Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Eudora Welty on the Segregated South

The distinguished Southern writer Eudora Welty (1909 - 2001) also produced a significant body of work as a photographer for the Works Progress Administration in the 1930's. 


The Hunter Museum in Chattanooga, TN is opening a show of this work on March 20th, entitled Eudora Welty and the Segregated South, up through July 12th, 2015. 

Welty made this work, chiefly in Mississippi, in the early 1930's. She would say, later in life, that her work as a WPA photographer shaped the style of narration as well as the subject matter of her fiction. 

To my eye, Welty's images give us a richer and more nuanced view of the Depression-era South than than we get from the work of better-known WPA photographers like Walker Evans, Margaret Post Wolcott, and Dorothea Lange. 

That is to say, Welty shows us, unflinchingly, the realities of poverty, rural isolation, and racism in the segregated South, as do they. But, sometimes, one gets the sense that Evans and the others were so shocked by this dimension of Southern life that they had trouble seeing beyond it.

Welty, on the other hand, more familiar with the realities of life in the American South, recognized and documented in her work events that to some extent at least enriched the lives of those whose days were spent laboring in the fields.

All of this makes Welty's work essential to the history of Southern photography and makes this show at the Hunter Museum well worth a trip to Chattanooga.

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