A digital media artist extends the legacy of her radio host grandfather
At the age of 11, Visiting Assistant Professor of Digital Art Liss LaFleur inherited 300 reel-to-reel recordings of famous interviews from her radio host grandfather. “I don’t even know what I was interested in at 11, but he must have seen something in me that I didn’t see in myself—maybe a compassion for others and their stories, or an obsession with observing things,” she said.
Her grandfather Jay Kent Hackleman, host of KTRH Houston Public Radio’s “The Way We Were,” interviewed famous figures about global, national and personal topics. His granddaughter, a media artist and storyteller, investigates personal identities, community-based storytelling, and historic parallelism through hybrid media making.
LaFleur said, “I’ve always known that I wanted to be a storyteller, but had no clue that this curiosity was so embedded in my genes.”
She was hesitant to listen to the tapes at first because they were all she had left of her grandfather; but once she began, she felt compelled to bring them to a wider audience. “They really touch on a lot of issues that are still issues today, like war, abortion, women’s rights and gay marriage,” she said.
A recent collaboration with PBS for “Blank on Blank,” a video series that reimagines famous interviews through digital animation, sparked LaFleur’s interest in bringing the tapes back to life. She worked with PBS’s media lab to digitize the reels and animate her grandfather.
“It’s so weird to hear his voice,” she said. “I remember him telling me stories as a child, but I had no idea how knowledgeable he was, nor that he had this whole other life. It’s like I’m hearing him as a new person.”
Three of the tapes have already been digitized. The first to be released was Liberace on “What He Would Do as President of the United States,” while Marlene Dietrich on “War & Warriors, the American Credit System, Space Exploration, Sex, Success and the ‘Youth Cult’” and Timothy Leary on “LSD” will be released in the spring.
To continue reviving the interviews, LaFleur launched an Indie GoGo campaign with the goal of raising $10,000—the cost to digitize all 300 tapes. Donors had the option to choose to give one dollar, which digitizes a minute; $35 for one tape; or $70 for two tapes. The recordings include interviews with George H.W. Bush, Bill Archer, Kathy Whitmeir and Bishop James Pike.
“What I really hope is that viewers can use the tapes to look back on history and have a new conversation about these topics with the tapes informing those conversations,” she said. “I believe that they can shed light on things that are important to a lot of different people.”