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Matinee: Calm's Green Book Project Share This on LinkedIn   Tweet This   Forward This

19 October 2019

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 224th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Photographer Jonathan Calm Retraces Jim Crow-Era 'Green Book' Locations.

Represent is a KQED arts video collection introducing Bay area artists who "live to spike art with activism."

In this piece, Jonathan Calm talks about his project photographing the sites mentioned in the Green Book, a guide for black motorists first published in 1936 who wanted to take a road trip.

The problem was finding out where it was safe to get gas, eat and sleep. The Green Book, which was published through 1966, listed those places.

If you think you're free, take a road trip. See how free you feel.

Calm is documenting hundreds of sites long after they were mentioned in the guide. He's discovered that many of them are merely remnants of what they had been.

He shoots both in film and with digital. We noticed a Phase One camera, its name plate blacked out, in some scenes.

Calm himself is a New Yorker by birth, a northerner. He didn't feel welcome in the south as he traveled through, noticing a lot of emptiness in hollowed out communities.

People were afraid of him, he says, although once in a while someone came up to ask what he was up to. Which he preferred to calling the police, he says.

If you think you're free, take a road trip. See how free you feel.

A couple we know have taken a number of road trips across the country while their daughter earned a masters in the east. After the last trip to attend graduation and drive their daughter back, the mother confided that she felt like kissing the ground when she got back to California.

We thought she was talking about the food at truck stop diners, but she said she felt, like Calm, unwelcome as they drove across the country.

Her husband is Caucasian and she's Texan, so we still didn't get it. Until she explained she wore big sunglasses and put her hair up as they traveled through the middle of the country. She was trying to pass unnoticed as an Asian Texan.

Calm points out the freedom that having a car promises. You can go anywhere. You can go any time. Motoring pleasure, it used to be called. The freedom of the open road.

But there are different rules for different people, he points out. Even today, 53 years after the last edition of the Green Book was published and after many of the old safe places have disappeared.


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