Progressive Media Alaska & Secrets Under the Skin
I was invited to participate in this project in the early winter of 2009 when Dr. Jill Flanders Crosby requested my company's assistance developing a multi-media design for a live performance piece she was choreographing as an initial step toward developing media content for a gallery show she was creating, "Secrets Under the Skin." When Jill presented me with the incredibly vast archive of audio and video tapes she had recorded during 20 years of field research in Cuba and West Africa, it became quickly apparent that before we could move forward, a digital archive of her recordings would need to be created, organized and noted.
And so several months were spent preparing the media content to eventually facilitate the multiple editing projects that were to reference this intimidating quantity of source material. Relative to the time Jill put in at this stage, my contribution to the project was modest. I spent my time capturing the tapes, organizing the data, and managing copies of our ever-evolving file directory on multiple hard drives that were shuttled back and forth between Jill and me so that she could watch every minute (often multiple times I'm sure), and note the content of years upon years of recording incredible and intimate scenes.
This was the beginning. Necessity became the mother of invention and we invested heavily in an array of network and external drives that now house, backup, and transport the consolidated archive of field footage (or at least – the archive of field footage we had a chance to integrate). During this time, Jill and our team at Progressive Media Alaska developed a streamlined working process that would facilitate the process of archiving, noting, editing, transcribing and translating interviews and commentary that would eventually make possible a transatlantic dialogue between the people of Perico and Agramonte in the Matanzas Province in Cuba and a few groups of religious practitioners in Ghana and Togo. All of the language elements of this project had to be translated between three primary languages and countless dialects. To make things more difficult – this process was facilitated by translators spread between two continents and a communist island where it is difficult to travel, and which has no internet or mail service. So… you might not think about it, but ultimately – I was astounded at how much work this one thing, "facilitating translation," would eventually become for our office. The process is so complex and nebulous that I find it impossible to describe what we went through to synthesize culturally appropriate and specific meanings out of the leagues upon leagues of content that had been recorded.
While I take joy in Progressive Media Alaska's many aesthetic contributions to this project – I am most proud of my team's dedication to facilitating the unseen needs of this work. This was a challenge from the very beginning, and I'm proud to say that while the project has grown significantly since that time – we have developed and managed a system in which it can very cleanly expand.
The live performance piece that opened in 2009 featured three screens hung above the stage where we projected some of the material that was eventually cut from the archive - per pages upon pages of Jill's written notes. It was a joy for me to work with such intimate material, and something about the content deeply intrigued me. The videos I saw while editing that show began to stir up some unformed questions that I could not well articulate at the time, and still to this day have a very difficult time thinking about intensely.
I believe Jill must have sensed that the material she had immersed my office in for many months had left me with some unresolved sentiments, and so in the fall of 2009 she invited me to accompany her to Cuba to help facilitate some further audio and video recordings of interviews, ceremony, and the towns in which she had been working.
While I had seen hours upon hours of religious ceremony while editing the show that opened the previous spring – I was not prepared for what it would be likely to be so openly invited into the community of friends that Jill had developed relationships with during her years of working there.
In December of 2010 we returned to Cuba to record more video (most of which has yet to be integrated into any finished material) and to present a diverse array of multi-disciplinary artwork to the people who had shared their stories so trustingly with Jill over the course of the many years she had worked there.
The response of the community was incredible. The way they valued the recordings of ceremony and interviews we brought to them from Africa was indescribable. Before the show went up in Havana we went out to the more remote towns where the ceremonies were filmed to give photos and DVDs of material that we had recorded in both Cuba and Africa. By the end of the first afternoon we were out there, as we walked through the streets of Agramonte in particular, we could hear the sound from the DVDs of African ceremony we had brought wafting through the air. As we walked by one house where we could distinctly hear one of our discs playing I asked Jill – "Do you know who lives there? … She smiled and said "nope." In less than an hour our discs had been reverently carried from the homes where they were delivered, off to be shared with the friends and friends of friends of the people with whom we were directly working.
While in the field, we arranged transportation to Havana (to view the premiere of our show at the Fundación Ludwig) for the community of musicians and religious practitioners with whom Jill had spent nearly every December since 2005. This one little detail became its own adventure as we networked to find a working truck and a few private cars that weren't in use. Things in Cuba frequently don't go as planned, and I was a bit concerned that the show would open in Havana and the community for whom it was intended just might not make it! Fortunately, of course, the gods were on our side and on the appointed hour they all showed up.
The show was an incredible culmination of years of work from many, many people, and it was definitely received by the community as the honor it was intended to be. There could be no standard of success, but for the sincere degree to which our friends in Cuba were moved, affirmed, and brought closer to the heritage they have fought for hundreds of years to preserve.
A lot of the video you will see featured here in this site was shot during that trip by myself, and another large portion was shot on a camera Progressive Media Alaska sent with Brian Jeffery on a trip to Ghana and Togo in the summer of 2010. Also, of course, it goes without saying that a majority of the content was filmed by Jill herself during her many years of travel.
It has been an honor and an education to work on this project with Jill and the brilliant minds she has assembled. I extend my deepest thanks to everyone of the project contributors, and to our friends in Cuba. Also, not one bit of my contribution to this project would have been possible without the support of my incredibly generous staff and community of friends. Thank you to all.
To learn more about Progressive Media Alaska please visit or contact us online at www.progressivemediaalaska.com