“Accurate but Incomplete”

“It’s sadly easy to reverse meaning, in fact, to tell a lie, by offering an accurate but incomplete quote,”1 said author Octavia Butler in an Essence article in 2000. After reading this article, I began to think about Louis’ life; how his collections have humanized the man from the legend the world thought they knew so well. I have asked the question of why Louis may have felt the need to collect and scrapbook so much of his life before, this quote offers me another perspective at answering that question. Could it be possible that Louis wanted to reverse the facts or even complete his story by piecing together various moments that broaden the scope of his life or at least accurately depicted it?

When I looked at Louis’ visual collage works, I first began to consider his use of text, imagery, composition, and sustainability. Of Course, these are only a few of the various elements that one can identify within his works, as well as the aspect of a visual narrative that I think is also important to mention. Louis gives us a sort of visual autobiography by recounting actual moments in his life through these reel to reel collages and scrapbooks. 

Lets start will his use of text, it is one of the first things that I noticed while sifting through some of the tapes, since much of my own visual work includes similar strategies. I was interested in further examining what Louis was saying with the newspaper and magazine clippings. For a moment looking at them, one might think he just wanted to keep everything that was written or said about him, only after looking more thoroughly would one see the possibility of this legend of a man as the protagonist and also the narrator in this story. 

In the above collage, dated Thursday, May 10, 1950, displayed is a newspaper clipping of an article headed “Princess Bigs Satchmo.” Although much of the article is sparsely comprehensible due to visually unidentifiable words, it does state the location the article references as London, and that “the princess applauded with marked enthusiasm.” It is also evident that the article was written to give a brief description of Louis’ humble beginnings in New Orleans by mentioning him “playing in the Storyville district,” as well as his current status playing for the princess. Located under the article clipping we can see three smaller clippings in which could be seemingly unrelated to the first and are clearly not from the same article because the text font used is different. They read, “ your story has touched my heart,” “never before have I met anyone with more troubles than you,” and “please accept this as a token of my sincerest sympathy.” If one considers Louis’ deeply contemplative personality as a writer and his own archivist, it could be assumed that the three individual clippings are responding to the first article clipping.

I believe this reveals Louis’ visual narrative. Himself as the protagonist, the most prominent part of the first clipping, and he as the narrator is the man adding more insight into the life or experiences of the protagonist. This may be a long shot to answering why Louis collected and archived so much of himself, here is one more collage that offers a similar perspective to my notion.

This collage is a special one to the archive collections, as it is the last collage Louis ever made. In my analysis of the work, Louis clearly takes on the narrator role by emphasizing the various magazines he references to create the overall narrative. The Register from Orange county and the Miami Heard, each marked with the date of print. He goes on to arrange the text clippings to create a sort of poetic protest to the ending of his career, and life for that matter. Each header placed carefully after one another as if to offer the viewer just enough information to the state that he, the protagonist, is in. 

To me, it would seem that Louis created visual poetry with his use of text in these collages. I believe that Louis was in some way attempting to battle the media as it continuously quoted him and create its own version of his story. The concept that Ms. Butler referred to as “offering an accurate but incomplete quote.” 

Reel-to-reel tape recorded by Louis Armstrong – LAHM Tape 473/Louis Tape 01 (Box)

1 A Few Rules For Predicting The Future, Octavia Butler, 2000, Essence; Common Good Collective

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