Today marks the 102nd anniversary of Hugh Morton’s birth, and what better way to honor the day than to share the news that Photographs by Hugh Morton: An Uncommon Retrospective is on display in Grandfather Mountain’s new Wilson Center for Nature Discovery through Memorial Day. Hours vary: it can be viewed daily through March 16, then weekends through May 14, then daily once more through Memorial Day. This will be the exhibition’s eleventh venue in ten years (including a two-year hiatus during the pandemic) since its debut at Appalachian State University’s Turchin Center for the Arts in September 2013. I’ll be participating in a program at Grandfather Mountain to be held during the last days of the exhibition. I’ll update this blog post when the details become established.
To mark both of these occasions, I found the above negative depicting Morton’s first retrospective. It opened on November 6, 1980 at Morehead Planetarium at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and featured 100 of his favorite images. In addition to Morton’s photographs, the planetarium displayed thirty portraits painted by sports artist Lamar Sparkman, and billed the show as a two-man exhibition.
Newspapers within at least seventeen states from Oregon to Florida and California to Maine published this photograph—with the above caption but with no accompanying story—as early as June 30, 1949 in Bristol Tennessee, and throughout July but mostly during the four days approaching and including Independence Day.
In most cases the photograph appeared solo, but in other instances it was part of a full page spread with other photographs from the Associated Press.
On January 9, 1991, UNC junior Hubert Davis was high scorer with twenty-five points against Maryland, helping Dean Smith reached his 700th victory. As the year progressed, the Tar Heels winning season continued to unfurl. The team lost to Duke to close out the regular season, but UNC turned the tables and beat the Blue Devils to claim the ACC Tournament title.
In the NCCA Tournament, the Tar Heels destroyed Northeastern, leveled Villanova, pummeled Eastern Michigan, and eked past Temple to reach the Final Four in Indianapolis. Their opponent? Kansas, with former UNC assistant coach and future UNC head coach Roy Williams at the helm.
UNC’s trip to the “Crossroads of America” ended with a stop sign. Just like he did against Maryland, Hubert Davis led all scorers with twenty-five points. This time, however, the outcome was a 79–73 loss. The Jayhawks then faced Duke, who had defeated the University of Nevada Las Vegas 79–77. In the championship game, Duke won by the score of 72–65.
After the semifinals, Davis was the fifth leading scorer of the tournament with 96 points, averaging 19.2 per game. UNC finished its season with a 29–6 record.
Ten years ago, on March 18th, 2012 Bill Richards, a colleague who worked in the library’s Digital Production Center, passed away unexpectedly while watching the Tar Heel’s basketball team defeat Creighton University in the “Sweet Sixteen” round of the NCAA Men’s Basketball Tournament. In 1982, Bill was the Chief Photographer for the Chapel Hill Newspaper. In 1988, he began working as a photographer and graphic designer in the UNC Office of Sports information. In 1998 he started working in Library Photographic Services, but continued shooting for Sports Information into the 2000s. I am dedicating this blog post, as I have each year since his departure, to Bill who, like Hugh Morton, was an avid UNC basketball fan.
Today marks the 101st anniversary of Hugh Morton’s birth. Despite the difficulties of keeping the blog as active as it once was, this is a day that needs to be remembered.
The number 101 is commonly assigned to introductory collegiate classes. Seems it is also quite the prime number! For A View to Hugh, “Hugh Morton 101” will need to be a return to basics. As my duties have evolved and the photographic collections have grown over the past twelve years to 3.25 million items, it becomes more challenging for me to carve out the time required to work on long-form posts that I truly love to research and write. The pandemic has also hindered Jack Hilliard’s ability to research and write his contributions to the blog.
Nonetheless, there has been noteworthy work completed on the Morton collection behind the scenes. Prior to the pandemic, we had a few thousand Morton negatives scanned at high resolution sufficient to meet the federal preservation digitization standards. While many of these negatives had been scanned when Elizabeth Hull was processing the collection, many others had not—and none had been scanned at high resolution. In fact, there was no accepted standard in the field at the time. We scanned negatives at a moderate level to assist with processing the collection, and also serve many researchers basic needs.
A few years ago, I examined each and every 3×4-inch negative and all 4×5 negatives made prior to circa 1970 in the Morton collection in order to choose what would be digitized. All tallied, more than 4,400 negatives now have preservation-level scans. (For the technologically interested, the file sizes for 4×5-inch negatives routinely exceed 630 megabytes. A future post will dig deeper into the project.) And that is why it is time to get back to basics. By the end of March, I will have completed a plan for making those scans—along with several hundred more made from the Bayard Wootten and the Colvin M. Edwards collections—available to users.
Many of these newly scanned negatives are unidentified, which will enable us to return to the early days of the blog when we could post images for which we knew little to nothing and many people would contribute their knowledge or ideas toward their identification. The scene above is an example of a negative that had never been scanned before and the person is unidentified. Here’s looking forward to an active year at “V2H” as we introduce more Hugh Morton images to the world. Happy 101st, Mr. Morton!
. . . Mr. Byram and his handful of youths went along this ridge and when they came to a dead bush they cut it. Lacking a vehicle that would negotiate the sand, they dragged it to the Lighthouse and before nightfall they had built a hedgerow thirty inches high for a distance of sixty feet, set well back out of reach of the tide. . . Daylight next morning found Mr. Byram and his boys out to see what had happened in the night. Nothing except the tops of their hedgerow of dead brush was visible.—from Ben Dixon MacNeill’s The Hatterasman.
Edward Jefferson Byram was the leader of the advanced detachment of the Civilian Conservation Corps contingent assigned to the land and lighthouse on Cape Hatteras in August 1935. Deeded to the state of North Carolina for a state park, the state transferred the land to the National Park Service in December 1936.
Today, September 8, 2021 marks the fortieth anniversary of another attempt to thwart the ravages of wind and sea against the lighthouse: the Save the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse fundraising campaign kickoff at the Mission Valley Inn at Raleigh. In 2009, Jack Hilliard wrote an extensive blog post about Hugh Morton’s role in saving the lighthouse. Jack’s story includes that event, but what happened the prior year that led to Morton’s involvement?
From time-to-time, Morton’s executive planners provide answers or clues. There are only a few entries on the topic in his 1981 planner:
April 30—“TV 7-8AM WCTI-TV New Bern at Mission Valley re Lighthouse Jerry Dean”
August 6—“Fly Hatteras Robert Baker”
September 8—“noon—Gov. Hunt—Sen Helms Raleigh”
October 8— 8:00 a.m. “Lighthouse meeting” with an additional entry: “Gov. Hunt – Nags Head – Hatteras”
Morton’s photograph held by Governor Hunt is from a 120 format negative (roll 1-101-3-3, frame 5). Several prints from that roll of film are in the Morton collection with a typed caption:
Cape Hatteras Lighthouse in August 1981, with ocean shown less than 100 feet from its base. These photographs are a featured part of information being provided to the 100 County Chairmen in the lighthouse drive for funds in regional meetings in Asheville, Salisbury, Clinton and Rocky Mount Wednesday and Thursday April 7 and 8.
Hugh Morton’s name first appears in the press in association with saving the lighthouse on 26 July 1981. The previous day, during a news conference in Wilmington Secretary of the Interior Department James Watt and United States Senator Jesse Helms announced that Morton would head a general subscription to raise funds, harkening Morton’s campaign to bring the U.S.S. North Carolina to Wilmington in the early 1960s. Morton’s planner, however, has him in Linville and Grandfather Mountain. As listed above, his planner does suggest earlier involvement in April. (There is no planner extant for 1980.)
As for the lighthouse itself, public awareness of the lighthouse’s imminent danger surfaced in an Associated Press Reports article published by The Charlotte Observer on October 14, 1980. The report noted that local residents feared the lighthouse “might not make it through the winter” because tides were “gnawing away at its foundation” and its steward, the National Park Service, did not have a plan to save it. Ray Couch, president of the Outer Banks Preservation Society, said that its members were writing letters to their congressional representatives to draw their attention to “the seriousness of the situation.” William Harris, superintendent of Hatteras National Seashore, stated that only sixty to ninety feet of sand remained between the ocean and the lighthouse and acknowledged that the beach erosion at the site was “very acute.” He also stated that an architect and engineering firm was assessing the situation. He closed by saying, “The cheapest option is to move the lighthouse,” but “we have no money.”
Ten days later, a fierce storm struck the North Carolina coast and work crews “began a desperate battle against the sea,” wrote Charlotte Observer writer and photographer Jim Dumbell. Workers continued their prevention effort into Saturday as the storm produced twelve-foot waves that pounded the shore. The Associated Press picked up the story on October 27, which reads like a shorter version of Dumbell’s feature. The following day, news reports announced that the National Park Service agreed to construct a jetty as a $60,000 stopgap measure. An Associated Press article described the jetty as an “underground metal wall.”
An article the following year by National Geographic writer John L. Eliot revealed that the then recent round of erosion actually arose in early March 1980 after a strong nor’easter socked the eastern United States as far south as Florida, where the temperature plummeted to thirty degrees Fahrenheit in West Palm Beach. The North Carolina coast was hit with thirty inches of snow and sixty mile-per-hour winds. More importantly at the lighthouse, ten-foot waves battered the shore when high tides were the highest since the Ash Wednesday storm of 1962. After the October storm described above, another struck in December requiring more emergency buttressing along the shore near the foundation.
Addenda (September 9, 2021): Governor Hunt gave a prepared speech on 10 November 1981 during the three-day meeting of the travel council, making that date a candidate for the date Morton made the above portrait. The meeting took place at the Holiday Inn–Woodlawn in Charlotte. Also, The State published one of Morton’s color transparencies made during the same flight on the cover of its January 1982 issue.
Today is World Photography Day, and thus a good day to revive A View to Hugh. During the past year and a half, I needed to take a hiatus from this blog because it was close to impossible to write posts while working from home. A few days ago I returned to working inside Wilson Library (that is, not from home) where I now have regular access to the Morton collection and, in some ways even more importantly, research material to consult when writing the stories that accompany Morton’s photographs. I’m still getting settled into a new office within the building, so this will not be a long post . . . just something to say the blog is still alive.
I hope you have an opportunity to make a photograph on this annual celebration. If you post a photograph to a social media platform, remember tag it #WorldPhotographyDay. If you are not making a photograph, but would like to explore the world using your computer, you may browse the online collection of Morton’s photographs by location, including nearly 150 images from the South Pacific.
It continues to be difficult for me to write in-depth blog posts during the pandemic, so today’s offering simply provides an opportunity to explore the online collection of images by Hugh Morton. Today is Arbor Day, so I made a quick search for the term “tree,” which produced 130 results. Some photographs feature trees, others only have a tree in them (such as an animal in a tree).
Why not take a few moments to browse through the Hugh Morton’s tree photographs? Have a favorite? Please share it in the Comments. (The best way to do that is to click on “Reference URL” found on the lefthand side under the Search box, then copy and paste that URL into your comment.)
Williams has not been a focal point of a blog post here on A View to Hugh, but his name appears in a dozen or so posts. If you would like to revisit any of those posts, simply enter his name in the search box and see if any of the results looks like interesting reading to you.
I’ll be working in Wilson Library next week, so I will look to see what I can assemble for a fitting blog post. In the meantime, please explore the online collection and A View to Hugh for glimpses into the stellar career of Roy Williams.
“Are you familiar with the photographer, Hugh Morton?”
Bob Anthony, Curator of the North Carolina Collection posed this question to me early in the process of being interviewed for the collection’s Photographic Archivist in mid December 2002. I don’t recall my exact answer, but it was an interview-appropriate, “No.” On my return home after the interview, I carried with me a copy of the booklet Sixty Years With a Camera. And now, after eighteen years in the position, I can happily answer that question, “Yes, very much so.” And yet, there is still so much to learn.
Unlike Jack Hilliard, I never had a chance to develop a friendship with Hugh Morton. I did meet him briefly twice: the first time was in the Pleasants Family Assembly Room in Wilson Library prior to an exhibition opening in the North Carolina Gallery coinciding with the publication of Hugh Morton’s North Carolina in October 2003; the second was on Grandfather Mountain near the Mile High Swinging Bridge in May 2004 when I was a participant on the Tar Heel Bus Tour. At least my two encounters were on grounds sacred to Morton: UNC and GFM. (Unfortunately, the digital photographs I made during the bus tour became corrupted several years ago and I can no longer open them.)
I’ve been watching Ken Burns’s television documentary series Jazz the past several weeks. I missed the series the first time it aired in 2001, so its all new to me despite being twenty years old. I would have loved to have lived during the music’s evolutionary years! Instead, I have come to love jazz through recordings and documentaries. I can still remember where I was the first time I heard Billie Holiday’s voice more than three decades ago.
Equally, I would have loved knowing Hugh Morton during the 1930s and 1940s, experiencing the music and photographing the concerts. I would have gladly skipped the World War II years, but the post-war period through 1960 or so has become my favorite period of Morton’s photography. Much like Morton, a lot of my own photographs are the result of wandering the countryside with cameras in the back of my car. Instead, I have come to known Morton through his photography, my research and writing about it, and through the design and production of the “uncommon retrospective” exhibition.
Curatorship and historical writing require objectivity, but luckily, I’ve been able to develop a “virtual friendship” with Morton by exploring and investigating his photographs and negatives, and by sharing those experiences with those who regularly read or have chance encounters with A View to Hugh. The opportunity to do so is a cherished gift, one worth remembering on Morton’s 100th.
Every time I sat down to write about the significance of today I got serious writer’s block, becoming a bit overwhelmed about needing to say something, well, significant. I kept digging through the Morton collection’s finding aid and period newspapers available online, looking for something that had yet to be said. In short, there is just too much to say about a person’s seventy-one years with a camera without writing a book for a blog post.
Photographers work one frame, one exposure, at at time. They often explore a subject by creating multiple images—varying their distance, changing their angle of view, switching to a different focal length lens, and altering the plane or depth of focus.
A View to Hugh launched on November 1, 2007, more than fourteen years ago. During that time, we have deliberately focused on stories told through Hugh Morton’s photographs. I decided during the blog’s early days to “focus on the photographs, not the person.” The arrival of one’s one hundredth birthday, however, finds one looking more at the person. Enough time has passed since beginning the blog. Our distance from the subject has lengthened. We can now change our angles of view, switch lenses, alter our focus. A 100th anniversary provides the space to do so.
Over the course of this coming year we hope to bring more biographical perspective to our writing. It befits the celebration of someone’s 100th birth year—and it is certainly less daunting than trying to squeeze a tome into a short story. Our subject will still be the photographs of Hugh Morton, but we aspire to bring more biographical perspective to the storytelling. For example, I have been exploring how and when Morton began his involvement with the Carolinas Press Photographers Association, eventually becoming its vice president and then president. Another example will be a story on the newspaper column he briefly wrote.
And what about next year? Shall we get back to basics and call it Morton 101? We shall see.