Thursday, March 21, 2013

Paul Kwilecki at the Center for Documentary Studies

Duke University's Center for Documentary Studies has a major show of Southern photography by Paul Kwilecki, up now through July 27th, 2013, in their galleries at the CDS home, 1317 W. Pettigrew Street, in Durham, NC.

Paul Kwilecki (1928-2009) is not well-known as a photographer, but he photographed in Decatur County, Georgia, for four decades, and assembled a major body of work.

This work is now on exhibit at CDS, and is also the subject of a new book, One Place: Paul Kwilecki and Four Decades of Photographs from Decatur County, Georgia,  edited by CDS Director Tom Rankin and published by the University of North Carolina Press.

The folks at CDS fill in the background a bit, noting that "Paul Kwilecki was born and lived his entire life in Bainbridge, Georgia, running the family hardware store, raising a family, and teaching himself how to use a camera.

"Over four decades, he documented life in his community, making hundreds of masterful and intimate black-and-white prints.

"The self-taught artist developed his visual ideas in series of photographs of high school proms, prison hog killings, shade-tree tobacco farming, factory work, church life, the courthouse. 'Decatur County is home,' Kwilecki said, 'and I  know it from my special warp, having been both nourished and wounded by it.'”

You can see more of Kwilecki's work here.

Kwilecki described his work, and his subject, thus: "I am frequently asked by people who have not seen my work why I spend my life documenting one simple place like Decatur County, Georgia. People confuse simple with small; they’re not the same thing. There are no simple places or simple lives. . . . . Life in Decatur County is like life everywhere, and I cannot think of a higher goal than understanding what we can of it.”

The photographs in this show are splendid, and they raise interesting conundrums.

Work that focuses on a narrow range of subject matter suggests, as Kwilecki does, that anywhere is everywhere, and of course there is no greater challenge than to make sense of place, and life, and time, anywhere you find it.

Is Decatur County, in southern Georgia, on the Florida line, everywhere, or is there something special about it because it is in Georgia, and not, say Iowa? Or Colorado?

Many thanks to Tom Rankin, and to all the folks at CDS, for bringing Kwilecki's work to our attention. 

1 comment:

  1. Hi John, many thanks for calling attention to Paul Kwilecki's work. I ran across his photos and bought his book many years ago, when I worked for the Florida State Archives and Paul was still alive. I am sorry he did not receive more recognition during his lifetime - he surely deserved it.