felt a sense of pride to live in a country where I could still freely walk the halls of the Senate building, past the offices of the powerful of today and the ghosts from yesterday. I didn’t expect to feel that way. I was surprised and comforted that we still have this kind of access to our representatives.
It got me thinking about the trip I took last summer with my daughter when we left the country for 99 days, shooting Opening Our Eyes. We had circled the globe and had visited countries that crossed the spectrum politically, economically and socially. Our journey truly did open our eyes and when we returned to the U.S., it was a big adjustment. What hit me most was that everyone needed to be right, especially in Washington DC. I couldn’t watch TV for months because all I saw was 500 channels of “experts” pontificating and no one was getting anywhere. Worse yet, we all suffer. I remember a time, when I was growing up during the Kennedy era and we asked what we could do for others, instead of what we could “gain” for ourselves.
It’s a year later and I still don’t watch much TV. I’ve found myself absorbed back into the “culture” of America. But as I walked through those venerable halls of the Senate building, I was reminded of my purpose. I’m a storyteller. I voice the stories of people like Sam Carr so that future generations will remember the way things used to be. History gives us perspective and we can learn from it – or not. Without perspective – we can’t remain free.