Saturday, February 20, 2016

Venus Flypaper

All play most of the day and no work means Karen's Friday night is a little duller than usual.

Well, except for those three hours I was out with a friend, watching a film at the museum and enjoying myself immensely. But the rest of the afternoon and night, I was working, I really was working.

We met near the Membership desk, both of us having been mistakenly told goodnight by the security guard when actually we'd just arrived - clearly he was paying more attention to his book than the comings and goings of the patrons - and made our way past the monthly tango dance floor, considering whether we'd be any good at learning to tango.

Living Social keeps tempting me with ridiculously cheap private dance lessons and one of these days, I'm just going to give in. I'll never know until I try, right?

At the entrance to the Leslie Cheek Theater, a woman asked if I'd be willing to sign up for a chance to win a museum membership and handed me a clipboard with a list on it, while my friend was handed a tablet to enter the same information.

My guess for why the disparity in recording methods was they'd spotted me for the Luddite I am, choosing to give me the Stone Age technology, but she assured me it was just her preference. Sure, honey, whatever you say.

Inside, we scored seats in the best row (the one with unlimited leg room) and ate clementines while discussing Clark Gable's false teeth and how quickly Millie's had run out of corned beef and shrimp tacos today at lunch.

Fortunately for me, 821 never runs out of black bean nachos.

Tonight's feature was director Thomas Allen Harris' "Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of A People," a documentary about looking at history through the lens of family photo albums and the work of scores of black photographers from well-known names (at least to those of us who'd seen the VMFA "Posing Beauty" exhibit) such as Gordon Parks, James Van Der Zee and Roy DeCarava to amateur photographers.

It was a sprawling film, with multiple stories - about the director's search for identity, about the way the black story was ignored for so long, about how black people were represented in photography - and some truly horrific photographs documenting atrocities done to blacks in this country.

But also mixed in were some of the sweetest pictures imaginable, pictures of little boys in suspenders and bow ties dressed up for church, shots of wedding parties in the mid 20th century with women in pastel dresses and men in straw boaters, soldiers in uniform, home from the war with their arm around their sweethearts.

My absolute favorite was one of a lean black man on a beach in a 1950s bathing suit (with belt, no less) crouched down, box camera in hand, smiling and shooting directly at whomever was taking his picture. So handsome!

I learned for the first time of a wonderful-sounding book that nearly every photographer in the film referenced, "The Sweet Flypaper of Life," a collaboration of Langston Hughes' words and Roy DeCarava's photographs about a woman's life in Harlem in 1955. One female photographer admitted to lifting it from the library as a young woman because she wanted it so badly.

Now I come home to research more about it (after doing my work, of course), only to find that a used copy starts at $105 so I'm even more curious. I suppose it's too much to hope that I could check it out from the library? Yes, check it out and return it.

But after the post-screening Q & A with the director and producer, I had to bid my friend goodnight and get myself home to work on a deadline piece.

Not that I'm complaining. All play and no work makes Karen a very poor girl and we don't want that any more than we want her to be dull.

Especially now that I've been told I'm in someone's read feed, I've got an obligation to keep things lively. Oh, the pressure....

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