Wilmington’s 61st annual North Carolina Azalea Festival kicks off next week (April 9-13). Hugh Morton played an integral role in the event’s founding: while only in his twenties, he was selected to serve as president of the inaugural festival in 1948. (A letter from Morton on the festival’s website explains that when he missed a committee meeting, they responded by electing him president). As Susan Taylor Block writes in “Clan MacRae,” an article in the 4/2007 issue of Wrightsville Beach magazine, Morton deserves credit not only for Wilmington’s Azalea Festival, but also many of its azalea plants:
Morton had worked diligently since 1946 to make the 1948 Azalea Festival debut a success. He encouraged Wilmingtonians to plant azaleas, persuaded the local government to plant an additional 175,000 azaleas at Greenfield Lake and recruited garden clubs to transplant azaleas from their own private gardens to public spaces. Morton encouraged the festival fathers to be careful stewards of the event’s ticket take, seek out quality in celebrity guests and make the azalea itself the guest of honor. He knew that if the first festival ended up in the red, it would be the last.
North Carolina Azalea Festival negatives in the Morton collection are numerous and mostly in good shape, but not well-documented. The early years of the festival (from 1948 to about 1958) are best represented, but little identifying information is provided other than the year (if that). Fortunately, we have at least one good source to work from—historian Block’s 2004 book Belles & Blooms, heavily illustrated by Morton’s photos. Block’s time line will help us pin down some of the major details, like who was queen in what year, what celebrities attended, etc.
In the meantime, though, we’re asking you to help us put names to faces in some of these early shots.
Judging from the enormous fur coat and all the cameras pointed at them, I’m guessing that these people are famous. But who are they?
The image above was taken at the 1950 Azalea Festival. I can’t read any of the name tags, but I do see that the man on the far right (in the headdress) has a program from “Unto These Hills” (an outdoor drama performed at Cherokee, North Carolina) in his pocket.
The man in this photo is Grady Cole, talk radio celebrity with WBT Radio in Charlotte, North Carolina (and frequent Morton photo subject in the early 1950s). But who is the woman—and is she the same woman from the previous photo? Most importantly, why are they holding up what looks like an x-ray of somebody’s spine?!
In honor of what would have been Hugh Morton’s 87th birthday today, I decided to share this set of self-portraits I recently stumbled upon—the only images in the collection I can remember seeing that are both of and by Morton. I love how they capture multiple sides of his personality—the fun, happy Hugh on top, and the Hugh on the bottom that you probably don’t want to mess with.
Dating probably from the late 1930s, these negatives are a somewhat unusual format: a non-perforated roll film with an image area measuring 1 1/4-inch by 1 1/2-inch (or 30 x 40mm). Most of the negatives of this format in the collection are deteriorating such that the film has turned blue, with blue splotches throughout.
Some quick research had led me to think that this might be film for a Kodak 35, the first 35mm camera made by Kodak. Since Morton so conveniently included his camera in the shots, we have more evidence to draw from. Unfortunately, these shots are largely out of focus, and while the camera looks pretty similar to the Kodak 35, it doesn’t look exactly like any of the models I can find online (specifically, the silver plate with squared corners behind the lens doesn’t look right). And, of course, the film size isn’t right either; the only film format I can find that meets the 30 x 40mm dimension requirement is 127. Could this be a half-frame 127 camera?
To further complicate matters, I see in David Horvath’s extremely useful Acetate Negative Survey that, “In Agfa/Ansco products, a blue anti-halation dye which was converted to a luco base during processing was used. It is generally colorless but is turned blue again by the action of mold or acids. Many degraded Agfa/Ansco negatives exhibit this distinctive blue color.” So, this leads me to wonder if this is an early Agfa/Ansco camera—but again, I can’t find any matching models online, and the film maker and the camera maker don’t have to be the same.
As usual, I’ve gotten way more wrapped up in this than I intended to. Any insight from you vintage camera buffs, or from other archivists who may have seen this format before?
One of the many titles bestowed on Hugh Morton over the years is “the father of North Carolina photojournalism education.” He was a charter member of the National Press Photographers Association and president of the North Carolina Press Photographers Association. Appealing to a broader audience, Morton founded in 1952 the annual Grandfather Mountain Camera Clinic for amateurs and professionals, and the Nature Photography Weekend, also hosted by Grandfather Mountain.
Perhaps most notably, Morton was a founder and the first chairman (1950-1965) of the Southern Short Course in Press Photography. Now known as the Southern Short Course in News Photography, this training program for students and professionals is the country’s longest-running seminar in photojournalism. The images below are from the early years of the Short Course, probably 1951-1953, when it was held at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. The first image shows Joseph Costa (left, in bow tie), well-known American newspaper photographer, photography lecturer at Ball State University, and a founder of the National Press Photographers Association; the other man presenting (back to camera) appears to be Hugh Morton. Since most audience members are wearing name tags, this image is handy for identification purposes. (Few of the names are legible, however, and none at the resolution presented here.)
The next image shows unidentified instructors presenting about darkroom procedure. (Sharp-eyed readers of this blog might notice Burlington photographer Edward J. McCauley in the third row, third seat from the left—see Patrick Cullom’s recent post, A Contemporary of Morton).
Our blogging compatriot over at the Blue Ridge Blog says, “I’ll always remember Hugh Morton as a photographer’s photographer. He understood the needs of a working photojournalist and went out of his way to make the job easier for us.” Do you have any photojournalism- related memories of Morton to share? Can you provide any information about these early Short Course images?
In honor of the recently-opened exhibit, “Showboat”: The USS North Carolina (BB 55), at the North Carolina Museum of History, and since I just happened to be “passing” through this particular batch of negatives, I decided to highlight a few of my favorite Morton images related to the USS North Carolina.
Morton was enlisted in 1960 by his good friend and then-governor Luther Hodges to spearhead the ultimately successful campaign to preserve the battleship as a memorial to World War II veterans. The article “Saving Our Ship” on the USS North Carolina Memorial Web site provides background on the campaign and Morton’s leadership, noting in particular that “Morton’s drive to control the administrative costs of undertaking such a large campaign led to savings such as using his young son on campaign posters rather than paying for a model.” The image below must be a mock-up of one of those posters. [The boy in the image below is not one of Morton’s sons, but there are images in the collection showing Jim Morton holding a model of the USS NC that were possibly used on campaign posters.]
This last image depicts John Weaver working on two busts for the USS NC Museum (likenesses of FDR, Chester Nimitz, MacArthur, and Truman were made—not sure which two these are). [Correction: This is not John Weaver, but a Linville artist named Coffey, and these heads were not created for the USS NC. Just goes to show that an archivist can’t always trust the contextual information that comes with a document! Thanks to Julia Morton for clarifying.]
One last note: as I was just proofreading the contents of this post, I happened to notice today’s date: December 6. Tomorrow is the 66th anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. Crazy coincidence strikes again on “A View to Hugh!”
Tomorrow, Thanksgiving Day, marks the forty-fourth anniversary of the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Six months after his death, on Sunday, 17 May 1964, the state of North Carolina held a memorial service for Kennedy in Kenan Stadium on the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill campus.
In an effort to raise money for the Kennedy presidential library, “a living memorial,” each state pledged to raise funds. Governor Terry Sanford set the state’s goal at $230,000 (the eqivalent of $1.5 million in 2007 dollars), and Hugh Morton chaired North Carolina’s fund raising effort. An estimated 12,000 people attended the memorial, paying $10.00 (about $65.00 today) to attend and contribute toward the goal. As the date drew near, the governor announced that students were to be admitted free of charge because it was determined that sufficient contributions from the community had been raised. The News and Observer noted in its report the following day that no other state in the country had yet to raise money by public subscription, and that eighty percent of the state’s goal had been met.
The memorial featured a tribute by Billy Graham and addresses by Governor Terry Sanford; Luther H. Hodges, former North Carolina governor and then current United States Secretary of Commerce; and Senator Edward Kennedy, brother of John F. Kennedy. In the photograph above, Rose Kennedy, mother of the former president, is seated on the platform with Hugh Morton (left) and Terry Sanford (right). There are several slides of the event in the collection, but the photographer is unknown.
This is one of the more amusing shots I’ve come across so far in the Morton collection (I cropped the version at left for maximum effect). The picture was taken sometime during Hugh’s days at Camp Yonahnoka, where he took his first photography course in 1934 and served the following five summers as the camp’s photography instructor. It’s a good example of Morton’s appreciation for visual humor, something I’ve noticed throughout the collection.
See below for the uncropped version, which shows how this mind-blowing “feat” of perspective was achieved. (Zing!) Just goes to show that some things—including puns—will never stop being funny.
When my good friend who works for the Nature Conservancy in NC heard that I was going to be working on the Morton photos, she could barely contain her glee. Hugh Morton, you must understand, is somewhat of a rock star in environmental and land conservation circles. This lovely eulogy by Morton’s good friend and Appalachian State professor Harvard Ayers (a former professor of mine, actually!) details Morton’s legacy and contributions in these areas—donating thousands of acres of land on Grandfather, championing the Linn Cove Viaduct to “minimize the ecological impact of the Blue Ridge Parkway,” and making the influential 1995 documentary “The Search for Clean Air”—to name just a few.
But Morton’s most powerful statements on behalf of nature were his photographs, which he used to great effect to show damage done by pollution and irresponsible development, to document rare and endangered species, and to capture rural life in NC. As these sample images illustrate, his eye for composition and remarkable ability to highlight natural features to their greatest impact made a stronger case for conservation than words could have.
We would love to hear from people who worked with Morton on environmental causes or who saw him in action on this front. Did you attend one of his slide show lectures? When and where? What images stuck with you?
Why feature photographs made in New Orleans in 1945 by a North Carolina photographer? Because they are great examples of the hidden riches that await us! They also serve as good samples to explore the far reaches of blogging on the Internet as an aid in processing a photograph collection. Plus, Hugh Morton loved jazz.
The Daily Tar Heel, UNC’s student newspaper, ran an article on Sunday, 27 September 1942 about Morton’s return to campus to photograph the prior day’s football game for the paper before his Tuesday entrance as a technical sergeant in the Army’s photography division. The feature also noted that Morton reminisced on how he “got his start at Carolina by taking pictures of Hal Kemp, University alumnus.” James Hal Kemp (1904-1940), who attended UNC from 1922 to 1926 but did not graduate, was one of the most noted “sweet-swing” band leaders of the 1930s. (Kemp’s papers are in the Southern Historical Collections in Wilson Library). The article stated that Morton was so pleased with his photographs that, “He now has pictures of every nationally known band in the country with over 100 snaps of Benny Goodman, some of which have appeared in Downbeat, music magazine.” We’ll be keeping all four of our eyes open for those.
The photographs featured in this post are found in an envelope that contains twenty negatives and is labeled, simply, “New Orleans.” One of those negatives is a night scene looking down Bourbon Street. On the right is the The Old Absinthe House Bar and farther down the street is Club Bali; on the left is the Famous Door Cocktail Lounge. The automobile license plates on the right are dated 1945, confirming the date on Godchaux’s marquee in the image above.
What was happening with Hugh Morton in 1945? He was wounded in March, a few days after photographing General Douglas MacArthur reviewing the 25th Division on New Caledonia, and received his honorable discharge from the United States Army on 30 June. He married Julia Taylor on 8 December.
Within the batch of New Orleans negatives are a few outdoor scenes depicting a couple wearing longer coats, suggesting he was there during a colder time of the year. Duke University’s football team defeated the University of Alabama in the Sugar Bowl on January 1st. Perhaps Morton was there to photograph the football game? Thus far we’ve not located any negatives of that event. Maybe he was on leave? One negative depicts a group seated in a hotel room: Morton in civilian clothes, another man in a military uniform, and two women.
Whatever the date of his visit, Morton headed to the jazz clubs with camera in hand and he photographed three performances. Only one set is identifiable from the content: two negatives of Captain John Handy (1900-1971) and an unidentified upright bass player.
A second setting records another group, apparently a quintet, the only recognizable character being the bopping Santa above the stage backdrop. Santa says it might still be around New Year’s Day.
To round out the photographs of jazz musicians, here’s an unidentified piano player in what appears to be yet a third club setting:
Any jazz historians out there who can place a name to some of these unnamed faces?
The life’s work of photographer Hugh Morton has a new home: the North Carolina Collection Photographic Archives in Wilson Library at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It took two trips in four vans filled to the gills to bring it all from the Morton residence near Grandfather Mountain to the university where Morton spent his freshman through junior years as a student. His enlistment in the United States Army in September 1942, at the outset of his senior year, pulled him away to the Pacific and on to what became a celebrated life, but he returned to the campus he loved time and time and time again—and likely always with his camera.
It’s also likely that Morton had his camera with him everywhere else he went. We all look for something to “click” in our lives; for Hugh Morton it was his cameras’ shutters. We think he clicked them about half a million times. It takes a lot of shutter clicks to fill four vans. Morton made many photographs and shot a lot of motion picture film, too. It will take a good deal of time—measured in years—to organize and make available for use the results of so much clicking. Sometimes I “shutter” just thinking about it.
There is so much interest in the Morton collection. The first inquiries started before we opened more than a handful of boxes. The time needed to make such a voluminous collection available compared to the demand for its use beckoned for a non-traditional approach to collection processing. The way it’s “supposed” to be done is to open the collection only once it is completed. To make material accessible as soon as possible, we are planning to make parts of the collection available incrementally as we complete them.
We also needed a way to keep people informed about our progress and offer glimpses into the collection’s wealth. We are enthused by the public interest and want to transform it into community involvement. So we developed this blog to meet those needs and we hope it “clicks” with you!