Friday, October 14, 2011
Documentary film project
A Photographic Memory
“A stone became a world
A child became all children
A war was all wars” –Ernst Haas
Director Rachel Seed goes on a transcontinental journey to learn – through their shared profession – about the mother she never knew. Sheila Turner-Seed was a successful New York and London-based writer, editor and producer who died suddenly in 1979. Rachel was 18 months old and Sheila had completed, a few years earlier, a series of award-winning film programs about the influential photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, W. Eugene Smith, Lisette Model, William Albert Allard and others, which were co-produced by International Center of Photography founder Cornell Capa and Scholastic Books.
After revisiting these photographers in New York, France and England or, if deceased, their closest associations, Rachel blends her mother’s 1970s interviews with her own footage, creating a posthumous mother-daughter collaboration that connects her to her mother while re-examining the course of the careers of some of the most influential photographers in the history of the medium.
Background and Summary:
“There were two things I wanted to do. I wanted to show the things that had to be corrected. I wanted to show the things that had to be appreciated.” –Lewis Hine
It’s the early 1970’s, and Sheila Turner-Seed, an intrepid journalist ahead of her times, comes up with the idea to create a series of audio-visual programs about “Concerned” photographers, or, those “vitally concerned with their times”* who use the camera as a tool to make others aware of both the beauty and tragedies of the world, that they might be appreciated or changed.
Working with Scholastic Inc., she selects noted photographers Henri Cartier-Bresson, Bruce Davidson, W. Eugene Smith, Don McCullin, Lisette Model, Brian Lanker and Roman Vishniac and others to take part in the Images of Man series, and enrolls her close friend and mentor Cornell Capa, the eventual creator of the International Center of Photography, to support her project. To interview Don McCullin, Turner-Seed must travel to London. Concerned that she be welcomed upon landing, Capa enlists his former assistant, Brian Seed, show her around. He does, resulting in their marriage two years later.
Turner-Seed is a young New York City-based writer, editor and producer with a propensity for getting to the heart of weighty issues, and in Images of Man she records hours of sensitive interviews with the photographers. She keeps in contact with them afterward, and Cartier-Bresson writes Turner-Seed letters of gratitude for her edits, gifting her with several of his prints; Davidson recalls the interviews as “therapy sessions”; and later Lanker notes on his website that participation in the series is “his greatest honor”, above his Pulitzer Prize.
When Turner-Seed dies suddenly of a brain aneurysm in 1979 she leaves behind a husband and two children: Brian Seed, a Time-Life photographer and former assistant to Cornell Capa; Jonathan, 4; and Rachel, 18 months. Shortly after her death, Brian sends several boxes of the original audio reel interviews to the International Center of Photography (ICP) for “safe keeping”, as is detailed in an accompanying letter.
Thirty years later, Rachel, an established photographer and emerging filmmaker, wanting to know more about her mother and hoping to revitalize her mother’s legacy through renewing the series, begins a personal journey to retrace her mother’s steps through the making of the Images of Man series.
The journey begins when she first discovers some stray materials from the project at her father’s home, accompanied by a copy of the letter her father sent to ICP in 1979. Sensing the importance of these materials, she contacts ICP to find out more. Welcomed into the archives of the institution, she spends the summer cataloguing the contents there, and the following year begins listening to the reels while employed at ICP. This is the first time she hears her mother’s voice since she died and the experience is surprisingly familiar, comforting and uncanny.
By revisiting the concept and photographers involved with this series, Rachel not only identifies with her mother but digs further into the work and ideas that started the most prominent photography institution in the world, questioning those who were there at its founding about how and whether Concerned photography still exists today and how photography has evolved over the past 40 years since ICP began.
During the course of the film, Rachel interviews photographers Bruce Davidson in New York, Don McCullin in England, and Cartier-Bresson’s widow (also a photographer) Martine Franck in Paris. She also interviews Capa’s assistant for many years, Anna Winnand, French Humanism and Cartier-Bresson expert Claude Cookman, and ICP’s Chief Curator Brian Wallis, plus other long-time ICP staff to put into context the founding of the institution and the ideas surrounding it, as well as gives insight into who Cornell Capa was. Finally, Rachel visits with Turner-Seed’s family, friends and colleagues in New York and the Midwest to fill the void of her knowledge about her mother and the context of the making of the programs.
Current Status and Timeline
Research and development for this film began in January 2011. Serving as major source material and as a backbone to the film’s structure are 50 hours of original interviews between Turner-Seed and the photographers, housed at ICP.
Other sources of research are Cornell Capa’s Concerned Photography books, the Images of Man series, and film screenings including Lamp Unto My Feet about ICP’s founding, and The Impassioned Eye about Cartier-Bresson and films about reconnecting with deceased or estranged parents, such as My Architect and Daughter from Danang.
In September, 2011, Rachel interviewed Martine Franck, the widow of Henri Cartier-Bresson, in Paris, and has since compelted interviews with Don McCullin, Bruce Davison and William Albert Allard. With adequate funding, the remaining film production will take place by the close of 2013, with editing and post-production completed in 2014 ready for distribution that year.
Creative approach and team
Rather than focusing on talking heads and objective subject matter, the style will be more of a personal journey where Rachel is in conversation with her subjects, searching both for clues about the history of photography and about her mother. Alternating between using HD 5D Mark2 cameras and Canon lenses, and a professional HD Panasonic video camera for longer scenes, aesthetics are as important as content and style is minimal, understated, and poetic throughout. The film My Architect is a good example of the stylistic approach here.
Growing up surrounded by photography, Rachel Seed became a photographer nearly 20 years ago and has run a successful freelance business for the past few years, while also earning an MFA from Indiana University (in progress since 2009). Since 2006 she has conducted 35 video interviews internationally of women and men whose mothers died when they were young, also photographing them. This work has been supported by several grants including the Artist Enrichment Grant from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, The Yarka Vendrinska Memorial Award at the Maine Media Workshops, and a World Affairs Council Association grant for international travel, and exhibited in Russia and the United States. She was also named a Top 25 Artist at 3rd Ward Brooklyn’s annual contest in 2010. This is her directorial debut of a full-length film.
Daniel Traub, Rachel Seed
*The Concerned Photographer, 1968