Over the next two weeks, we’ll be celebrating the beginning of a new fiscal year by reviewing some notable items and collections that arrived here at the Rubenstein Library in the past year.
The photographs made for the Farm Security Administration form a profound pictorial record of American life during and following the Great Depression. Between 1935-1944 the FSA commissioned photographers including Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Russell Lee, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn, Jack Delano, Marion Post Wolcott, Gordon Parks, and Carl Mydans initially to document the challenges facing farmers and migratory agricultural workers as part of the New Deal. The project eventually expanded to include documentation of urban living conditions across the U.S. as well. This collective work for the FSA made a major contribution to the then burgeoning practice of documentary photography and many FSA contributors ultimately became icons of 20th century photography.
This portfolio includes 10 images that Rothstein believed were representative of the FSA’s overall output including the now iconic “Migrant Mother” photograph by Dorthea Lange.
See a comprehensive visualization of FSA photography on Photogrammar.
Post contributed by Lisa McCarty, Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts
Rob Amberg journeyed to the Appalachian mountains of North Carolina during the height of the back-to-land movement. It was a time when hippies and artists took John Prine’s advice and “blew up [their] TVs, threw away [their] papers, went to the country, and built [them] a house.” All kinds of folks retreated to the mountains back then, and Amberg arrived in 1973 with the suspicious title of documentary photographer.
I say suspicious because Appalachia has been a favorite testing ground for ambitious artists for more than a century. These artists, documentarians, and musicologists act as arbiters and preservationists for what they view as culturally interesting and valuable, and Madison County in particular, where Amberg found himself and where I grew up, is not always portrayed in a nuanced light.
It’s easy though for artists to fall into the trap of reproducing certain convenient and sometimes sensational tropes. My personal favorite is the proliferation of snake handler portraits. A recent comment on a Vice Magazine series called “Two Days in Appalachia,” a series that provoked much conversation and criticism, pointed out that “poverty porn” has been a long standing tradition of documentary artists creating work from the Appalachian region. So, yes, I think it’s fair to initially approach any stranger with a camera in the mountains with suspicion.
All of this is to say that Rob Amberg has created a complex, beautiful, and compassionate body of work. Of the many aspects of his work that I find remarkable, I will mention two here: first, when he moved to Madison County in 1973, he came to stay. His photographs, whether documenting the small community of Sodom Laurel, the expansion of I-26, or the continual influx of new people, follow long-term changes in the landscape, a landscape that he calls “ShatterZone.” Amberg defines ShatterZone this way:
Shatter zone is an 18th-century term that refers to an area of fissured or cracked rock that forms a network of veins that are often filled with mineral deposits. The phrase took on new meaning after World War II when anthropologists and political scientists began using it to speak of borderlands. In this modern definition shatter zones are places of refuge from, and resistance to, capitalist economies, state making, and state rule. Appalachia and Madison County have always fit that definition.
For four decades, Amberg has acted as a witness and interpreter of both the visible and invisible fissures of a changing landscape, and he has captured moments that could not be experienced, let alone appreciated, by someone who was merely passing through. When viewing his photographs, I often ask myself, how did he get there? He got there because he has dedicated the majority of his life to being in Madison County.
The second aspect of his work that greatly interests me, which is related to the longitudinal nature of his project, is Amberg’s own increasingly entangled role in the community. Once, over lunch, Amberg and I talked about all the goings on in Madison County, and it became clear that he knew more about the land and the people than I did. I was born and raised there, but I left when I was sixteen and now live in Hillsborough. As I have become more of an outsider to the community, Amberg’s intimacy with the land and people continues to grow. And as this intimacy grows, he becomes more implicated in the narratives that he weaves, in the lives that he portrays. And, curiously, as his subjects view his work, they are informed and changed by the stories he tells. All is changing as the work goes on.
To me, Amberg’s photographs are one continuous conversation. I keep going back to them; they keep speaking to one another and to me. It’s an amazing time to be able to view his work, in medias res. In fact, I’ve never quite had this kind of experience with an artist, one who so profoundly shapes my view of the place I grew up. It’s my hope that he continues to work for many years, and I am excited to follow his efforts as he contributes his photographs and papers to the Rubenstein Library.
As an addendum, I should mention that Amberg’s photographs reach well beyond Appalachia, and you can follow his current projects on his blog: http://robamberg.com/. Also, you can view the collection guide to learn more about the Rubenstein Library’s holdings.
*I have kept Amberg’s original captions, which reveal a glimmer of how he views the photographs, the people, and the land.
Post contributed by Laurin Penland, Research Services Assistant.
Location: Center for Documentary Studies, 1317 W. Pettigrew St, Durham, NC
In October 2015, the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library will welcome Nate Larson as the second Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel Visiting Artist. Named in honor of Dr. Diamonstein-Spielvogel, a prolific author, interviewer, curator, and champion of the arts, this new artist-in-residence program provides an extended opportunity for an artist to study and engage with archival, manuscript and other special collections in support of developing a new body of creative work.
Nate Larson is a contemporary artist working with photographic media, artist books and digital video. His projects have been widely shown across the US and internationally as well as featured in numerous publications and media outlets, including Wired Raw File, The Picture Show from NPR, Slate, CNN, Hyperallergic, Gizmodo, Buzzfeed News, Vice Magazine, the New York Times Lens Blog, Flavorwire, the BBC News Viewfinder, Frieze Magazine, the British Journal of Photography, The Washington Post, and Art Papers. His artwork is included in the collections of Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, the Orlando Museum of Art, Portland Art Museum, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Center for Photography at Woodstock, and the Museum of Contemporary Photography Chicago. Additionally, Larson holds a full‐time academic appointment in the photography department at Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore and chaired the 2014 national conference of the Society for Photographic Education.
Larson will be in residence at the Rubenstein Library October 26-November 22, 2015. During this time, Larson will meet with scholars, students and staff from across the academic disciplines at Duke and conduct his own research. Larson will give an Artist’s Talk about his work to date at the Center for Documentary Studies on November 5, 2015 from 6:00-8:00pm.
The event is free and open to the public and made possible through the generous support of Dr. Barbaralee Diamonstein-Spielvogel. Larson’s visit is jointly organized and sponsored by the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, the Center for Documentary Studies, and the Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts Program at Duke University.
Date: Thursday, October 29, 2015 Time: 2:00-4:00 PM Location: Holsti-Anderson Family Assembly Room Contact: Amy McDonald, firstname.lastname@example.org
Y’all, we hear you. The semester is getting more and more intense and sometimes Duke is just so . . . gothic, you know? Sometimes you just need to eat some free candy and look at cute things. And what better time to do that than in celebration of that traditionally cute holiday, Halloween?
Your cuddly Rubenstein librarians would like to invite you to visit us for Screamfest III, an open house featuring creepy ADORABLE things from our collections.
Like this postcard of these sweet black kitty-cats, bringing you Halloween joys in their happy hot air pumpkins.
Dearest readers and friends, we long to see you on Valentine’s Day. Won’t you please set our hearts a-flutter and come to our Valentine’s Day open house?
Do you fear that you will be too busy penning epistles of undying love to your own beloveds to join us? Ah, but this event is crafted especially for you: we’ll be sharing the most swoon-worthy of love declarations from the Rubenstein Library’s collections, so you may find just the term of endearment you need to woo your mate.
Perhaps a few examples to help the time pass more swiftly until we meet?
Or the more expressive route taken by Francis Warrington Dawson—writing to Sarah Morgan, his future wife–is always sure to succeed:
“How deeply should I thank God that he has allowed me to know you, which is to love you, for the sun now has a brighter light & the sky a deeper blue. The whole world seems truer & better, & this pilgrim, instead of lingering in the depths, is breasting the healthy difficulties of existence, with his eyes fast fixed on you. Whatever else may fail, believe always in this devoted & unselfish love of Francis Warrington Dawson!”
Or whose heart wouldn’t melt upon receiving this most adorable valentine, from our Postcard Collection:
And there might even be tips on how to present yourself when you present your valentine!
Have we convinced you yet? What if we mention that there will be chocolate and candy?
Rights! Camera! Action! Presents: “The One Who Builds” (2013)
Directors: Hillary Pierce, Peter Carolla, and Nick Gooler
Total Running Time: 40 minutes
Date: Wednesday, February 5, 2015
Time: 7:00-9:00 PM
Location: Smith Warehouse, Bay 4, FHI Garage
The One Who Builds is a film about the life and work of Dr. Omer Omer, once a Sudanese refugee, now an American citizen who is paying it forward as the director of a refugee resettlement organization. Through the North Carolina African Services Coalition in Greensboro, Omer has transcended boundaries dictated by society, race and religion to build a new village, one friendship at a time.
Co-Directors Hillary Pierce, Peter Carolla, and North Carolina African Services Coalition Executive Director Million Mekonnen will lead a panel discussion will follow the screening.
Presented by the Duke Human Rights Center@FHI, John Hope Franklin Research Center, Human Rights Archive and Archive of Documentary Arts, Rubenstein Library, and Screen/Society
For more information please contact: John B. Gartrell, 919-660-5922, email@example.com
Date: Thursday January 22, 2014 Time: 7:00-9:00pm Location: FHI Garage, Bay 4, Smith Warehouse Granito: How to Nail a Dictator, 2011 (Total Running Time: 103 minutes) Directors: Director: Pamela Yates Producers: Paco de Onis
In a stunning milestone for justice in Central America, a Guatemalan court recently charged former dictator Efraín Rios Montt with genocide for his brutal war against the country’s Mayan people in the 1980s — and Pamela Yates’ 1983 documentary, When the Mountains Tremble, provided key evidence for bringing the indictment. Granito: How to Nail a Dictator tells the extraordinary story of how a film, aiding a new generation of human rights activists, became a granito — a tiny grain of sand — that helped tip the scales of justice.
The screening will begin at 7 p.m. A panel discussion with Director Pamela Yates and Producer Paco de Onis follows the screening. Date:
A body of color photography by Kristin Bedford recently acquired as part of the Rubenstein Library Archive of Documentary Arts offers striking images of religious practices in two very different communities of faith, and at the same time challenges cultural stereotypes of African-American worship. The two projects that came out of her experience are titled “Be Still: A Storefront Church in Durham,” and “The Perfect Picture.”
While an MFA student at Duke University, Bedford visited and photographed adults and children in the urban congregation of the Apostolic Deliverance Rebirth Outreach Ministries in Durham, North Carolina for a period of ten months. During worship, she sat in the pews among the congregants, capturing in these rich color portraits what she calls “stillness, contemplation, and the moments between the moments.”
Credit: Kristin Bedford photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
Bedford’s approach to joining these worshippers while photographing them also informed her stay with a utopian community founded by Father Divine in the 1930’s, whose members call themselves the “International Peace Mission Movement.” Bedford lived and worked with the community for five weeks in the summer of 2013 at their estate near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. She documented their faith as it is lived out in everyday acts of racial harmony and guided by the divine nature of work: a form of the medieval commandment of “ora et labora.” Bedford came away with extraordinary views of a community that remains devout and committed to the movement despite a declining membership. She titled this project “The Perfect Picture,” an acknowledgment of Father Divine’s credo that the act of taking a photograph is akin to the faith-driven act of striving for unity and perfection in life.
Credit: Kristin Bedford photographs, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University
The photographs and supporting materials in “Be Still: A Storefront Church in Durham,” and “The Perfect Picture,” are available for research use in the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library. An online guide has been prepared for the collection. Please contact a reference archivist before coming to use this collection.
Post contributed by Lisa McCarty, Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts, and Paula Jeannet Mangiafico, Visual Materials Processing Archivist.