The Portraitist


Final Theater Poster“Eye on the ’60s” looks at iconic American photographer, Rowland Scherman.

Written by Katherine Webb

 

Birmingham knows Rowland Scherman as the owner of Joe Bar, Southside’s legendary hangout for the hip and creative in the ‘80s and ‘90s.

But when Rowland Sherman was 20–years–old, he was an intern at Life magazine. The year was 1957. The work in the darkroom, he said, was easy to learn, and as an impressionable Scherman processed negatives on contact sheets, he would meet the photographers returning from exotic trips. To Scherman, they were rock stars.

“I went back to college and switched my major to art, bought a camera, and starting taking pictures all the time,” Scherman said during a phone interview from his Cape Cod home.

So began one of the most interesting and influential of photography careers: JFK selected Scherman to be the first Peace Corps photographer. He shot Woodstock, the 1963 Newport Folk Festival, toured with the Beatles on their first stint in the States. His album cover portrait of Bob Dylan earned him a Grammy.

Working closely with the Kennedys and other civil rights leaders, Scherman documented much of the Movement.

The United States Information Agency (USIA) hired Scherman to be the official photographer for the March on Washington. He took thousands of shots that day, many of which became iconic images of the event, and now, of the time.

Today, the 76-year-old photographer is the subject of Eye on the ‘60s — a documentary by filmmaker Chris Szwedo (Limerock Park and A Gulliwing at Twilight: The Bonneville Ride of John Fitch) — selected for Sidewalk Film Festival.

“I was aware that there was someone on Cape Cod who did the March on Washington photos,” Szwedo said from his home in Massachusetts. “I thought, ‘If I can get a hold of this guy, I wonder what those stories will be like.’”

Pretty cool, as it turns out. Pretty sad, too.

Scherman compares his experience to the end scene of Raiders of the Lost Ark, when the U.S. government locks away the sacred artifact in a warehouse of a thousand relics.

“I was a kid,” Scherman said. “The government said, ‘Shoot some pictures.’ I didn’t realize I wouldn’t have rights to my own pictures—forever. This [documentary] clears the lens of what happened. At least, it clears the lens so that people can see the pictures again.”

Financing the film himself, Szwedo began work with Scherman, understanding the process of working with another artist would be challenging.

“I realized right away I wasn’t going to be able to control him, and I don’t mean control in a negative way. I mean steer him. It required a lot more strength on my part. This is a man with a powerful personality who does his own thing, and he hasn’t really answered to anybody his entire career…sometimes going to major events without a press pass and coming away with jewels.”

LITTLE GIRL at MarchAdmittedly meticulous, Szwedo’s process differs from the self–assured Scherman, who took 10 shots of Dylan on stage, then returned to his seat. “He knew he had it. If it was me, I’d do it again and again,” Szwedo said.

“When you meet a guy like this, you’re opening yourself up to history, to art, to emotion, to risk–taking, to your commitment as an artist. And all those things are exhilarating,” Szwedo said.

“I’m not so sure Rowland likes to be called anything other than what he calls himself, a portraitist, a photographer who takes revealing portraits,” Szwedo said.

Szwedo thinks of Scherman’s work partly as a “fly-on-the-wall story” and knew people would be interested to see these iconic portraits.

“Photography,” Szwedo said, “is an immortal experience. Bobby Kennedy. Jean Collins. LBJ. Forever they’re going to be young people [in Scherman’s work]. Alive in photographs. Our families. You as a 2-year-old. You’re always going to be alive in that frame.”

In attempt to capture both the historic worthiness of Scherman’s work and the mortality it encompassed, Szwedo took Scherman to the National Archives to uncover photos that had been locked away for 50 years.

When Scherman looks back at his seven decades, he categorizes his life into scenes. During his “peak output” in the ‘60s, he was in Washington State, happily married and freelancing for the nation’s biggest publications, spending weekends riding the hills in a sports car with his wife and an Afghan hound in the backseat.

“But something happened,” Szwedo said.

In the early ‘70s, Scherman moved to England to live what he called “a healthy life on a farm as a carpenter,” leaving the news in America.

“The Kennedy’s got killed. Dr. Martin Luther King got killed. The war was still going on. I was pretty disillusioned, and I didn’t think journalism would make much difference,” Scherman said.

“When that scene ended,” Scherman said he couldn’t afford life in New York and moved to Birmingham, where he was “a big fish in a small pond.”

Throughout it all, the photographs of the March were locked away—until now.

“What’s important about this story,” Scherman said, “is that I’m a kid myself…and the first job I got after becoming a freelancer is the March on Washington, which turns out to be one of the greatest events in American history.”

 

sashaHeart Child

A documentary goes behind the scenes to capture the intersection of skateboarding and autism.

Written by Joe O’Donnell

 

It is just a board between two sets of wheels, but for Crys Worley it was the surest sign of hope. The mother of two sons, Worley’s oldest child, Sasha, was diagnosed with autism when he was 22 months old.

Worley grew up in metro Birmingham in Woodstock near McCalla. “I was a young mother just trying to figure it out,” Worley says. “At the time my oldest was 5. He had language, but it was delayed. It seemed like all the kids did was fight. My youngest was 3. Three times a week we were going to speech and occupational therapy. I thought that I was depriving our youngest of his childhood. He was always traveling in the car.” Worley was searching desperately for an answer to her family’s dilemma.

“The next few years after that were basically me focusing on Sasha’s prognosis through various doctors, speech therapist, occupational therapist, and so on. I feel like my younger son had to mature a lot faster than most children his age because of constantly having to tag along to all of these appointments for his brother all over the United States. By the time Sasha was age 5 (his brother age 3) I had unsuccessfully attempted to have him participate in organized sports, play groups, and such. He never quite ‘fit in’ and his OCDs kept him from playing sports like baseball. It was difficult for his brother to connect with him for play time. A simple playing with Legos activity would turn into Sasha having a meltdown because his brother touched his yellow Lego.

“There are not a lot of options out there for kids on the autism spectrum to participate in activities. It is difficult for him to participate in sports. About six years ago, I went by Faith Skate Supply on Second Avenue and bought both boys a skateboard. I don’t know why, I just did it,” Worley says.
“Days went by, and I would notice more and more interaction between the two without meltdowns happening. They would laugh when they fell and watch each other’s accomplishments going down the driveway. A year goes by quickly and on their boards the boys are friends,” Worley says.

From that quiet, inauspicious beginning, Worley has leaned on skateboarding to help her sons navigate life and to aid other parents facing life with an autistic child develop mechanisms to help everyone cope. Worley’s journey is documented in Heart Child, a documentary by Ben Duffy that will be one of the films screened at this month’s Sidewalk Film Festival.

The film follows Worley’s personal journey as well as the creation of Askate Foundation, the organization Worley founded to build a link between skateboarding and families with autistic children.
The mission was simple. “Children with autism can flourish given the right circumstances—they are bright, creative and sensitive individuals who need venues where their uniqueness can be celebrated. Let’s help them find a place to express themselves through skateboarding.”

Autism is a severe developmental disability that affects speech and social interaction. Children with autism have a difficult time communicating and relating to others socially. They may also suffer from a heightened sensitivity to sensory input–which can cause them to retreat even further into isolation.
“Autism, like skateboarding, can be unpredictable and often times unruly. We embrace the parts of autism that are hard to understand and give these kids an outlet that is free of rules or judgment, and allows them to be social without being social,” Worley says.
“I decided to create an official foundation because I was receiving emails and calls asking if I was the ‘autism skateboard lady’ and when would we be in their area.

“The demand in the autism community for an actual activity that can have long term benefits is enormous within the United States and A.skate is exactly what these kids need. We serve kids at all ends of the spectrum as well as adults. We have worked with group homes, schools, summer programs, and individual families throughout the country and we always see the same end result across the board. Families are able to see the confidence on their child’s faces, parents are meeting other parents creating their own support group, siblings are finding an activity that allows them to interact with their brother or sister, volunteers are being exposed to children who are different and learning about a disorder that is more common now than ever before,” Worley says.

DSCF2990“People see how fast A.skate has blown up due to all of the hard work, time, and money I have personally put into making it succeed, and they assume we are a million dollar organization with lots to offer. The fact is we are a one-man band on a volunteer basis. I have a friend in California who helps me keep that end of the country organized and she volunteers countless hours helping keep events going out West. I typically handle the rest of the world, organizing events and fund raising efforts to the point where sometimes I just want to turn my computer off and figure out what in the world I’m doing. We have no money; we can’t continue to charge events on my credit card, and I work part time to pay those bills down… initially that’s exactly how A.skate developed. I worked full time and after my personal bills were paid whatever was left went into a pool to save for the next event. Over the past couple of years we did win two grants that helped us carry our head above water but once that’s gone, what’s next? We have never had consistency in funding and the demand is bigger than our pockets. We have functional programs that are sustaining with the volunteers I have appointed to keep the area running, but outside of that it’s new territory. Cork, Ireland, is one of our most successful chapters where they currently hold an A.skate event every last Sunday of the month.

“My goals for A.skate are to establish ongoing programs within cities and eventually have real funding, real secure funding and have a few staff members. I can’t expect people to volunteer 40 hours a week for the rest of their lives, and I cannot continue to work every free moment I have keeping A.skate running. Eventually between working a paying job, the volunteer hours I give to A.skate, and raising two boys I’m going to wear myself out,” Worley says.
“My plans and goals on a personal level are so scattered right now. My kids and I lost our home to a house fire three days before Christmas. We have been sort of living in limbo ever since. The next six months for me and my boys are just up in the air.”

The sidewalk screening of Heart Child, a documentary film directed by New Yorker Ben Duffy, is an opportunity to peek inside the world of skateboarding experienced by autistic kids. “Ben Duffy contacted me about six months prior to me actually meeting him. We scheduled a clinic in NYC, and I received an email from Ben asking if he could attend and make a short documentary of the day to post on YouTube. I met Ben for the first time at a sub shop below his apartment in Manhattan, and I couldn’t help but think that this was Sasha in 10 years.  I got Ben and understood his passion for what he loved. That day began a friendship that eventually turned into friendship that my entire family adopted. After Ben’s short YouTube film went viral, he emailed me proposing that he follow us around with our travels and document A.skate’s growth as well as our lives.”

“My best friend and I are both skateboarders. Both my parents were occupational therapists. I’ve been around autism and skateboarding all my life,” Duffy says.
“We did not really know what to expect. We came to Alabama, and filmed  in Atlanta and Nashville. There are scenes in the movie that just happened on the spot. The story is about what Crys does, but it really developed into so much more.”

 

More featured films:

Muscle Shoals

Located on the banks of the Tennessee River, Muscle Shoals, Alabama is the unlikely breeding ground for some of the most creative and defiant music in American history; “I’ll Take You There,” “Brown Sugar,” “When a Man Loves a Woman,” “I Never Loved A Man the Way That I Loved You,” “Mustang Sally,” “Tell Mama,” “Kodachrome,” and “Freebird” are just a few of the tens of thousands of tracks created there.

Rick Hall, who founded FAME Studios, overcame crushing poverty and staggering tragedies to bring black and white musicians together to create music that would last for generations–the unique Muscle Shoals sound.

In this movie legendary artists including Aretha Franklin, Greg Allman, Bono, Clarence Carter, Jimmy Cliff, Mick Jagger, Etta James, Alicia Keys, Wilson Pickett, Keith Richards, Percy Sledge, Steve Winwood and others bear witness to the magnetism and mystery of Muscle Shoals and why it remains a global influence today.

 

The Bounceback

The raucous nightlife of Austin, Texas, is the setting for this outrageous and heartfelt comedy about two ex-couples burned by love. The four star-crossed lovers bounce from sweaty nightclubs to honky tonks to Air Sex competitions looking for a new start, or maybe just some sweet, sweet revenge.

 

Good Ol’ Freda

For the first time in half a century, Freda Kelly has told her story of life with The Beatles. She worked for the Fab Four from the time she was a shy Liverpudlian teenager until they conquered the musical world. As the Beatles’ devoted secretary and friend, Freda was there as history unfolded; she was witness to the evolution—advances and setbacks, breakthroughs and challenges—of the greatest band in history. Good Ol’ Freda is one of few documentaries made with the support of the living Beatles, featuring original Beatles music. The filmmakers are Ryan White, Kathy McCabe and Jessica Lawson.

 

Hey Bartender

Craft cocktails and star bartenders create the world chronicled in this film, which tells the story of how the renaissance of the bartender in the era of the craft cocktail. The tales are fascinating: an injured Marine works to  become a rock star bartender at the best cocktail bar in the world; a former bank executive buys the corner bar in his hometown and struggles to keep it afloat. Featuring the most famous bartenders in the world along with unprecedented access to the most exclusive bars in New York City and commentary from Graydon Carter, Danny Meyer and Amy Sacco.

 

Ain’t Them Bodies Saints

This film is a 2013 American independent drama written and directed by David Lowery. It’s a tale of an outlaw who escapes from prison and sets out across the Texas hills to reunite with his wife and the daughter he has never met. The film stars Rooney Mara as Ruth Guthrie and Casey Affleck as Bob Muldoon. Ain’t Them Bodies Saints debuted at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival, where it won the Cinematography Award in the U.S. Dramatic Category and nominated for the Grand Jury Prize. It has been selected to compete in the International Critics’ Week section at the 2013 Cannes Film Festival. The film is scheduled to be released in theaters August 16, 2013.

 

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