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Wootten & Johnston: Pioneer Female Photographers and North Carolina’s Preservation Movement

Wootten & Johnston: Pioneer Female Photographers and North Carolina’s Preservation Movement
Oct. 16, 2015 – Jan. 31, 2016 Extended through Feb. 7
North Carolina Collection Gallery
Wilson Special Collections Library
(919) 962-3765 or wilsonlibrary@unc.edu

During the 1930s, photographers Bayard Wootten and Frances Benjamin Johnston each set out to document the early architecture of the American South.

The two approached their projects with distinctive styles, in some cases producing dramatically different images of the same building. Both eventually published books with the University of North Carolina Press.

An exhibition in the North Carolina Collection Gallery of the Wilson Special Collections Library will showcase more than twenty photographs by these two female pioneers whose work helped spur preservation of the region’s architecture.

Among the scenes will be views of landmark buildings of the Tar Heel State, including the Cupola House in Edenton, “Ingleside” in Lincoln County, Belo House in Old Salem, and “Cooleemee” in Davie County.

The Photographers: Bayard Wootten and Frances Benjamin Johnston

wootten_johnston_both

Left to right: Photographers Bayard Wootten and Frances Benjamin Johnston. Their architectural photographs will be on view at UNC in the North Carolina Collection Gallery of Wilson Library from Oct. 16, 2015 through Jan. 31, 2016.

Bayard Wootten (1875-1959) opened her first studio in New Bern, North Carolina, out of economic necessity, and eventually opened a second studio in Chapel Hill. She excelled at landscapes and portraits. In the 1930s, she made photographs for several UNC Press books, including Backwoods America (1934), Cabins in the Laurel (1935), and Old Homes and Gardens of North Carolina (1939), as well as for her book Charleston: Azaleas and Old Bricks (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1937). Former UNC Photographic Archivist Jerry Cotten published Light and Air: The Photography of Bayard Wootten with UNC Press in 1998.

Frances Benjamin Johnston (1864-1952) studied art in Paris and at the Art Students’ League in Washington, D.C. She began her career in newspaper illustration, soon switching to photojournalism and studio portraiture, and then to garden and estate photography in the 1910s. Between 1933 and 1944, she worked on a systematic survey of early buildings and gardens in the South. In 1936, the American Council of Learned Societies paid her $3,500 to photograph early North Carolina architecture. She and Thomas T. Waterman collaborated on The Early Architecture of North Carolina, published by UNC Press in 1941.

They captured “Splendor and Disrepair”

“The importance of Wootten and Johnston’s architectural books cannot be overstated,” said UNC Photographic Archivist Stephen Fletcher. “They allowed people to see both the splendor and disrepair of the state’s architectural heritage by turning pages rather than driving many hundreds of miles. Old Homes and Gardens of North Carolina mobilized a statewide preservation effort; The Early Architecture of North Carolina, through its more thoroughgoing survey, showed the extent and breadth of the task at hand.”

The North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives in the Wilson Special Collections Library is the home of the Bayard Morgan Wootten Photographic Collection, including Wootten’s original negatives, and a Frances Benjamin Johnston Collection, consisting mostly of photographic prints of North Carolina buildings and a small number of Johnston’s negatives. The Library of Congress holds Johnston’s negative archive, personal papers, and business records.

For this exhibition, Wilson Library staff made pigment ink prints from digital scans of Wootten’s negatives, and from digital scans that The Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division made from Johnston’s negatives.

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