Photo collection inspires documentary


What: UT graduate Ashley Maynor's award-winning documentary

When: 6 and 7:30 p.m. Friday, Oct. 1

Where: Museum of East Tennessee History, 601 S. Gay St.

Cost: Free; refreshments provided by Club LeConte

Etc: Maynor will share tips on preserving photographs and home movies

Hoarding hits a new level in "For Memories' Sake," a documentary about a Middle Tennessee woman who has taken at least a dozen photographs every day for 40-odd years.

Organizing experts can clear out a house piled to the ceiling with stuff. But what do you do with a collection of more than 170,000 photographs?

Filmmaker Ashley Maynor, a University of Tennessee graduate and visiting assistant professor at Virginia Tech's Department of Theater and Cinema, faced that challenge when she started trying to preserve her grandmother's pictures. The discoveries she made in the process are highlighted in "For Memories' Sake," which will screen at 6 and 7:30 p.m. Friday as the Museum of East Tennessee History's First Friday program.

Maynor, a Nashville native, spent many childhood days with her grandmother, Angela Singer, who lives in the rural suburb of Joelton. She was well aware of her grandmother's practice of documenting the minutiae of her daily life. But it was only after her grandmother started giving her VHS dubs of home movies that Maynor realized the extent of Singer's photo collection.

"The estimates that I give in the film are already outdated in terms of her archive," Maynor says. "I would say it most likely exceeds 200,000 images at this point, and that's in part because of her switch to digital because she's unstoppable. She doesn't have to worry about buying film anymore."

Her mother, aunts and uncles sometimes thought of Singer's photography as an intrusion into their lives and wanted her to stop.

"The family is not all in agreement about her photography habit and if it's been a good thing," says Maynor. "Some of her children have issues with having been documented so much and feeling as though she's sometimes spending too much time behind the camera instead of in life, in the real situation."

The documentary changed the opinions of some family members.

"I think for those who see the photography as sometimes an impediment to her being a part of their lives, it's given them a new window to appreciate her work, even if they don't fully think that's the best way she could have dealt with all the issues that happened growing up."

In Maynor's eyes, her grandmother's photography is art.

"Through work ethic alone I think she's worthy of that title of an artist," says Maynor. "On one level, she's more exceptional than an artist. Most artists want the recognition, and they want to live off their work, and they want to be in museums. She really doesn't care about that. For her, it's all about the process."

The response to Maynor's film, which has screened at several festivals, proves to her that her grandmother's work was worth sharing. Viewers are engaged by familiar images of family, food and even checks, and they're touched by the deeper story the photos reveal.

"The film has some dark moments to it, but there are these moments of levity," says Maynor. "The food, I think, is one of them; one, because it's universal, and two, because of her copious documentation of it. But it also says a lot about our culture that there's a family of Southerners that believe food is worth documenting."

Betsy Pickle is a freelance contributor to the News Sentinel.

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