Courtroom Sketch Artist was created as part of The New York Times‘ Op-Doc series. The short documentary falls just shy of 7-minutes in length and, as the official site states, “captures the rise and fall of a courtroom sketch artist in Texas.” And, while that’s technically true, it also represents much more than that. This film pays tribute to a dying artform and, in many ways, represents those that are quietly left behind as the world moves forward; the uncertainty of the future; the importance of adaptability; and the potential for individuals and their skill sets to become dispensable, devalued, and rendered obsolete.
As someone who was always fascinated by the idea of the courtroom sketch artist growing up and had wondered about what degree their skills were still employed as court TV programs and televised trials became more and more prevalent over the last 2 decades, I was immediately taken in by this project for its ability to provide some insight into those areas. Then, of course, there is my obvious connection to the subject matter as someone who knowingly pursues such crafts as long-form magazine-style “journalism” and event photography in an era where both have become increasingly undervalued–even regarded and expected as a “free service,” of sorts. But beyond that, this video resonated with me due to the timeliness of its arrival and the parallels that it draws between similar subjects that I’ve been focused on as of late; topics which actually relate to two other documentaries, in particular.
I recently revisited a really great 42-minute short from 2001 called Paperboys, which explores the lives of a handful of small town paperboys in the midwest, the job that has historically aided in the molding and development of so many adolescent boys in our country, and the mutation from the remnants of whatever Rockwellian concepts of utopia were left in our culture to whatever we’re dealing with now in this digital age. Much like Courtroom Sketch Artist, director Mike Mills revealed more than just details specific to an occupation that is being discarded as unnecessary and archaic. Instead, they both raise questions about what else we might be losing along with these positions and what they represented, as well as the inverse about what it reflects about us and what we’ve already lost as a culture to be willing to dismiss them so easily.
Another topic that’s been on my mind lately is the accessibility of media itself. The fact that I have memories of when VCRs first really began to enter widely into the consumer market–you could even rent those newfangled machines at the video store kids–and have lived through that cycle to the point where I am now witnessing the demise of the entire video store industry, really puts my own lifetime into perspective. Rewind This!, another doc which I recently watched, examines that rise and fall of home video and VHS cassettes in particular. The film draws obvious comparisons to The New York Times piece by highlighting the ability for entire industries to crumble in the wake of technological advancement, but the more direct connection that I found was with the mention of the unrecognized artists that once made a living designing amazing VHS cassette cover art, and whom most of us never even considered. How many similar artforms have silently vanished under the radar?
Despite its brief length, Courtroom Sketch Artist touches on all of these concepts, which have already been rolling around in my skull, but approaches them from a more personal angle by focusing on one individual casualty–in this case, a man by the name of Gary Myrick. The first thing that stands out about Myrick is the genuine talent that he possesses, capturing beautiful, emotional freeze-frames through remarkable perspectives and an impressive grasp on depth of field. What many of us may initially assume consists of a very mechanical process and nothing more than a means to a paycheck, he embraces as the artform that it truly is. When Gary speaks of his craft, he expresses an authentic love for his work, fully aware of the importance of the unique humanity that cannot be duplicated in quite the same way by any other means and which he’s become so successful at harnessing and infusing into every scene. He understands and takes pride in the history and evolution of his profession, which becomes, at once, inspiring and tragic. Unfortunately, it’s the evolution of technology that’s now phasing him out.
Of course, this is a 7-minute film and an in-depth analysis from me isn’t necessary, but this introduction is more about the conversations that intersect, exist outside of, and surround the piece. One thing of note, however, is that there’s a brief clip in the video from an old newspaper article about Myrick that hits the screen around the 3:21 mark. Those who bother to pause and read through it would discover details about how the artist originally dropped out of school at 13, took on a job as a sign painting apprentice, and then became a 16-year-old “fast-portrait artist at 6 Flags over Texas” and another amusement park, before landing his break at a local TV Station at 20. Now 38 years later, this is all that Gary Myrick has ever known. This is his life. My hope is that, with this new found recognition, it will affirm that it wasn’t wasted and, perhaps, even open some doors for the future.
More on Gary, including original works for purchase, can be found by clicking HERE.