America was built on a foundation of progress. Change and the adaptation of change is a large part of what has kept this nation on the leading edge of power. Americans simply aren’t afraid to bulldoze things of the past to pave the way for a new future.
But that doesn’t mean the past is irrelevant — not everything new is better than what is now old. It also doesn’t mean that Americans should not look back now and again. Our forebears might have already provided the best solutions for present and future problems. In the past, after all, are wisdom, knowledge and experience.
Imagine a mild evening with a cool autumn breeze. The laughter of children can be heard, playing outside as only children can play with imaginations not yet constrained by life’s pressure and adult cynicism. It is a beautiful evening, you are comfortable, unmistakably content and, as a voice comes over the aluminum loudspeaker hanging from the driver-side window, you hear another voice just to your right. You turn to follow the voice and see the gorgeous young woman or dashing young man you married all those years ago. The movie is about to start and she is asking if you’d like some of her popcorn. It is freshly popped with butter. Off in the distance, just below the huge screen of the Ruskin Family Drive-In, you can hear your own child’s laughter. It matters not if it really is your child, or if, in reality, your children already have children of their own. You can hear it. You can remember. And right now, you are happy.
Those are American memories. More than a half-century ago, drive-in theaters were hugely popular and existed almost exclusively in this country. As the pace of life became frantic and land values soared, drive-ins have become increasingly scarce. That, however, does not mean they have been eclipsed by something better in the name of progress — they have not. At the Ruskin Family Drive-In, the problems of everyday life are left behind at the ticket booth. Inside, for less than the cost of a single ticket at a megaplex theater, an entire family can enjoy two first-run movies under the Florida stars with an old-fashioned, family-run snack bar. Progress has not achieved much that is better than that.
Photographer Carl Weese has made a name for himself documenting drive-in theaters across America. Some of the theaters he sees through his lens are still in business, many are abandoned, some just ruined hulks of screens showing only fading memories. Hundreds of others have seen the value of Weese’s work, of documenting the uniquely American Drive-In Movie Theater. He put the project out on Kickstarter.com, a website used to allow people to donate towards funding creative projects, with a goal to raise $8,800 to help with the expenses involved. As of this week, he has raised more than $17,000.
On October 14, Weese will bring his cameras and his talents to Ruskin’s Firehouse Cultural Center as the 2012 Fall Artist-in-Residence. His residency will open with an Artist Talk & Talk-Back on Monday, Oct. 15 at 7 p.m. The talk will be held at the cultural center and is free and open to the public.
As with the center’s previous artists-in-residence, Weese will work with South County young people, visiting with high school photography students.
On Oct. 17 from beginning at 6:30 p.m., Weese will share his experience from his highly successful Kickstarter campaign. The informal session is for artists, performers, teachers and anyone interested in learning about project development and finding financial and other support through crowd sourcing.
On October 18 from 4:30 p.m. to 6 p.m., Weese will hold a large format camera demonstration, which will include information on just how a camera actually works to seeing the world focused through an 8×10 inch piece of ground glass. The demonstration is free for members, students and school faculty and $10 for non-members.
Also as part of his residency, Weese will include two unique activities. Rather than simply bringing and sharing his talent to the South County community, Weese will immerse himself in it, photographing the Ruskin Drive-In and creating a small body of photographs based on the environs of the area. It is hoped that a documentary project, sharable with the world on the web, will emerge as a result.
The other unique activity in his residency is a two-day Digital Photography Intensive Workshop to be held Oct. 20-21 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. That is a hands-on workshop for people with a basic understanding of digital photography who wish to expand their knowledge and skills in camera handling and exposure control, workflow from the moment of exposure to print or electronic output, color management, and efficient file management and archiving of photos. While several recognized photographers hold such workshops in a handful of the nation’s largest cities, it is an extremely rare event for an established and successful photographer to bring such an opportunity close to home. The workshop is limited to 10 participants and costs $245 for members and $275 for non-members.
Photography is all about chasing light and Florida is a perfect example of that. The Ruskin Drive-In at high noon takes on a much different look in photographs than it does at dusk. Capturing the light maintains threads to the past. It shows what continues to work and helps to avoid repeating often painful and costly mistakes in documenting what has failed.
Carl Weese is a light chaser, a successful photographer who has been showcased in national magazines and in the New York Times. On October 14, he’ll bring his cameras and his talent to the Firehouse Cultural Center as the fall Artist-in-Residence. It is a unique residency that will not only highlight and share his work and knowledge, but also will add to that body of work in chasing the South Hillsborough light. Here he will find a fertile ground of progress with strong threads to the best elements of the past. The Ruskin Family Drive-In is among the last of the nation’s family-owned theaters and there the light and laughter are perfect, both in person and through the lens.
For more information on the Firehouse Cultural Center or registration for the two-day photography workshop, visit www.firehouseculturalcenter.org. For more information about Carl Weese, visit www.carlweese.com.