Get Ready for TOERIFC’s First Film: The True Meaning of Pictures

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By Marilyn Ferdinand

I’m back at work after a 12-day break, so posting may be a bit sparse this week as I catch up on the stuff that pays the bills. But I want to remind you that The Oldest Established Really Important Film Club (TOERIFC) kicks off next Monday right here at Ferdy on Films, etc. with Jennifer Baichwal’s intriguing documentary The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia (2002). I have already written my review and hope that club members have been able to get their hands on a copy of the film. Remember, you don’t have to be a member to watch the film and participate. I encourage everyone with an interest in images (and isn’t that all of you?) to join in as we discuss the many issues this film explores. Go to the TOERIFC link for all the details.

As a warm-up, here’s a teaser from my review and a few questions to consider:

“There’s a saying that a picture’s worth 1,000 words. While this statement is a bit vague, I think I’m safe in saying that, generally, it means that a photograph can convey more information instantaneously than can be gotten from reading 1,000 words on the same subject. Photos are documents—living memories, even—of what we looked like at a certain time of life, where we’ve been, things we’ve seen, and people we knew and met. They tell us truths about ourselves that the vagaries of memory may have erased or distorted. They bear witness. But is a photograph a reliable witness?”

1. Should Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachian photographs be as controversial as they seem to be?

2. What are all the factors that make them controversial?

3. Does Adams have the right to use human subjects for his own purposes and enrichment?

4. Does Adams have a moral obligation to share his financial gains with the poor subjects of his photographs?

5. What do the consumers of these photographs think and feel about what they are viewing?

6. What other photographers have incurred the wrath of the public and their subjects? Why?

7. Does the artist create his or her own moral universe?

8. Why should we trust Shelby Lee Adams’ view that he is a respectful Appalachian insider?

9. Why should we trust the portrait of Adams and his subjects that director Jennifer Baichwal presents?

10. What is the true meaning of pictures?

  • Jonathan Lapper spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 11:05 am

    Excellent lead in to next week’s post. I can hardly wait.

  • Rick spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 11:47 am

    I saw this over the weekend, and will watch it at least one more time. A great flick, and fine starter questions.
    Should we set a time for on-line discussion?

  • Marilyn spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 12:06 pm

    Thanks, guys. I’ll have the review up early on Monday, and will have comments thrown open (trying to get a spam blocker installed, but if it doesn’t happen, I’ll just deal with deletions). I certainly don’t have to kick things off–that’s what the review is for.

  • Jonathan Lapper spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 12:52 pm

    I don’t think we need to set a time as long as everyone knows the day, which they should by now. I use to put posts up early in the morning but lately I wait until 10 or 11 because that way if any discussion begins the West Coast folks will be up and ready to go too. The UK, which also supplies a lot of hits for many of us, has finished dinner by that point so it works out nicely for them as well.
    Anyway, so I don’t think we need to absolute set a time when everyone shows up at once, but perhaps it would be a good idea to let everyone know a rough time when the post will go up.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 1:10 pm

    I hadn’t thought about the time difference. I think your suggestion of 10-11 am makes sense. One thing we haven’t really discussed is how long before the next film. Will it be a full month? Until the discussion peters out? Something in between?

  • Jonathan Lapper spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 2:05 pm

    I guess until it peters out. I think for the for the first three we will just have to play it by ear so I feel good that you, me and Rick are first at bat.

  • Rick spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 5:49 pm

    We could change the sidebar out on the first of each month, if we wanted. Then it would be clear when the next post is going up. Will we have more idea how long they will last after Marilyn’s …

  • bill r. spoke:
    5th/01/2009 to 6:00 pm

    I watched the film yesterday, and I’m full of opinions, so bring it on.

  • Joe spoke:
    6th/01/2009 to 5:57 am

    This really is a great idea and I can’t wait. The DVD should be in my mailbox by this afternoon!
    Great pick by the way. I’ve never heard of this movie and it sounds so interesting.

  • Marilyn spoke:
    6th/01/2009 to 7:59 am

    Thanks, Joe. I saw this at a film festival the year it came out, and it was the standout documentary of the event. I’ve thought a lot about the issues it raises over the years, and I hope it will give everyone food for thought as well.

  • Fox spoke:
    6th/01/2009 to 10:33 am

    Netflix is delivering this to my house today!!
    Your paragraph and questions are the first I’ve read about this movie. It leads me to believe that we will have some great discussions come Monday.
    This reminds me that I need to decide on my movie. It’s not until August, but Bill is bugging me about it. What a bugger!!!

  • Pat spoke:
    7th/01/2009 to 11:27 am

    I got my copy yesterday, watched it right away, and am mentally chewing over your questions – plus many of my own – all day today. What a great start to the club! I think the discussion will be spirited and challenging. Great choice!

  • Marilyn spoke:
    7th/01/2009 to 11:44 am

    Thanks, Pat. Oh yes, there are many more questions than my “starters.”

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