Nestled into the midst of this semester’s STRANGE TRUTH film series, Hope Tucker’s short filmic obituaries stand out. Hope spoke to a crowd of Bi-Co students and community members on Wednesday, March 30, alternating between showing videos and speaking about her work. In Hope’s video series, The Obituary Project, she creates short videos as obituaries for people or places. Originally, Hope planned to focus on the stories of women, though she later decided that this focus was too narrow. One of the first videos in The Obituary Project, and the first video Hope showed us on Wednesday evening, was an obituary for Bessie Cohen, a survivor of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire that killed 145 workers. Hope’s obituary of Bessie Cohen explores the ways in which famous events such as the fire shape the time and perspective of an obituary and highlight what parts of life become historicized. Bessie Cohen lived to 107 years old, yet obituaries written for her tend to end at the age of 17—her escape from death becomes the story of her life.
Hope pointed to her Bessie Cohen obituary as a project she hopes to remake using the same words, only this time in reference to a recent Bangladesh factory fire. This connection between the past and present highlights the social justice angle of Hope’s work. When I asked about the connection between the medium of film and social justice, Hope emphasized her desire to work in an accessible space beyond language. Through film and image, her message can move beyond the confines of verbal language. Especially, she added, as people increasingly learn to read images in school.
When discussing her current projects, Hope made sure to stress their status as in-progress, changing works whose futures she could not entirely predict. One such project focuses on the grocery store owned by one of Emmett Till’s murderers, and where Emmett Till bought candy before his murder. The grocery store is now an abandoned building, and marks a complex, unresolved history, and one that the community members don’t necessarily want to remember. Hope described a sign that appears and disappears in front of the building, memorializing Emmett Till and the history of his murder. Some members of the surrounding community put the sign up, others take it down. Hope explains that she is not interested in “ruin porn,” and that she is documenting not the building itself, but rather the space and how the community reacts to the space. Rather than make obituaries of individuals, Hope says that she finds it less problematic to make obituaries of how we function as members of a community and of what we give back to spaces.
Hope has gone back to her home at Hampshire College, but if you missed her visit, come to the future STRANGE TRUTH events! The next film screening is this Thursday, April 14, at 7pm in Sharpless Auditorium. Kevin Jerome Everson will screen and discuss his films that document the lives and gestures of working-class African Americans. More info here.