I came to Duke from the suburban sprawl of Newport News, VA in the fall of 2009. I declared a Cultural Anthropology major in the spring of my freshman year, and now as a sophomore have decided to add a Documentary Studies certificate. I enrolled in Documentary Engagement on the basis of that class title’s two words. Unaware of what exactly we would be engaging with, I knew that I wanted to be exposed to deliberate documentary work and a deeper investment with my subject than anything I had done before. When I joined the class, I had no idea of what exactly this work would entail. Furthermore, I could not guess what this semester would mean for me.
When I first met Joseph, I was trying hard to disguise my nerves. Suddenly the far off subject was very close, very real, and extraordinarily considerate and generous. As this season has turned the leaves, meeting with Joseph has become a weekly ritual that has become a centering force in my life this semester. No matter what Joseph has gone through, he has always given me these gifts of his life story without qualm or hesitation about the young, doe-eyed college student sitting before him with a camera and a microphone. Bronwyn’s voice emerged as a strong, vibrant force in our conversations. She has trusted me with profound emotion and I admire her greatly for that.
Documenting homelessness is more than an interview. It is a dialogue with strangers and friends, with one’s own history. It requires understanding the shackles that have held others back as well as their perseverance. It has been demanding work. Documenting demands that I resist my own stereotypes and expectations and instead face what Joseph and Bronwyn have given to me that I didn’t expect.
I come away much more attuned to the little words, the personal stories, and the meticulous recording that form the foundation of documentary. I hope this presentation reflects the hard work the three of us have put into finding and trusting each other with those details.