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Light + Movement


How do photographs from the past inform the present?

Cinematographer Bradford Young discusses his love for still photography.

Inspired by the photographs of Charles “Teenie” Harris (external link), Bradford Young’s three-channel video installation, REkOGNIZE, considers the history, legacy, and identity of Pittsburgh’s Hill District. Premiering on June 16, 2017, this immersive experience explores the enduring influence of photographs from the past.

In REkOGNIZE, Young bends and resolves the light coming through his camera lens to juxtapose moments of soft and sharp focus, searching for traces of the community’s past. He translates 13 Harris photographs of the Hill District into metadata, the symbols and numbers underlying digital images. This code forms the basis for the video’s musical score by jazz pianist and composer Jason Moran, who picks up on the patterns and visual rhythms found within the metadata. The experience is punctuated by footage of Pittsburgh’s tunnels, cast as literal passageways into the city and metaphors for the Great Migration. In this twentieth-century movement, millions of African Americans journeyed from the South to the Hill District and other neighborhoods in cities across the North and West.

Young’s interdisciplinary approach to Harris’s images disrupts the boundaries between still and moving image, digital and analog data, and visual and auditory experience. In doing so, he invites us to reflect on the power of photographs to inspire work across creative media today.

On June 16, Carnegie Museum of Art debuted REkOGNIZE with a screening of the short film Black America Again and conversation between Young and hip-hop artist, actor, and producer Common (external link). Young and Common discuss how this community-oriented film, as well as their respective artistic practices, challenge majority culture through Black artistic intention. The film was directed by Young and complements Common’s 2016 album of the same name.