Breakpoint, A Picture Story

“Brainwashers” by Blackalicious, from Blazing Arrow (2002).

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Wikipedia: Transformation theory, first explained by Dr. George Land (1927-) is a description of the structure of change in natural systems. Land’s research, detailed in his seminal book “Grow or Die”, illustrates change as a series of interlocking S-curves, each interspersed with two breakpoints. Breakpoints are the moments in time when the rules of survival change.

My Picture Story communication art was born at the first Breakpoint retreat, in 2010.

Rico asked me to cover a 3-day intensive for inner-city DC high schoolers, run by a handpicked team of black belt facilitators from across the country. At the end of the process, I’d be expected to project a photographic slideshow of the weekend’s moments. Maybe over some music, if I liked.

I remember how overwhelming it was at the beginning, when roundabout 100 teenagers trickled into the staging/registration area in downtown DC. The cacopohny had a pattern, but I’d lose the thread away from the viewfinder. So, progressively, I would keep the camera to my face for longer stretches.

I was taking so many pictures – an absolutely incredible amount for me, then – that I had to reduce the camera’s resolution to small JPGs to be able to fit in everything I suddenly needed to try. And once I dropped the resolution, the camera could record data more efficiently, which meant that I could shoot faster still.

I continued in this way, trancelike, for the first day and a half. I had absolutely no idea what I was doing; it felt like a Hail Mary to a future version of myself who would be able to carry the ball the rest of the way.

Late into the night on the second day, I began to consider where this river could go, scraping through a few thousand images, listening to music to keep my energy up. Sonically, I kept coming around to Blackalicious. And when I’d take breaks from shooting to sort the imagery or batch process selections, it would get specific: Brainwashers.

And just so, the track began to inform the shooting, and a direction emerged.

The way Breakpoint worked is that the facilitators and I would converge on the project space (George Washington University) on a Wednesday, receive the students and begin training Thursday, run programming from early to late all day Friday and Saturday, and wrap the experience up on Sunday with a final group meeting and viewing of my output. So on a daily basis, after 12-hour days of shooting, the evenings were my only times to edit and build the piece. By Saturday, the overhead of discovery and backlog of work was so extreme that I had no choice but to break night.

Shaking from fatigue and scared out of my mind, I showed up that first Sunday morning with a plan that made sense on paper: I’d manually advance the 5,000 frames that I had spent the night carefully arranging to music. The song would stream separately, and the presentation room would have to be reorganized to allow for the largest projection possible.

All of the production details fell into place easily enough. But I found in rehearsal that no two screenings of the piece would be quite the same – some were in fact way off, in large part for my frayed nerves. But I stayed with it, running through the process as many times as I could.

It was when Rico brought the commissioning agency’s director in for a private viewing of the piece that I gained perspective: she was moved to tears.

I did my best for the kids that year. And consequently, I was asked back in 2011 and 2012, each year improving upon the formula. This year’s product is what’s presented above, and I believe it to be the best I’ve so far made. I delivered my final cut mid-July, right as AFTH2012 stormed through, and I haven’t had a chance to reflect on the experience til now. The months since have been rich in the extreme, but the desire to take the time to record my thoughts has lingered. Somehow, this late release feels right.

This summer marked Breakpoint’s conclusion: funding for this beautiful, imaginative, effective program has ended. Which is how DC works.

Breakpoint taught me things about myself I’ll never forget. The entire arc was a blessing. The facilitators showed me so much; the students even more. And as for Rico, for him the only words that feel right were the ones I spoke at his wedding: thank you.

13 December 2012, 17:28