Thomas Allen Harris
ABOG Fellow for Socially Engaged Art
Thomas Allen Harris is an artist and documentary filmmaker whose latest project, Digital Diaspora Family Reunion (DDFR) grew out of the way Harris uses his own family photographs to build narratives for his documentaries. After more than a decade of culling from his family archive to create narratives that engage, entertain and illuminate the intersections of personal family history with the historical sweep of our culture and times, he was inspired to activate the creative potential of many people’s family archives.
DDFR is a mobile, participatory, multimedia initiative that travels throughout the United States collecting photographs and stories from families, then putting those filmed interviews onto his website. At the Harlem Stage Gatehouse in 2011, he presented the first iteration of the stories he collected to a live audience. Enlarged photographs with accompanying stories was presented to the audience, who was encouraged to bring photo albums, pictures and momentos so that they could join in the initiative. The entire event was streamed live to the DDFR website. Visitors also have the option of directly uploading images to the website, which also features interviews with scholars, news about family reunions and images by black photographers. In this way, the site functions as an archive and portal for social media. Recently, DDFR, in partnership with Healthy Families Brooklyn and Pratt Institute, brought together some of the residents of the Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens housing projects for a family photo-sharing and media literacy workshop, which focused on instructing participants how to protect their family photo archives by digitizing their images. The workshop also included a presentation on the various tools that can be used to record the participants’ everyday experiences, from family life to conditions in their neighborhood using technologies such as cell phones cameras and digital recorders. Harris generously activates personal photographic archives to educate and empower individuals about family identity, and geneology, as it relates to the broader social concerns of community, history and visual culture.
Click here to see the un-edited footage of Thomas.
DDFR Workshop at Gowanus Houses and Wyckoff Gardens
Photos from the archive of Sylvia Wong Isabel
A participant in DDFR in Harlem