A couple months back I mentioned that I was asked to make a video for an upcoming exhibition at the Mississippi Museum of Art of Oraien Catledge’s Cabbagetown photographs. I just finished this video and will post a couple segments from it in the coming months.
In this segment, Catledge mentions that, from very early on in his work in Cabbagetown, he brought along a video camera and would often use it in conjunction with his Leica still camera. He notes, “ I don’t have a lot of long films or anything you would call documentary at all, but just the everyday life of these people.” It’s interesting that Catledge didn’t consider his video work to be documentary. He suggests that documentary films are long (meaning, longer than a couple seconds or minutes) and are edited into some sort of structure. I feel like that is the general perception of documentary in the general public, but it need not be. Some of the very first motion pictures— called actualitiés— were often simple, short snippets of everyday life, like a baby being fed or workers demolishing a wall. A documentary photograph can capture a glimpse of everyday life, but a documentary film is supposed to provide something more, like context and commentary (as I have done with the museum video). But why can’t an archival film fragment of everyday life just stand on its own, without a scaffolding of story?
While Catledge often downplayed his filmmaking ability, the short archival clip in this segment is an amazing little actualité. The pan around the front yard captures this family just hanging out, with a mother playing patty cake and a boy being yelled at for climbing on the jungle gym. I love the little girl who moves so she can be in the shot twice and the incessant barking of the dog.