Salt Institute for Documentary Studies

Located in Portland, Maine, the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies offers a 15-week immersion program for advanced undergraduate and graduate students in documentary writing, photography, or radio.
This blog is an update of current Salt students insights and musings.


Taking it to the Streets: Salt Mini-Ethno Spring 2008

My name is Jessica and I'll be blogging quite frequently. Not only do I find it cathartic, I love remembering events through writing. It is a true form of processing, brutally honest and exciting all at the same time. I'm studying radio here at Salt. I've dabbled in audio for quite some time, in the process gathering voluminous amounts of oral histories. Despite my love for recording, I always hit a block at second base. How do I edit? How do I tell a story in sound? How do I pitch? What keeps someone hooked and what makes them pick-up a magazine and block out my voice?

Salt will answer these questions and so much more. It is the first time I am surrounded by many people who love documentary as much as I do. We sat silently through our first group film-screening. I could tell this was a special audience...and I was very happy to be sitting among these people.

Well what do we do, you may wonder? Thought I'd write about our crazy first weekend as students....where faculty chooses a random town in what our radio director Rob Rosenthal migh call "East Jesus." Luckily it was a beautiful town with a lot of potential. Gardiner is about 50 minutes north of Portland nestled near Augusta. I arrived with the other women in my group (two photogs, one writer, and me bringing up the radio end) and we hit Main Street after two strong cups of coffee at the local A1 Diner. Looking for something a bit darker, we drove to the funeral parlor and knocked on the door....for 2 minutes. No answer. Sadness. I was truly interested in the person who does make-up but from the tire tracks in the driveway, it was obvious someone had departed earlier that morning. From the funeral parlor, we drove around.....outside of town and past a working farm, within town and past a home-based beautyshop. Very Steel Magnolias. Unfortunately she was closed and uninterested in speaking with us.

We went to Reny's at the suggestion of Gen, the writer in our group. A Mainer born and bred, she explained that we might want to speak with someone who had been working at Reny's for quite some time. Bingo. Sounded good to the rest to us. As we waited for Lurena, the 75yr. old who spent the past 20 yrs at the shop, we went to the community board and started making phone calls. A canine behavioral specialist. Environmentally safe pest control. Hypnotherapist. While these were potentially alluring subjects, either people were not home or were not able to accomodate four ethnographers for the day. The pest man said we wouldn't fit in his truck. Another strike.

Lurena arrived at 9:30am and suggested we speak with her cousin, the 80 yr. old cook at A1 (where we had breakfast). She called, he wasn't home. We trudged down the street feeling a bit dejected (at least I did). We walked past a pawn shop and almost walked in....but spotted fellow Salties in the window. I peeked around the corner and saw a tiny sign "Kennebec Tailoring: Locally Owned and Operated."

We walked in.....


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