Video Cartography Durham

So instead of a small number of really impressive “monuments” such as those that survive from the disdained historical past, our century will leave, across the planet, a sprinkling of almost identical structures. It is, in a way, one vast global conceptual monument, whose parts and pieces are spread across the world’s cities and suburbs. One city, in many locations.

— David Byrne Bicycle Diaries

Video Cartography Durham is a video-based project that digitizes and preserves vintage film relating to the history of Durham, North Carolina, USA, and presents the archival footage alongside contemporary video. By organizing footage geographically and layering footage chronologically, this project makes it possible for viewers to quickly gain a sense of the history and change of Durham’s urban landscape.

Durham has a culturally rich history, beginning with its role as an early hub of the post-Civil War tobacco industry. There later developed an adjacent (eventually annexed) locale that, according to W.E.B. Du Bois, was a pertinent example of a separate and thriving residential and business community led entirely by African-Americans — the Hayti community.  Hayti’s fame and financial success led its entrepreneurs to establish some of the first national African-American-owned insurance and banking institutions. As a result, Parrish Street in downtown Durham was known for a time as Black Wall Street, prompting Booker T. Washington in 1910 to dub Durham the “City of Negro Enterprises.”

Much of this history has been lost to Urban Renewal, arson, and subsequent neglect of historic properties. Video Cartography Durham, a video-based multi-media project combining the features of an online archive and a documentary film, comprises 6 minutes and 20 seconds of point-of-view and aerial film and video of downtown Durham, North Carolina. The video is composed of scenes from 1942, 1947, 2007, and 2008. Through the repeated capturing (on film and in byte) of locations through time, we are able to navigate a changing landscape in urban Durham.

An earlier version of the film was exhibited at the Golden Belt Artist Studios for the months of September and October 2008 as part of the Triangle Cartography Convergence.  Based on the success of its exhibition, Video Cartography Durham also screened for Duke University’s History Department in March 2009.

Footage used in the video was sourced from Chapel Hill, North Carolina resident Ronald Bryant (1947 footage from 16mm film), the North Carolina State Archives (1942 aerial footage by H. Lee Waters [MPF86]), Google Maps, and Google Earth. Contemporary video footage was shot with a Sony DCR-HC28 purchased with funding provided by a grant from the Triangle Community Foundation. All video was compiled and edited in Final Cut Pro.

Genuine vital integrity does not consist in satisfaction, in attainment, in arrival. As Cervantes said long since, “The road is always better than the inn.” The very name is a disturbing one; this time calls itself “modern,” that is to say, final, definitive, in whose presence all the rest is mere preterite, humble preparation and aspiration towards this present. That faith in modern culture was a gloomy one. It meant that to-morrow was to be in all essentials similar to to-day, that progress consisted merely in advancing, for all time to be, along a road identical to the one already under our feet. Such a road is rather a kind of elastic prison which stretches on without ever setting us free.

Nowadays we no longer know what is going to happen to-morrow in our world, and this causes us a secret joy; because that very impossibility of foresight, that horizon ever open to all contingencies, constitute authentic life, the true fullness of our existence.

— José Ortega y Gasset, The Revolt of the Masses

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