One may ask, what is “The Joseph Szabo Project”?
It’s a question that set us on a long exploration to find out. When the process first began we couldn’t grasp where to start, but we were both inspired by Joe’s amazing work which was reminiscent of our own teenage years growing up in Queens, and this made us curious. We felt we understood the stories behind his images, and believed deep down that there was something powerful here beyond what had previously been published in “Almost Grown” and “Teenage.” It was the “in–betweens” as we like to call them, “the photographs that captured the moments before and after the published work ended” that fascinated us. And with Joe’s blessing, we were granted unparalleled access to the complete archives of his work – 50 years worth.
While searching through hundreds of contact sheets and over 10,000 photographs over a period of many months, some of which Joe hadn’t seen himself in decades, it became apparent that these undiscovered gems were the missing historical links we needed. And in a sense these newly found pictures dictated how we told his personal story, and in a way, our own. We agreed that the standard talking heads approach was not an option for this film. The challenge then became, could these photographs be used in a way that would lend the viewer the same emotional experience felt while watching a traditional narrative movie?
As the photographs were edited together we saw how they created the illusion of movement based simply on what came before and what came after. The method was like assembling a jigsaw puzzle, the pieces fit or they didn’t. From these images taken many years apart, and hours of audio interviews with Joe, we shaped a film that allows the viewer to experience his pictures and the lives of his students as if they were there. It was that “experience,” the sense of being in that time and place, that became the film’s core.
We understood the film could never explain Joe’s whole story but for the small slice of life we did explore, the journey of discovery was the thing that kept us hooked. This process of investigation lead us down a path of memory into a world we had long forgotten, connecting us to the ghosts of our own high school past. The old friends we once knew and lost touch with over the years, the places we had gone to that no longer exist, the frozen moments in time which remain fixed in our minds. That is the gift of Joe’s photographs which transcend simple nostalgia, which connect you immediately to a part of yourself that lasts forever inside.
We hope the audience seeing this film feels that same emotional reaction and recognizes, as Alan Zeigler wrote in the introduction to “Almost Grown,” that in these images exist “part of yourself – as you are today or as you were, when you too were almost grown.”
— David Khachatorian, George P. Pozderec