Upside Down and Inside Out: Camera Work, Spectatorship, and the Chronotope of the Colored Balcony

Elizabeth Abel

in Signs of the Times

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2010 | ISBN: 9780520261174
Published online March 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520945869 | DOI:
Upside Down and Inside Out: Camera Work, Spectatorship, and the Chronotope of the Colored Balcony

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This chapter looks through the other set of lenses that photographers trained on the segregated theater during the 1930s. Movie theaters, unlike most segregated sites, marked only their “colored” entries, since local knowledge could be trusted to ensure that the unmarked front entry would be restricted to whites. At this asymmetrically signed location, documentary photographers bring us to the movies through the entry to the “colored balcony.” By defining a perspective both toward and implicitly from that balcony, their photographs envision modes of resistance to the movie camera's captivating gaze. Disenchantment is implied by a visual insistence on the step-by-step exterior staircase that challenges the fiction of cinematic continuity, and on the play of shadows that calls into question the promise of substance on the screen. Disillusion assumed more tangible forms among the upstairs spectators, whose narratives often recount the covert pleasures of a balcony location that was shielded from surveillance by the white audience downstairs. Reading these photographs and narratives together uncovers the potential for disturbance that was galvanized in different ways by the spatial plans of segregation

Keywords: photographers; movie theaters; colored balcony; spectators; photographs; spatial plans; disillusion; narratives; whites; movie camera

Chapter.  13874 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: History of the Americas

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