Sam F. Vance, Jr., “Character-Taker”: The Faces of Small-Town and Rural North Carolina, 1930s–1940s

ACCESS PURCHASE
Students and scholars can access articles for free via Project Muse.

Sam F. Vance, Jr., “Character-Taker”: The Faces of Small-Town and Rural North Carolina, 1930s–1940s

by Rah Bickley
Southern Cultures, Vol. 13, No. 2: Photography

"He wasn't a professional photographer, but he was Kernersville's unofficial documentarian, and the hundreds of images he left behind portray a small Piedmont North Carolina community in the 1930s and 1940s."

I came upon the pictures about fifteen years ago. I was searching for something in my parents’ guest room in High Point, North Carolina, sitting on the wooden floorboards and peering under the dust ruffle of a high, old-fashioned bed. In the gloom were stacks of assorted cardboard boxes. Curious, I slid one out and lifted the crumbling lid.

Inside, hundreds of black and white prints were scattered, stacked, dumped. Some were the size of a postage stamp; others were almost as big as posters. Some bore no identification; others had been carefully matted, signed, titled, and sent off to photo contests in New York. I found a picture of my mother as a young girl, wincing as her mother tugged a comb through her wavy hair. Here was a shoe shine boy, whipping his cloth into a blur across someone’s leather dress shoe. And here was a clown in front of a toy store in a stuffed polka-dot suit, caught with a cigarette between his fingers. The titles on the picture mats were in the precise, artistic hand I recognized in the signature of books that had belonged to my grandfather: Sam F. Vance, Jr.