Friday, January 19, 2007

Light and Air

The camera is not a free agent as brush or pencil, but relentlessly records things as they are. So the artist must bring to her aid strong contrasts of light and shade, artistic grouping and rhythmic lines. To use a camera as a means of artistic expression, a certain quality of spirit must be brought to light and air. – Bayard Wootten 1926

It is unfortunate that there is no Appalachian Photography Hall of Fame. It would showcase some superb, and largely unknown, work from the past century and a half. Certainly, Mary Bayard Morgan Wootten (1875-1959) would deserve to be one of the first inductees. Born in New Bern, North Carolina, she overcame economic hardship, gender discrimination, and the obscurity of a small-town upbringing to become the state's most significant early female photographer. I'd call her a hero. Her father, Rufus Morgan, was one of the earliest photographers to work in Western North Carolina and many of his stereoscopic images survive.

During her lifetime, Wootten provided the photographs for several books, including Muriel Earley Sheppard’s Cabins in the Laurel, a 1935 account of mountain people. The photograph displayed above, "Horse Traders, Bryson City, NC", is from that decade.

Wootten found the right blend of technical artistry and compelling subjects to produce timeless images. More than 130 of her photographs are collected in Light and Air: The Photography of Bayard Wootten. It has been said of her: "Wootten's most notable accomplishment was the creation of a photographic record of black and white Americans in the lower reaches of society--persons that other photographers often ignored."

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