Despite attempts by filmakers like Spike Lee (School Daze) and Sylvain White (Stomp The Yard) it has been almost impossible to capture the true spirit of Fraternity and Sorority life on film–until now. On April 10th photographer John Ledbetter, a member of the Beta Gamma Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc at Virginia State University, posted a highlight reel from a recent probate show of Spring 2011 initiates.
The moving clip is anchored by Dear Euphoria’s “That You Would” and features the final moments as twenty-two young men make the transition from being initiates to being members of the fraternity. In the days since it was published the three-minute clip has received over 50,000 views and universal praise from members of various fraternities and sororities across the country, not just in his own.
“It’s funny because I just posted it on my Facebook page and went to get something to eat,” says Ledbetter, who was initiated at Beta Gamma in 2003. “When I came back it went a little viral. I have a friend from Canada who knows nothing about Frats but she said when she saw this video it just summed it up for her. She understands what it’s about now.”
Ledbetter, who is employed by the government in D.C., is a self-taught photographer who shoots in his spare time on weekends. He admits that his true passion is music and that the song is what inspired him to shoot the probate or “coming out” festivities.
“The aim was just to do highlights,” he says. “Virginia State University has a lot of Greek pride and Roger Stadium is packed for all the probates. My probate was the same. We start at Williams Dorm and we walk down the strip into the stadium. I knew the show like the back of my hand.”
Inspired by the silent movie genius Charlie Chaplin, Ledbetter wanted to tell the story with music. Mother Nature proved to be a willing assistant director as the elements came into play adding dramatic effect.
“I was praying that it would be outside because there were reports of rain,” he remembers. “Visually the natural light makes for a better shot so it was a bonus that we were outside. Then of course the rain started falling and it was crazy. I kept my camera out. I said I don’t care if this zaps out I’m getting this footage!”
Ledbetter shot the clip with a Canon 5D and a series of lenses; 35mm L series, 24 to 70 L series, 70-200 L series. It took him an hour to chop it up in Final Cut and he used Magic Bullet Looks for the color correction. It was about 12GB worth of footage that he chopped down into four minutes.
“A lot of people are fascinated because we don’t see shows like that nationwide anymore,” he says. “But my style is not scripted. What I did was just off of feeling.”
To see more of John Ledbetter’s work you can visit his website Jaydexterphotoblog.com