Notes from the Field: Videography and New Changes in Oral History

by Todd Holmes

As in so many professions, the evolution of technology continues to add new dynamics to the practice of oral history. Indeed, longtime veterans of the field have witnessed this development firsthand, as audio recorders transformed from the reel-to-reel setups which nearly required an entire tabletop, to digital devices that now can neatly fit in the palm of one’s hand. And with these changes came new dynamics in the interview process. Bulky equipment no longer encumbered the space between interviewer and narrator, nor did concerns about power sources, room size, or running out of tape.

Today, video recording has become standard practice for many in the field of oral history—a technological step that The Oral History Center took almost two decades ago. In some respects, the use of video could be seen as taking a step backwards, reintroducing a few of the same burdens in the interview process that developments in audio had solved. Yet on the other hand, video also opened up new realms of opportunity, enabling one to capture and preserve an interview in its totality and place both an audio and visual recording of the conversation into the historical record. And of course, among the many promising uses of such video recordings is a documentary film.

Conducting interviews that will be used in a documentary, however, again ushers new dynamics into the interview process, dynamics I began to experience firsthand. In 2016, I initiated the Chicana/o Studies Oral History Project which sought to document the experience of the first generation of scholars who founded and shaped the academic discipline over the last half century. This past year, we decided to partner with film makers to put those twenty-five interviews into conversation in a documentary, tentatively titled Chicana/o Studies: The Legacy of a Movement and the Forging of a Discipline. Since joining the OHC, I had video recorded scores of interviews, and thus was no stranger to the practice of framing a pretty good shot. I paid attention to lighting, the triangulation of the camera with myself and narrator, and made sure to avoid the cardinal sin of having something in the background seem like it was sprouting out of the narrator’s head. Yet when the prospect of using these recordings in a film became a reality, I quickly realized that I had a responsibility to take much more time and care in the videography. A “pretty decent shot” was no longer good enough to do justice to both the film and the narrators featured in it. I thus began to more closely select the interview space, one that featured the best possible light and, above all, background. In the past I feared inconveniencing my narrators, often settling for a less optimal video shot because it was easier for them. Yet for the film, I now had to become assertive about the recording space. It was no longer out of the ordinary for me to rearrange a corner of someone’s office or living room, and spend 20 minutes or more staging the background using items from around the room, office, or house. In fact, at times I even brought my own staging materials when needed. At first blush, such procedures could be deemed more hassle than benefit—a sentiment I’m sure a fair share narrators likely held. Yet my answer to looks of “is this really necessary” was to reassure them of my simple aim: This is for a film, and I want you to look your very best.

When thinking of best practices for videography, I believe that simple aim stands at the center: To place the narrator in the very best position to represent themselves. Achieving that goal surely takes more time and care than just simply sitting down and pushing record. It requires being assertive about the recording space, taking the time to properly stage that space, and paying attention to the little details that, more times than not, we would all prefer to sidestep. Yet when done correctly, you will have a finished product that does justice to both the overall project and, most importantly, the narrators featured in it.


OHC Director’s Column – February 2019

From the Oral History Center Director:

David Pearson, CEO of the winery Opus One, said it something like this: Burgundy and Bordeaux have a deserved reputation for making some pretty good wines, but what sets these two French wine regions apart from and above the rest are their storied histories of making quality wine for generation upon generation. The wine itself is not only improved because of years of trial and error but the meaning of the wine is deepened because of the value placed on it by the people who have made and drunk it over hundreds of years. Pearson’s explanation was one of the highlights, for me, of the voices heard at the recent annual meeting of Napa Valley Vintners (NVV). I was invited to attend because we at OHC have partnered with the Vintners to do an oral history project documenting the history of the organization on the occasion of their 75th anniversary this year.

The line-up of historic wines at the Vintner’s 75th anniversary meeting

Pearson’s point was not lost on the several hundred vintners and others associated with Napa wine at the January 17th meeting. With over 150 years of continuous winemaking in the valley, many vintners in Napa are fully embracing the multiple benefits that come from knowing one’s history: from appreciating the moments of triumph to acknowledging and correcting one’s errors, from learning something new (and retaining it) during every vintage to recognizing that history might add literal market value to the wine. These points were brought to life during the reception that followed in which most every vintner brought from their own cellars Napa wines new and old to be shared. Seeing the lineup of hundreds of bottles produced over nearly 75 years provided ample evidence of the continuity of this history. But having the opportunity to taste a 1958 Charles Krug cabernet or a 1964 Inglenook cabernet (the last year it was produced by the legendary John Daniel, Jr.), was a great thrill as the wines have aged gracefully, wearing their decades in the bottle like badges of honor. You could taste the history.

The Oral History Center played a key role in what I think was another highlight of the event. Our very own David Dunham produced a video to open the proceedings: Just after the lights went down in the auditorium, a deeply accented Italian-American voice bursts from the speakers and the audience quickly goes silent, and listens. The voice is of Louis M. Martini, the famed California-by-way-of-Genova winemaker who established his winery in 1922 (yes, in the middle of Prohibition). Martini also was a founder of NVV and in this clip, from an interview conducted by OHC in the late 1960s, he recalls the impetus to establish the organization: “To eat and drink!” In the video, Martini is followed by another NVV founder, Robert Mondavi, who recounts how their agenda expanded into sharing winemaking best practices, dealing with government regulation, and promoting Napa Valley around the globe. Sitting in the middle of that auditorium, I was captivated by the voices on the screen, and pleased that the assembled crowd appeared to be soaking it up too. And the message they heard was that great things are possible when sometimes very independent-minded people decide to throw in together, recognize common purpose, and forge ahead with a shared belief in the value of what they are doing.

NVV CEO Linda Reiff, project coordinator Heather Butler Singer, OHC Director Martin Meeker

These wine industry interviews recorded as many as 50 years ago are now being augmented by a new effort by the Oral History Center to document the history of the California wine industry. One part of this broader effort is a project of a dozen interviews looking at the history of NVV but I hope that we can build a bigger, broader project as well. As I conduct these interviews, it is not difficult to think about the role of the interviewer too. I am thankful that Ruth Teiser, the woman who conducted most of those early wine history interviews, saw the value of this topic and took the considerable time needed to ask the questions and capture the voices of these key figures. Most of her narrators are now gone but they still speak to our generation, and generations to come.

To help document this long, fascinating, and, yes, important history, we are actively seeking partners and sponsors, ideas and information. So, if this project sounds interesting to you and you want to help us make it happen, please contact me. Let’s sit down over a glass of wine and talk about the remarkable history of wine in California and the promise that lies ahead.

Martin Meeker, Charles B. Faulhaber Director


Sally Hibbard: Forty Years of Change at the J. Paul Getty Museum

Sally Hibbard is the former chief registrar at the J. Paul Getty Museum.  She grew up in San Diego, California, and studied art history at Occidental College in the 1960s and 1970s.  Hibbard joined the Getty Museum in 1974 as the secretary to the curator of decorative arts, Gillian Wilson. She became the registrar at the Getty Museum in 1975, leading the Registrar’s Department until her retirement in 2014.

 

Sally Hibbard: Forty Years of Change at the J. Paul Getty Museum

 

Sally Hibbard’s oral history interview opens a window into the early years at the J. Paul Getty Museum, the effect of Mr. Getty’s passing, and the various ways the organization has grown and changed over the years.  Indeed, Hibbard was herself a changemaker at the Getty.  She oversaw the development of the Registrar’s Department from a department of one to the backbone of the Getty Museum, with teams specializing in rights and reproductions, collections management, and exhibitions.  She also directed the transition from paper to digital records for better management of the Getty’s collections and data.

 

In her role as chief registrar, Hibbard led the monumental task of moving collections from the Getty Villa to the new Getty Center in Brentwood in the 1990s.  This initiative took several years and much planning.  Listen as Hibbard recounts the first of these moving days:

 

 

Given its locations in the Los Angeles area, the Getty’s sites routinely face natural disasters like earthquakes and wildfires.  Hibbard participated in discussions about how best to protect collections in the face of these emergencies.  Listen as Hibbard recalls emergency preparedness at the Getty:

 

 

Explore Sally Hibbard’s oral history and gain important insight into the history of the J. Paul Getty Museum!


New Books in Literature

Welcome back for a new semester! With new classes and a new year come new books at the library. The books we recently received have something for everyone—whether you’re looking for poetry, prose, or criticism.

Check out the rest of the new acquisitions!

Want a book that we don’t have in the library? Request it here.



Book Talk: How to Change Your Mind

Michael PollanTuesday, March 5
5 – 6 p.m.

Morrison Library
101 Doe Library
UC Berkeley

In his latest book, How to Change Your Mind, Michael Pollan turns his focus to psychedelics — LSD, psilocybin mushrooms, and the like — exploring their history, use, and potential to help people not only transcend, but also treat conditions from addiction to anxiety. Pollan will join Dacher Keltner, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley and founder of the Greater Good Science Center, for a conversation about the book. Copies will be available to purchase from Pegasus Books. The event is free. Registration is necessary to be assured of a seat.


January Brings New Books in Art History

You can find these and other new art history acquisitions on the New Books shelf in the Art History / Classics Library.

Black Out                                                      Federico Seneca                                                Joyce J. Scott

Ibrahin El-Salahi                                              Helen Lundeberg                                             Centering Modernism

Crtački dnevnik                                                 Poster workshop 1968-1971                                             Hodler, Parallelismus