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Professor chronicles life in violent neighborhood
Beirut, a neighborhood in Philadelphia, has a staggering amount of gun violence, pollution and extreme poverty. It’s the kind of place that might be depicted in a video game or demonized in the public eye, but the nuances of day-to-day life still happen there.
UNT film professor Eugene Martin was commissioned by Temple University in Philadelphia to capture an oral history of this neighborhood in order to relay it to the rest of the city and the U.S. He has also received a grant from UNT to continue this work. His multimedia exhibition, titled “Beirut, Philadelphia,” arrived at UNT on the Square on Monday, containing photographs and film footage.
The exhibition features 120 photo prints, 500 digital images displayed on an array of screens and 30 hours of video. Ultra high definition footage of daily life in the neighborhood, shot with a RED camera, is projected inside the gallery. Three video kiosks display the oral histories.
“My purpose is to document a place that is fragile and isolated,” Martin said.
Martin said there is very little oral history of urban America as these areas are not as accessible by outsiders. He especially wants to highlight the large number of children who live here in order to defy mass media’s portrayals of urban areas containing mostly young men.
Attempting to use the utmost care and sensitivity in his approach, Martin has been documenting Beirut for six years now, and his process is intentionally slow in order to forge real, meaningful connections. He states it’s not his mission to bring awareness to a problem or to glorify poverty, only to provide a straightforward portrayal of real life.
Ebony Graves, a high school student and Beirut resident Martin interviewed for an oral history, was asked if she felt she could make a difference in her neighborhood.
“No, not really because there’s no big problems,” Graves said.
Martin grew up and went to school in a predominantly African-American neighborhood and is adept in his interactions with people who are different than him. Still, gaining acceptance and trust in Beirut was a slow and delicate process but people eventually opened up. He keeps his artistic methods and intentions transparent and never pretends to be someone he is not.
“Acceptance is something that must be earned,” Martin said.
Meredith Buie, Administrative Coordinator for UNT on the Square, said the soft opening for the show went well.
“Eugene approached the director of the gallery with his ideas,” Buie said. “The installation took two full days to set up. It’s a powerful show.”
The show will run through March 9.