Digital Diaspora Family Reunion

Posted on March 15, 2011
A multimedia-driven social engagement project by Thomas Allen Harris

Filmmaker Thomas Allen Harris explains his latest creative project, Digital Diaspora, which is designed to maintain family history one photograph at a time. 

For 15 years, I have been making documentary films that mined my family and extended African Diasporic family archives to create compelling stories that illuminate the intersections of personal family history with the historical sweep of our culture and times. My documentary feature films (including VINTAGE • Families of Value (1995)  E Minha Cara/That’s My Face (2001) and Twelve Disciples of Nelson Mandela (2005) explore issues around identity, family and desire in the context of the larger African Diasporic community. Narratively, I draw from the rich heritage of the literary and arts canon of African-American autobiography to re-define “personal” inquiry through the documentary form. In my work, autobiography is defined not by a single voice or perspective but by multiple voices—often in conversation—to produce communal perspectives.

As I have toured with my films around North and South America, Europe, Africa and Asia, people often come up to me after the screenings to share stories about their family photographic archive and their desire to do something creative with it. I kept thinking about their common concern: about how to give people a structure to pursue their own historical investigations through their family archives. So when I started my new film project, Through A Lens Darkly: Black Photographers and the Emergence of a People, (TALD) I thought to create a companion project that would offer a possible solution. TALD (which is inspired by co-producer Deborah Willis’ ground breaking book on Black photographers, Reflections in Black) examines the ways in which black photographers and subjects from 1840 to the present learned to use the medium of photography to construct strategically useful political, aesthetic, social and cultural representations of themselves to transform their communities and the world. Digital Diaspora Family Reunion: One World, One Family (DDFR) is a multimedia-driven social engagement project designed to provide a home for the many stories and photographic images slowly gathering dust in some forgotten corner of the attic or buried in boxes somewhere. Now, there is a place where people can share their family archives with others who appreciate the shared struggles, sacrifices, triumphs and joys that everyday people, living their lives one day at a time, who collectively create what we eventually come to regard as “history.”

DDFR is comprised of this website, www.DDFR.TV, and a traveling experience we call DDFR ROADSHOW, which combines the best of Antiques Roadshow and StoryCorp, to gather together the neglected shards of our past residing in our archives and repurposing them for a new generation seeking some connection between themselves and the world as they know it. DDFR brings together individual personal and family narratives within a context that helps to expose the commonalities of our shared experiences and the bonds of our universal values. Truly, we are One World, One Family and we hope that DDFR becomes like our universal refrigerator door, where we post images of the ordinary miracles that make life worth living. Please join us our extended DDFR family and add your stories and images to our digital diasporic family album.

Read last month's profile of Harri's project in The New York Times.


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