Stretch Ledford Talks Video Kiosks He Installed in Miami's Overtown
New Times: How did you get started with the project?
Stretch Ledford: I have been a professional photojournalist for nearly 30 years. In the fall of 2009 I moved to Miami from Virginia and entered the University of Miami School of Communication's Masters of Multimedia Journalism program. One of our first assignments was to create a "visual postcard" of one of Miami's neighborhoods. Of the 12 students in my class, I was the only one who wasn't too afraid or intimidated to do this assignment in Overtown. The result of that first assignment was the piece that is now called "This Is Overtown." It was shot over the course of a few weekends during the fall of 2009.
Were you living in Overtown when you shot everything?
I was not. I only lived in Overtown during my last three months in Miami. It was difficult to find a place there that was not subsidized, something I would not have qualified for and didn't need. Eventually, I stumbled across the Palm Plaza Motel at 14th & NW 1st. It was relatively clean, quiet and very secure. The owner was a straight-shooter, and the tenants I met were genuinely nice people who became great neighbors. I enjoyed them a lot.
Tell us about the video booths you installed.
I made a commitment to myself that as I worked in Overtown I was going to share the work with the people there. I burned and distributed DVDs of the early (2009) stories ("This is Overtown," The Eye of Overtown, and "Bullets Don't Have Eyes") and later began to take the videos around to show to people on my iPhone and iPad. The locals eventually started calling me the "Documentary Man," and I gradually built credibility in the neighborhood.
Fast forward to the winter of 2010/11 when I needed a thesis/capstone project to complete my master's degree at UM. Since I'd been working on and off in Overtown for the previous 15 months or so, it was only logical that my capstone project would continue and expand upon this work. So I decided to formalize the process of showing the videos to Overtown residents and make their feedback an equally important part of my final project.
One of my thesis advisers, Rich Beckman, suggested using some sort of kiosk-type installations rather than iPads. The kiosks provided a way to show the videos to even more people, allowed me to get feedback that wasn't influenced by the fact that I was standing right beside the viewer while they were watching the films I'd made, and gave the project a presence and a brand within the community.