Autumn Gallery

I’m headed up the mountain to Boone this weekend, hoping to catch what’s left of the colorful fall leaves. Here in Chapel Hill, they’re just getting started.

Hugh Morton, of course, had a marvelous eye for capturing fall displays; here for your enjoyment are a few showstoppers as well as some of my personal favorites.

A Man and his Mountain; Worth 1,000 Words concludes

It is with both sadness and relief that I announce the final installation of our Worth 1,000 Words essay project . . . sadness because I’ve so enjoyed each new essay and the varying perspectives our authors have brought to the Morton collection, and relief because, wow, this has been a lot of work! (I have a whole new respect for editors/publishers).

But perhaps the sun hasn’t gone down for the last time on this project. All along, our intention with these essays has been to demonstrate the usefulness of Hugh Morton’s images beyond their obvious value as “pretty pictures.” As we stated in our original grant proposal to the North Carolina Humanities Council:

“Photographs are rich primary sources in themselves, full of historical detail, and as visual records, offer immediacy not available through text — a direct visual link to the past. Photography is also, of course, an art, one of which Hugh Morton was a master. The beautiful and communicative documents he created hold almost endless possibility for study, research, and exhibition. They also contain great potential for educational use at all levels, from grade school to graduate school.”

We heartily encourage researchers, journalists, students, teachers, history buffs, etc. to take up the mantle of our Worth 1,000 Words authors and continue to put Morton’s photos to work in the creation of new knowledge. We hope to find ways to encourage that in the future, e.g., through collaborations with media outlets and educators (here on UNC campus and/or in the public schools). We’d love to hear your ideas on ways to accomplish this.

And now to the final essay, entitled The Grandfather Backcountry: A Bridge Between the Past and Preservation, written by RANDY JOHNSON, the originator of Grandfather Mountain’s trail system. In this essay, Johnson provides his first-hand, behind-the-scenes perspective on the changing attitudes towards managing and providing public access to Grandfather’s backcountry. Combining Johnson’s piece with four of our other essays, by Drew Swanson, Anne Whisnant, Richard Starnes, and Alan Weakley, provides a fascinating, nuanced analysis (from multiple, sometimes conflicting perspectives) of the complex balancing act between profit and conservation at “Carolina’s Top Scenic Attraction.”

I’ll conclude with a final plug for our second (and last) Worth 1,000 Words event in Boone on Tuesday, August 10, which will feature both Johnson and Starnes. Come on out!

Tuesday, Aug. 10, 5:30 p.m.
Watauga County Library, Boone
Information: Evelyn Johnson, ejohnson@arlibrary.org, (828) 264-8784

New essay, and upcoming events!

Today’s first order of business is to proclaim the availability of our newest Worth 1,000 Words essay, written by plant ecologist ALAN S. WEAKLEY and entitled Hugh Morton and North Carolina’s Native Plants (one of which can be seen at left). Weakley, Curator of the University of North Carolina Herbarium, a department of the North Carolina Botanical Garden, brings a unique perspective to our essay project as a scientist who worked closely with Hugh Morton on projects related to plant conservation at Grandfather Mountain. Please take a few minutes to read and respond to Weakley’s reflections.

Secondly, and speaking of Worth 1,000 Words, we’d like to announce two upcoming Morton Collection events, FREE and open to the public, to be held in Wilmington on July 19 and Boone on August 10. Further details available on the Library News and Events blog here. If you’re in the area, we hope you’ll take this opportunity to come say hi to those of us who work on the collection, as well as to hear from and chat with some of our essay authors. See you there!

It’s official…NC has a bunch of official symbols.

With a hat tip to our pals at North Carolina Miscellany, we inform you that North Carolina lawmakers have managed to find time in their busy schedules (state budget, anyone?) to name the Outer Banks’ wild mustangs as the official “state horse.” Hugh Morton was fond of photographing these charming ponies as they wandered through the harbor at Ocracoke.

From this AP article I learned the interesting tidbits that in addition to well-known symbols like the state dog (the Plott hound) and the state flower (dogwood), there is also a state insect (the honey bee) and a state BEVERAGE (milk).

So, I decided to try and determine how many of NC’s official state symbols Hugh Morton photographed. The answer: quite a few! I created the nice thumbnail gallery below to showcase some of the highlights. Hope you enjoy.

NOTE: If you’re a fan of all things North Carolina, you simply must check out the newly-launched website for materials published by the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center: DigitalNC.org.

The Mountain: before, during, and after Morton

As I hope you noted in my last post, the almost 71,000 Hugh Morton images from the Grandfather Mountain Series are now part of the collection’s online finding aid and are open for research. These images date from the late 1930s through the early 2000s, and thoroughly document Morton’s intimate, life-long connections to the Mountain.

In the latest essay in our Worth 1,000 Words series, scholar DREW A. SWANSON explores this relationship and also reminds us that the Mountain was there long, long before the man, and will exist long, long after. How did tourism and development affect the Mountain’s ecosystems before Morton inherited it? What impacts did his actions, in the areas of both development and conservation, have? What can we expect in its future as a state park?

Read Drew’s essay, entitled Grandfather Mountain: Commerce and Tourism in the Appalachian Environment, and let us know your thoughts about these issues.

Series 3 (Nature & Scenic) available!

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Just a quick note to let you know that Series 3, and all the gorgeous, meditative splendor contained therein, is now available and included in the online finding aid for the Morton collection. (Note that the URL for the finding aid has changed, but the old link will redirect you to the new one). Note also that this is the first series to include 35mm slides in its inventory (we’re working on adding the slides for Series 1 & 2 retrospectively). Enjoy!

Grandfather State Park closed indefinitely

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You may have heard the news this morning about Grandfather Mountain State Park being closed to visitors indefinitely due to dangers caused by recent accumulations of snow, ice, and fallen trees/limbs. I experienced some of those weather adventures first-hand over the holidays in Boone, where a Christmas Eve ice storm caused extensive treachery and knocked out power to about 21,000 (it was out at my parents’ house for five days).

We wish all the best to Grandfather staff in getting the park up and running again. It sounds like they’ve all really banded together in response to these “weather challenges.” I wonder how many times, and for how long, Grandfather has had to close due to weather in the past? Speaking for myself, I have no interest in traversing the Mile High Swinging Bridge in conditions like those shown below. Brrr.

UPDATE 1/8/09: To clarify: only Grandfather Mountain State Park is closed indefinitely; the Grandfather Mountain attraction (the Mile High Swinging Bridge, animal habitats etc.) has not made the to close indefinitely. Whether the travel attraction will be open will be a day-to-day decision. For the time being, visitors should call (828) 733-2013 before making plans to travel to Grandfather.

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The Greens of Summer?

Maybe only photographers would think of this question, but if Paul Simon’s verdant lyric about Kodachrome giving us “the greens of summer” was true, then why, oh why, was Fujichrome invented?  At the risk oversimplification, let’s take a look at that question. After all, in his own way, Hugh Morton did!

The demise of Kodak’s Kodachrome film has made the media rounds recently, and soon after the announcement I thought of writing a post about it (because Morton first used Kodachrome in the early 1950s).

Then, we rediscovered a set of 35mm slides that Morton made where he photographed several subjects with three different films, including Kodachrome. Two of those scenes are represented here as side-by-side scans. Morton’s approach was likely loading three cameras with three different films, setting up a tripod, then swapping out the cameras to make three separate exposures. He picked several scenes until he completed the three rolls of film, then processed all three rolls and compared the results, scene by scene.

To keep this from turning into a complicated photography lesson, let’s just note that manufacturers make different films with different “extended sensitivities.” That means that one film may be more sensitive to reds and yellows, for example, and another film may be more sensitive to greens and blues. This is the case between Kodachrome and Fujichrome, and Kodachrome and Ektachrome. Can you see the differences between the films in the two examples?

When the news of Kodachrome’s death first came out, I had my natural kicked-in-the-gut reaction I get when another hallmark of film photography comes to its fateful end. A friend and I were ruefully exchanging emails discussing Kodachrome’s death blow, and I asked, “When is the last time you shot Kodachrome?” For both of us, the answer was quite a long time ago—so long ago that neither of us could remember precisely.  In fact, digital photography has meant that I haven’t shot any type of film in about five years.

One of the standout benefits of digital photography over film photography is its ability to compensate for different types of lighting or adjust the rendering of colors in a particular scene from exposure to exposure, rather than from roll to roll. Depending on your camera and/or imaging software, you can make one exposure, then walk to your computer and easily create variations from that one image that would look similar to all three of Morton’s film examples—and more. This is one more reason that digital photograhy is supplanting film photography, and a contributing factor to the end of Kodachrome’s fabled history.

Walter Cronkite, 1916-2009

Consider this just a brief View to Hugh tribute to legendary newsman Walter Cronkite, who was laid to rest this week. Blog commenters have noted Cronkite’s primary connection to Hugh Morton: he lent his authoritative voice and reputation as narrator for Morton’s 1995 PBS documentary, “The Search for Clean Air.” As commenter and Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard already recounted:

I recall Hugh telling the story of how Cronkite was selected. Morton said he had originally wanted his long-time friend Charles Kuralt for the program, but since the program was scheduled for PBS, Kuralt’s CBS contract would not permit him appearing on a competing network. So when Morton told Cronkite this story, Cronkite said, in his unique deep voice, ”Well, you got me.”

Julia Morton described Cronkite as “lightening in a jar.” We’re lucky to have had him for so many years.

“Windmill City”

“Today’s quiz: what had 2000 kilowatts, created devotees called ‘wooshies’, was the largest of its kind in the world, and didn’t work?

Answer: the U.S. Department of Energy wind-powered electric generator constructed on Howard’s Knob in October, 1978.”

–from the Mountain Times

Add this to the canon of “World’s Largest” in North Carolina (at least for a time): Boone’s famous experiment in wind power, dedicated thirty years ago this week (on July 12, 1979). As a Boone native (albeit a young one at that point), I certainly remember the windmill, but wasn’t aware of the full background of the project, or of the “cult” that formed around it — a Mountain Times feature, “The 20th Century: High Country History,” provides the relevant details, and Blue Ridge blog presents additional photos and remembrances.

The windmill surely created a buzz in Boone for a brief time — perhaps a bit too much buzz, as reported by Time magazine. Concerns over the windmill’s noise and ineffectiveness (plus the Reagan administration’s eventual pulling of funding for alternative energy research) ultimately doomed the project, and the windmill was taken down in 1983. I’m a little unclear on what, if any, role the Mountain Ridge Protection Act of 1983 (aka the “Ridge Law,” an effort in which Hugh Morton was heavily involved) played in all of this, other than that it exempted windmills from its ban on tall structures along the ridgeline. Can anyone fill in some of those details?

Meanwhile, NC windmills are back in the news today, as the General Assembly debates a possible windmill ban in the mountains — a ban it appears the majority of the public opposes. The NC Wind Energy website provides a wealth of information on the issue. I wonder what Morton’s position would have been?