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Vol. 22, No. 1: Documentary Arts

  //  spring 2016

This Documentary Arts issue explores “the privilege of perception,” participatory archive, self-documentation, and, ultimately, self-preservation. From Hale County, Alabama, to Harlan County, Kentucky, to a Lao Buddhist temple in the mountains of North Carolina, we examine the many ways southerners create a record of themselves and their communities. Mormons, migrants, parades, and poetic collaborations round out our photo essays, and personal meditations on ethnography and autobiography invite us to reconsider the “fundamentally permeable boundaries of art, fiction, document, and fact.” What is real and what is true, and who gets to decide?

Table of Contents

Front Porch: Documentary Arts

by Harry L. Watson
“So what is the truth about documentary?” Southern Cultures is deeply indebted to photographer Tom Rankin, former director of Duke University’s Center for Documentary Studies and current head of Duke’s MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts, for serving as guest editor of this special issue. Rankin offers his own reflections on documentary and its meanings »

Looking and Telling, Again and Again: The Documentary Impulse

by Tom Rankin
“How do we find a documentary voice that makes room for the documentary artist’s point of view and also embraces . . . those voices of local people who talk to us in ways we understand but would rather not hear?” In the days immediately following the terror in Charleston, South Carolina, and the murder »

Compelled to Listen: The Making of an Ethnographer

by Martha King
“When people asked the stale question ‘What do you want to be when you grow up?,’ I started responding: ‘The President’ . . . With ‘President,’ I never had to reply, ‘Well, sir, when I grow up I’d like to understand what compels you to ask me that question.’” At seven years old I knew »

Missionary: Boyhood as an Elder

by Marcus Journey
“At eighteen years old, Mormon Elders are still developing physically and spiritually while working to share their gospel in a culture far from home.” Last year I crossed paths with Mormon missionaries who live in my apartment complex. Having been raised in the Mormon Church, I expressed interest in documenting their ministry in an effort »

“It’s Not All Hard Candy and Horse Shit”: Christmas in Cat Square

by Aaron Canipe
“The camera became my excuse to talk to the beauty queens, fine artists, musicians, rebels, angels, and street preachers of my community.” Inside the Cat Square Superette, above the meat counter, under the garish fluorescent lights and a watercolor painting of the store, a plaque lists four decades of Cat Square mayors. Among them is »

“Written and Composed by Nora E. Carpenter”: Song Lyric Scrapbooks, Home Recordings, and Self-Documentation

by Emily Hilliard
“‘Big Mama was intimidating, not particularly warm, but extremely sentimental.’” “The local townsfolk do not like mountain music. They can’t stand to listen to it. They buy Benny Goodman, Guy Lombardo, etc.” The typewritten missive in my hand, dated September 8, 1937, location Harlan, Kentucky, described, with no small dose of disdain, the musical predilections »

This is a Reflection

Participatory Documentary in Tutwiler, Mississippi

by Paige Prather
“‘This house is as old as my grandma. This house is like a junkyard. This house is like an animal in the woods. This house is as raggedy as an old car. This house is as ugly as an ugly tree.’” Like many towns in the Mississippi Delta, Tutwiler, Mississippi, is a sparsely populated community »
Photo Essay

“Those who complain often don’t come back”: Stories of Migrant Life

by Kyle Warren
“The rank smell of rotting sweet potatoes lingered in the air, molding in their crates just a few feet away from where Luis slept at night.” While working as part of the Student Action with Farmworkers program between his junior and senior year of college, Kyle was placed with Southern Migrant Legal Services, based in »
Photo Essay

Home in a New Place: Making Laos in Morganton, North Carolina

by Katy A. Clune
“It is the sense of place going with us still that is the ball of golden thread to carry us there and back and, in every sense of the word, to bring us home.” —Eudora Welty, “Place in Fiction,” 1957 Food is the sensory landscape of Laos. In the city streets of Vientiane, smoke rises »


by Jesse Graves
“Behind all those overspilling clouds, the moon catches light still and sends it to you, unbidden, but you would know to ask for it if it never came . . .” Let the past have its dominion tonight,let the winded rain blow in and shakewindows loose in their softening frames,

Community Archiving at the Southern Historical Collection

by Southern Cultures
“In a community driven archive, it’s not an individual or institution deciding what goes into the archive, but rather a collective of people who are able to curate and present their own history.” —Bryan Giemza Many of the photographs you see in the pages of Southern Cultures are drawn from the library collections of UNC-Chapel »
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