My “regular job” gives me opportunities to see some really interesting and significant pieces of history (and sometimes pre-history). For those that don't know, as of right now photography is my "side hustle". My regular job, if it can be called that, is that I am an archaeologist. I work with a firm based out of Atlanta that operates throughout the southeastern United States evaluating, documenting, and protecting our cultural resources.
Today I was working with a crew photographing the Grand Opera House in Macon, Georgia. Initially I was excited because this was an opportunity for me to assist another photographer shooting large format film (a dying art), however once I arrived on site and got up to speed on the history and significance of this particular building my perspective changed.
The reason we were at this location in particular is because this theater still has an intact segregation-era balcony. Being born and raised outside of The South, segregation was somewhat foreign to me. It was something that I read about in history books, but I had never experienced the tangible presence of that period of history. It was an educational and eye-opening experience to be sure. These bench seats are incredibly narrow and uncomfortable. It was around 60 degrees outside but it was easily in the 80s up in the segregated balcony, hot enough that I was sweating just standing around. And this area would host upwards of a thousand people on show nights. One thousand people, with only two bathrooms. I can’t even begin to imagine what that was like, but that was the reality of life for a lot of people. I'm sure miserable only begins to cover it.
A lot of people think that my job is cool and fascinating, and often times it is. I get to travel and see interesting places and meet interesting people. It is amazing to see stone tools that are exquisitely crafted and have remained razor sharp after centuries or even millennia, or elaborately decorated pottery, or massive earthworks. But at other times we get these very real reminders that human history isn't always good. Reminders that we haven't always treated each other fairly, and that we have also have a history of prejudice, isolation, and oppression. You see, as an archaeologist along with the historians that I work with, we look for truth. And then we share the truth with the public. Trying to clean up the past is at the very least dishonest. It reduces the struggles and triumphs of the people who lived through hardships, and who made great sacrifices to bring about change.
Learn from the past. Apply that to the present. Build a better future.