In 1966 my friend Jeffrey Paull was
hired at the Broadview Developmental Center
in Ohio, United States. Using film and photos,
he was part of a collective portrait project, where
residents worked in the darkroom, taking
and developing pictures of each other, in order
to re-see themselves.
Nearly fifty years later Donna Washington
answered an online announcement, and said she
looked forward to seeing herself again as a
young girl. She had been a resident from
1966-1978. Donna watched the footage
several times while her responses were recorded
and later edited.
The following texts are voice-over:
Oh, It’s you.
I’m not sure if I’m ready to meet her again, like this.
What if my eyes say no?
What if I can’t recognize her?
It’s a little joke I guess, isn’t that why she’s smiling? She’s holding down a letter, so she can spell the word crap. She’s having a little crap, isn’t she?
Emotions were a very hard place, that’s what I see when I look at my friends again like this.
I couldn’t tell whether emotions were a place in my body or a place in the city.
It all felt like tidal waves and it made me scared.
Every time I had a feeling, of anger or joy, it was like something awful had happened but I didn’t know what it was. I think it was difficult for me to tell if she was happy or if she was sad because the feelings were so high pitched, they all went into feeling scared.
It’s very hard to recognize lonely when you keep disappearing into someone else’s face.
I don’t look at a face, I disappear into it, and then where is lonely? Lonely is gone.
When you get absorbed in a sweater, in the gap between someone’s teeth, there’s no lonely.
I had to make a wall.
If they were speaking, they weren’t speaking to me.
If they touched, they, they didn’t touch me.
There were moments I couldn’t stop from happening. Over and over.
The colour of the drapes, it could last the rest of my life. Do you understand?
I don’t see orange, I am orange, I’m an orange drape.
It’s a big feeling.
It just looks like an empty room to you, but for me it’s like… there’s so much going on.
Kim was someone I met at the Centre. I didn’t understand it was me, I thought she was another person.
She was the first one I experienced as a separate, whole person. I said: that’s Kim. And then I decided I would become this picture, this picture of Kim.
I would become everything people would like, everything people wanted.
She would learn how to look by watching the others. I think we were all watching each other very closely.
And then, after I became a picture, I could let someone like me, and be my friend.
He was the one who made these pictures, actually.
I think his name was Jeffrey.
Jeff was a sad young man who always smiled, and he came every day to show us how to see our faces through the camera.
Sometimes I would start laughing because I was feeling too much, and I couldn’t stand it, and he would start laughing with me.
We might laugh all afternoon until we weren’t afraid anymore. Sometimes I could laugh because I was happy instead of laughing because I was so afraid.
Even though he didn’t live at the centre, like I did, we got along, and I think that surprised both of us.
His camera was like my face, we were both making pictures so we could show ourselves.
We were the same, and that affected me.
I wondered: how could anyone get in here?
I thought my system was perfect. Foolproof.
I didn’t have a body yet. That came later.
I liked to look at the glass of a window, but not what was on the other side of the glass.
Jeff, Jeffrey was the man who made these pictures. Did I say that already?
He taught me a lot about how to see a face. How to receive a face.
Some afternoons never stopped. It would take you a month to eat a piece of cake.
Jeff told me there’s a part of the face that’s always opening.
It’s the part of the face that hasn’t decided yet.
Maybe that’s how Jeff and I became friends.
We showed each other the parts of our faces that hadn’t decided yet.
What Jeff showed me with his camera is that you don’t have to get stuck in someone else’s face.
You can try on one face after another, until you find your own.
It was kind of fun.
And then we realized that we’re all part of the same face.
And I didn’t have to be afraid of that.
And he didn’t have to be afraid of that.
Donna Washington spent twelve years in the
Broadview Developmental Center. She still lives
in Ohio. After the recording, she announced she
would be “retiring from movies,” and then asked
if we could get an actress to do it, because “I don’t
like my voice… and an actress is more real.”
camera Jeffrey Paull
words Donna Washington
music Stephan Mathieu
actress Martha Cronyn
Toronto Arts Council