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.)
In these stay-at-home days, cultural institutions are pursuing various avenues to stay engaged with their communities. One such effort launches today on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram: #MuseumVacation. This virtual vacation tour springs from an idea by Eileen Hammond at UNC’s Ackland Museum. The tour works like this: you travel around the world on a virtual vacation, visiting locations via an image from a museum’s collection. A link will lead you to the next stop on the tour that features another image from a different cultural institution. The North Carolina Collection will be participating in this tour, and its tour stop is atop Grandfather Mountain using the above photograph. The North Carolina Collection will be extending this idea through July with a spinoff under the hashtag #VacationNC. We hope you’ll following along!
Why this image? Well, it is beautiful for one. Secondly, 2020 marks the tenth full operation year of the Grandfather Mountain backcountry becoming a state park, officially established in the spring of 2009 . . . and we like anniversaries at A View to Hugh. Thirdly, state parks reopened last weekend as part of North Carolina’s first phase of reopening, so you can actually go to the park. (Remember that Grandfather Mountain, the scenic tourist attraction which includes the Mile High Swinging Bridge, is a separate entity run by the Grandfather Mountain Foundation.)
Do you have a favorite Hugh Morton photograph that we can feature during the North Carolina Collection’s #VacationNC virtual summer vacation? If so, please let leave a comment!
Today’s post comes from the keyboard of Jack Hilliard, Hugh Morton collection volunteer.
“Rainbows are formed when light passes through a drop of rain, bending as it goes from the air to the water. That light will then reflect off the inside of the drop of water, separating into wavelengths, thus forming colors. When the light exits the water droplet, it creates a rainbow. —Website: “SciJinks”
The old saying, “April showers bring May flowers,” may or may not be entirely true, but as we celebrate the months of spring 2020, it’s not unusual for an afternoon thundershower to pass our way. Those thundershowers are often followed by one of nature’s most beautiful sights: a rainbow.
Since I began working as a volunteer with the Hugh Morton collection in the North Carolina Collection at Wilson Library on the UNC campus in 2008, I have made a list of my personal favorite Hugh Morton photographs. Two of those images are of rainbows. One is in the Morton online collection pictured above, while the other is in the book, Hugh Morton’s North Carolina (2003) on page 24. I think Morton’s caption for that picture says a lot about his entire portfolio of photographs:
Pictures of rainbows cannot be planned, and one needs to act quickly when one appears. I rounded a curve on N.C. 18 between Morganton and Shelby, saw this one, and grabbed the camera just in time. The cows were still there seconds later, but the rainbow was gone.
During his more than seventy years with a camera, Hugh Morton was always there just in time to document his North Carolina—just as his 2003 book title implies.
It’s been 99 years since a comparable solar event of this 2017 magnitude occurred across the United States and it won’t happen again until April 8, 2024. Hugh Morton collection volunteer Jack Hilliard takes a quick look at this current phenomenon and looks back to 1951 when Hugh Morton photographed an event similar to the one we’re celebrating this month.
On Monday, August 21, 2017, all of North America will be treated to an eclipse of the sun. About 200 million people live within a day’s drive of the path of totality where you can see one of nature’s most awe-inspiring sights: a total solar eclipse, a path on our planet where a person may experience the moon completely covering the sun such that the sun’s tenuous atmosphere, the corona, will be visible. This will be the first total solar eclipse to cross the entire continental United States since June 8, 1918. The path will cover 8,600 miles from Lincoln Beach, Oregon to Charleston, South Carolina. Observers outside this path will see a partial solar eclipse where the moon will cover only part of the sun’s disk.
The path of totality is a relatively thin ribbon—a little over 70 miles wide (actually 71.5 miles in North Carolina), and will cross the United States from west to east at 1,500 miles per hour. The first point of contact will be at Lincoln Beach, Oregon at 9:05 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. Totality begins there at 10:16 a.m. PDT. Over the next hour and a half, it will cross through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Montana, Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia, and North and South Carolina. The total eclipse will be visible in nine North Carolina counties: Cherokee, Graham, Swain, Clay, Haywood, Henderson, Macon, Jackson, and Transylvania. Most everywhere else in the state will experience a partial eclipse of 90 percent or more. The spectacular show will begin in North Carolina at 2:33 pm Eastern Daylight Time.
The path of totality will pass across the western portion of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, as well as the Brevard, Franklin and Murphy areas of North Carolina. Andrews will see the sun fully eclipsed by the moon for the longest of any city in the Tar Heel state: two minutes and thirty-nine seconds. The total eclipse will end near Charleston, South Carolina at 2:48 p.m. EDT. From there the lunar shadow leaves the United States at 4:09 EDT. Its longest duration will be near Hopkinsville, Kentucky where the sun will be completely covered for two minutes and forty seconds.
This once-in-a lifetime-event would be perfect for photographer Hugh Morton, and he would bring some firsthand solar eclipse experience to the event. Morton, who over the years had taken thousands of football photographs of his beloved UNC Tar Heels, was not on hand in Chapel Hill on September 1, 1951 when Head Football Coach Carl Snavely’s team first took the practice field to open the ’51 season. Instead, Morton was atop Linville Peak at Grandfather Mountain. On that day, an annular solar eclipse was to be visible just at sunrise in a 30,000 square mile area of Virginia and North Carolina. (An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon’s apparent diameter is smaller than the sun’s blocking most of the Sun’s light causing the Sun to look like a small ring.)
Grandfather Mountain, at 5,964-feet, was the highest point in the United States in the center of that 95-mile-wide annular eclipse path, a perfect spot for Morton and his camera. Back then, the road did not extend to the top of the mountain, so Morton and about 225 hardy souls made the rugged hike to the top in the early-morning darkness, where they joined about 75 overnight campers. In the predawn hours, low hanging clouds gathered close to the horizon along with a slight wind. The clouds continued to hang around as the 5:51 sunrise time approached.
Then, six minutes after sunrise, at 5:57, the clouds broke revealing the moon already in position to make its trek across the sun’s surface. Bailey’s Beads—little flashes of light shining through the rugged valleys and canyons on the moon—became clearly visible. Scientists at the scene called the view “excellent,” even though those thin, light clouds drifted back by from time to time. Most of the spectators remained until the moon had cleared the sun by 6:20.
Atop nearby towering 6,684-foot Mt. Mitchell, some 200 people viewed the spectacle through a thin layer of high clouds. In Asheville, haze obscured the view for many. Across the state in Greensboro, folks greeted the first eclipse of this magnitude in 50 years with the moon hiding 96% of the sun’s light.
A cloudy overcast sky spoiled the show for many of the Eastern states. The eclipse would have been visible over virtually all of the United States east of the Mississippi River had it not been for the clouds. Pittsburgh, Boston, and Atlanta reported overcast and clouds that, according to the United Press “eclipsed the eclipse.” The same weather conditions were reported in New York, but early risers there were able to see the show on their TV sets. WOR-TV had set up a television camera with an 80-inch reflector lens in North Bergen, New Jersey. The lens penetrated the overcast.
Sixty-six years after Morton made his 1951 eclipse images, Grandfather Mountain will once again celebrate the current solar spectacle of Monday, August 21st with a solar eclipse party. Postscript by Stephen
You may be wondering why there is no mention here of the solar eclipses from the 1970 total eclipse and the 1984 annular eclipse, both of which traversed sizable portions of North Carolina. There is no listing for either in the Morton collection finding aid, so it took a little exploring to determine the likely reasons. (Note: the two links in this paragraph lead to Google cached webpages depicting maps of the eclipse path. Just about all Google searches on the NASA website for eclipses other than 2017 annoyingly take you to the NASA webpage for the 2017 eclipse. There’s no guarantee on how long these links will function properly.)
There are no specific clues about Morton’s whereabouts during the 1970 total eclipse, which made landfall in the United States southeast of Tallahassee near Perry, Florida. While much of Florida was cloud-covered, here in North Carolina both Fayetteville and Greenville reported perfect viewing conditions . . . as did Virginia Beach, Virginia. The path of totality only skimmed by Wilmington. The collection does not have one of Morton’s “executive planners” for 1970, and so we have another “Morton Mystery.”
Regarding the 30 May 1984 eclipse in North Carolina: the weather was clear in the Piedmont but not in the east. Morton’s appointment book places him in Wilmington for a movie shoot and he noted “Heavy Rain – Southpoint, Orton” without mention of eclipse. An Epilogue
The U.S. Postal Service is issuing the Total Solar Eclipse Forever stamp to commemorate the August 21st event. The image changes when you touch it by transforming into an image of the moon from the heat of your finger.
This past Saturday, July 8th, marked the twentieth anniversary of North Carolina Governor Jim Hunt signing “An Act to Authorize the Addition to the State Parks System of Certain Lands Located in Transylvania County Adjacent to Jocassee Lake”—or, as Hugh Morton labeled his negatives, the “Gorges Bill.” The act had been Senate Bill 537, then became Chapter 276 in Session Laws and Resolutions Passed by the 1997 General Assembly . . . [shortened title]. The legislators behind the bill were State Senator Tommy Jenkins, Democrat (possibly the person on the far right in the photograph above) and Representative William Ives, Republican from Transylvania County.
July 8, 1997 was a busy day for Governor Hunt. Earlier in the day, he attended the memorial service for Charles Kuralt. Morton’s negatives for both events are on the same roll of film. Hunt wears the same tie in all of the photographs, and that was the tip off that both events occurred on the same day. According to Session Laws and Resolutions it became law “upon approval of the Governor at 4:50 p.m. on the 8th day of July, 1997.”
Curiosity and thoroughness sent me back to the collection finding aid to see what else Hugh Morton may have photographed related to the Gorges. I found another roll of film dated April 1997 with Gov. Hunt, Bill Grigg, and Gorges Park among the names written on the envelope. Grigg was Chairman of Duke Power Company, which owned the land. Inside the envelope are nineteen negatives and six prints including the two images below.
An Asheville Citizens-Times news article titled, “Hunt signs deal allowing Jocassee purchase” published on July 9, 1997 that reported the news story included a quote from Hunt saying, “I have flown over it. This is wonderful property and the state ought to have it.” The article mentioned that the bill contained no appropriation to acquire the land. It simply permitted the state parks system to “pursue the purchase.” The article also stated that “Hunt gave a pep talk to area lawmakers, including Sen. Robert Carpenter, R-Macon, state agency officials and environmentalists assembled for a photo op.” Hunt “strongly suggested” that the state would “raise the money through a combination of publicly held grants, private sources and maybe a legislative appropriation.” The article concluded with a statement that R. Michael Leonard of the law firm Womble, Carlyle, Sandridge and Rice (seen in the group portrait above) had received a commitment of $1.25 million from two anonymous private donors. The state purchased the land and officially dedicated Gorges State Park in 1999.
Some recent searching for “Hugh Morton” on newspapers.com led to a book review titled “Look Looks at The South in Pictures” by Bob Sain in the 19 October 1947 issue of The Daily Tar Heel. The very last paragraph parenthetically reads:
(Incidentally, North Carolina came off badly in space allotment; tobacco process shots took most of our space while Chapel Hill was ignored. There was one picture of the Duke campus. However, we recognized one photograph by Carolina man Hugh Morton: a misty Smoky Mountain shot.)
Of course I needed to know which Hugh Morton photograph, so I looked for the book in the University Libraries catalog. Surprisingly UNC does not hold that book, so I submitted an interlibrary loan request and it arrived late last week. Titled The South, the book is part of a series with nine volumes titled “Look at America” that was compiled by editors from the magazine Look with each book “written in collaboration with” various authors. David L. Cohn is the author for The South. [UNC does, after all, have the book; see the clarification below, which I added after I published this post.]
The photograph above shows Hugh Morton’s photograph on page 81. I immediately recognized it because I seriously considered printing a scan made from the negative for inclusion in the Hugh Morton retrospective exhibition (currently at the North Carolina Museum of History). As much as I liked the image, it just didn’t quite fit in with the rest of the exhibition.
Upon closer inspection, the photograph in the book does not seem to be the exact same image as the negative. You can see in the scan above that many of the leafs are moving. Morton may have made an additional negative at that location, but there’s not another similar negative in the collection, at least that I could find.
The comparison between the printed page in the book and the negative scan is a good example of two challenges we faced when printing the exhibition: cropping and representation. Should we crop an image or print it fully? We usually printed the negatives as fully as we could, but sometimes minor cropping enhanced the image. I would turn to published photographs when known, but many times publishers crop photographs despite what photographers submit—often to fit the format the book or the allocated space for a page spread in a magazine or newspaper. Had I seen this book before designed the exhibition I may have printed it that way, but with the “uncommon” theme I may have printed the full negative for its wider view. The other consideration, representation of the negative as a print, usually concerns the print’s tonality. For example, should a print have more or less contrast? Likewise, should an image printed be darker or lighter? Notice the difference between the darker printed page in the book and the lighter version we created. When working on the image, we tried to stay “true” to the negative. We also tried to recreate the foggy atmosphere of the forest by contrasting it to the silhouette of the foreground tree. The book’s version has a darker mid and foreground, conveying a sense of the woods’ denseness in comparison to the sky’s lightness.
Which leads to another possibility for the question “Or is it?”: that it is the same negative, from which Morton printed a darker interpretation with a bit more contrast to mask the mirroring effected created by the leaf movement. In the book, you cannot differentiate the branches from the leafs where they overlap; in the negative, however, you can clearly distinguish the lighter leafs from the tree. Combined with the printing technique for the book which makes the leafs and branches essentially black, the leaf movement may have just disappeared.
As in so many instances, we may never know which is the case—but now you know some of the considerations archivists and curators make when we create a exhibition of modern day prints from historical negatives. Clarification:
As I was returning the book to Interlibrary Loan, I discovered that UNC has the book after all. One UNC catalog record is for the “Look at America” series that states there are nine volumes but with no mention of the book titles for each of nine volumes. After some exploration in WorldCat, where I found four different base catalog records for the book, I went back to the UNC catalog and discovered the North Carolina Collection does indeed have the book.
I updated the story soon after its initial publication to reflect the book’s proper short title as “The South” and not “Look at America: The South,” which is what is printed on the very first printed page after the flyleaf. The full title of the book is likely The South: A Handbook in Pictures, Maps and Text for the Vacationist, the Traveler and the Stay-at-home. Here’s a photograph of the title page from the NCC’s copy, showing the long title and confusing title page:
With newspapers using gallons of ink showing headlines like “Winter Strom Wreaks Havoc Across South” . . . news and weather channels putting their casts and crews in harm’s way, going flat-out 24/7, showing, slick roads, spinning cars, and snowball fights . . . schools (including UNC’s Wilson Library today and this past weekend), churches, businesses, and daycares closed and the UNC NC State basketball game postponed . . . the cast and crew at A View to Hugh would like to show you the beautiful side of snow through the eyes and camera lens of Hugh Morton.
It’s safe to say Hugh never let a good snowfall go “unphotographed.” Below are just a few links to some of the many snowfall photographs made by Morton. Explore and enjoy the online collection of Morton photographs for other winter views and please leave a comment to let us know which photographs are you favorites! Whitetail deer in snow Mount Mitchell in the snow Mountain snow Road in snow and ice Snow on Grandfather Mountain Mile High Swinging Bridge in snow and ice
Only experts take great photographs, and a great photograph (about as common as a great painting) is creative. Its impact is a stinging slap to the jaded or flagging attention. And its result will always be some deepened insight into the very nature of one aspect of this life that we are all, flower, man and beast, enjoying together on this our dusty, colorful planet home.
—Donald Culross Peattie in This is Living: A View of Nature with Photographs (1938)
June 1st, 2016 is the tenth anniversary of Hugh Morton’s passing. During the years that we have been writing for A View to Hugh, we have primarily featured Morton’s photographs of historical events from a factual perspective because that is the mainstay of the North Carolina Collection. Today, however, presents a marvelous opportunity to explore Morton’s nature photography—and following that link leads you to well over 700 photographs assigned that subject heading.
As you will see, certainly not every Morton photograph is great; there never has been, nor will there ever be, a photographer for whom this could be true. And even an amateur can make a great photograph now and then. Not every photograph, however, needs to be great. The trillions of photographs that we have made are micro expressions of singular moments in time. Hugh Morton was a gifted photographer who made many great photographs, many more good photographs, and many that were merely visual explorations along the way to making many good and great photographs. We are all honored that his prolific body of work is available in Wilson Library for all to utilize for our own explorations in life. There is great benefit to all in having one person’s lifelong photographic vision available beyond his or her place in time.
The opening quotation above comes from Donald Culross Peattie’s introduction to his commentary on more than 120 nature photographs by various photographers selected by Gordon Aymar. Most of the photographs are not great, some are far from it. Brought together, however, Aymar’s selection and sequencing of the photographs into chapters titled “Life-Force,” “Young Beginnings,” “Home,” “Living Together,” “Hunger,” Mysterious Ways,” “Death,” and “Life the Conqueror” leads readers through many photographic observations that celebrate living. Morton, with his ever-present camera, explored these very same categories, and more, in his nature photography.
On this tenth anniversary of Hugh Morton’s death, I invite you to explore his nature photography. Doing so will give you the opportunity to celebrate life as Morton saw it spanning seven decades through his eyes, cameras, and lenses. To quote Peattie once more:
It is a slender world in the cosmosphere that is set aside for us to inhabit—no more than the surface of one drifting bubble. The limits of life as we know it are terribly strict. Within these frail dimensions all living things are crowded, flung together in an intimacy that means struggle. We are conscripted to that struggle by the fact of birth, delivered from it, generally against our will, by death. This is living.
Happy Earth Day 2015. Hugh Morton photographed in many places around the globe, but the planet itself was not one of them . . . at least not from outer space. Looking for an image to post for Earth Day, I searched the online collection for “earth” . . . then “globe” . . . then “global.” The last search term led to today’s post.
Since 1986 the Institute for Emerging Issues at North Carolina State University has held an annual Emerging Issues Forum. Hugh Morton attended the forum in February 1990 when the theme was “Global Changes in the Environment: Our Common Future.” According to the program published after the forum, there were approximately 1,500 attendees. Featured speakers included Al Gore, 45th Vice President of the U.S.; Carl Sagan, former director of the Laboratory of Planetary Studies at Cornell University; Steve Cowper, former governor of Alaska; and Madeline Kunin, former governor of Vermont.
After searching through the Morton collection finding aid to see what other years he may have attended the forum, it appears that was the only time he went—or at least photographed, but I cannot imagine Morton attending such an event and not taking at least one photograph. There are 68 negatives from the 1990 forum, filed in three locations in the collection with the following descriptions:
Roll Film Box P081/35BW-5, Envelope 2.6.270-5-1: Gore, Al at NCSU Emerging Issues Forum (with Steve Cowper, etc.), 1990, Black and white 35mm roll film negatives, 6 images;
Roll Film Box P081/35BW-6, Envelope 2.6.602-5-1: “Sagan, Carl, Governor Jim Hunt, North Carolina State” (Emerging Issues Forum?), 1990s, Black and white 35mm roll film negatives, 6 images; and
Roll Film Box P081/35BW-8, Envelope 2.8.7-5-11: Emerging Issues Forum, North Carolina State University, 8-9 February 1990, Black and white 35mm roll film negatives, 56 images.
Today marks the 94th anniversary of the establishment of Grand Canyon National Park. A week ago, coincidentally, marked what would have been Hugh Morton’s 92nd birthday.
Morton visited the Grand Canyon in late January 1987, based upon the dates of “01-26-1987” and “01-30-1987” printed with a matrix dot printer on the plastic mounts of two rolls of 35mm slides.
Or did he?
Let’s use this scenic photograph, and the little we know about it, as an exercise in a way to use the Morton finding aid—with an added caveat on how to use calendar dates provided in the finding aid as starting points that need confirmation rather than exactitudes.
Searching the Morton collection inventory for “January 1987” using a Web browser’s “Find” function reveals several matches. Cutting and pasting the subjects into a new list ordered by date gives us a glimpse into Morton’s photographic activities for that month:
“Grand Canyon,” January 1987 (35mm slides, no exact dates)
“UNC-Maryland,” (UNC-Jacksonville University basketball), January 1987 (35mm color slides; no exact dates)
“Bulls-Celtics” (Mascot, cheerleaders. Jordan, Bird), January 1987 (35mm slides)
Gary Everhardt, George Olson, Roy Taylor and Cotton Robinson: “Western North Carolina Tomorrow,” 12 January 1987 (black-and-white negatives)
“Good Snow, Doc Watson,” (sunset, people in creek), 14 January 1987 (35mm color slides)
Gorilla, 15 January 1987 (35mm slides)
“Dean Smith” (Press conference), 15 January 1987 (35mm slides)
Kuralt, Charles “North Carolina is My Home”: Chapel Hill, 23 January 1987 (black-and-white negatives)
Michael Jordan, Chicago, 27 January 1987 (black-and-white negatives)
“UNC-Clemson, Clemson, Kenny Smith scores 41,” 28 January 1987 (black-and-white negatives)
“Mildred in Snow,” 29 January 1987 (black-and-white negatives)
The lines above, extracted from the topically arranged finding aid, form a chronological list. Looking closely, you can see that Hugh Morton would not likely have been at the Grand Canyon on the 26th and the 30th if he was in Chicago on the 27th . . . and Mildred the Bear probably didn’t take a trip to Arizona! Also, with a bit of checking you find that the basketball game between UNC and Jacksonville was played on December 13th—a month earlier! What’s going on here?
For those readers who have only photographed with digital cameras, the following may seem a bit strange, but it is true. Unlike your camera’s EXIF data that records the exact time—to the second—that you make an exposure in camera, the date provided on a 35mm slide mount records the date the photography lab processed the film. So what is going on in line two of the list? I haven’t gone to the slides to verify this, but Morton likely didn’t finish shooting an entire roll of film at the UNC–Jacksonville game, so he finished the roll during the game against Maryland on January 8th.
Not all slide mounts have dates, but there may have been a postmark on the box indicating when it left the lab. Dates provided for negatives, on the other hand, are mostly those that Hugh Morton wrote on negative sleeves and envelopes; some, however, were determined by staff who either discovered or easily obtained dates for events. A good take away from this exercise is to be sure you understand what the dates represent, and verify them if it is important to your research or project.
Understanding what machine printed dates represent is good information to keep in mind if you are looking at old family photographs and see dates that don’t make sense on snapshot borders or the backs of prints. A family group portrait made with everyone standing next to a snowman at Uncle Charlie’s birthday in January that has a “July 1956” date stamped on the photograph may mean that Aunt Esther didn’t take the camera out of the hall closet for several months.
The above list of Morton’s January 1987 subjects presents a revealing insight to the range and depth of Hugh Morton’s photographic career in microcosm. That’s an pretty impressive cast of characters and locations for one month—figuratively as wide and deep as the Grand Canyon.
You may have discerned in the list that there are some other date conflicts, incomplete dates, or things that make you go “Hmmmmm.” If the spirit moves you, have fun trying to clarify them, then leave a comment with your conclusions. You might even be able to find out when Morton went to the Grand Canyon. If anyone recognizes Morton’s exactly location when he made the photograph, we might even be able to use shadow casting to date the image. That would make for another interesting post.
Now if we only knew why Hugh Morton went to the Grand Canyon . . . .