January 16, 2017

North Carolina at Work

North Carolina at Work: Cedric Chatterley’s Portraits and Landscapes of Traditional Labor

Recently, farmer, poet, and essayist Wendell Berry delivered the 41st Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Berry argued that the long-term hope for our nation’s health is to cultivate communities of “stickers” – people who are not motivated by profit above all, but “are motivated by affection, by such love for a place and its life that they want to preserve it and remain in it.”

North Carolina is full of such communities – workers who want to succeed and prosper, while also remaining connected to their heritage and to the places they call home. They farm, and they feel for clams. They feed us, and they pray over us. They encounter the land directly as they gather walnuts for dyeing, dig for clay, or cut timber. Some workers have found ways to profit from tradition – showing customers the beauty in objects made an older way, or developing tourism around heritage sites. Others are struggling with what seems a choice between maintaining traditions and earning a living.

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This exhibit, North Carolina at Work, selects images from the thousands of photos made during twenty years of collaboration between the photographer Cedric N. Chatterley and the North Carolina Folklife Institute, the North Carolina Arts Council, and individual folklorists. Chatterley is one of many noted photographers commissioned to make images of North Carolina folklife by the Arts Council and the Folklife Institute. The Institute manages an archive containing more than 30,000 of these images, as well as hundreds of recordings, publications, and historical documents resulting from decades of folklife documentation in the state. This exhibit offers a glimpse into the rich collection of North Carolina stories and images that the Institute is honored
to steward.

North Carolina at Work: Cedric Chatterley’s Portraits and Landscapes of Traditional Labor hopes to foster conversations about our working relationships with identity, community, the public, and the land in our current economy. As a collection, the photographs highlight the diversity of the physical landscape and traditional labor in North Carolina. Each photograph is only one moment of one story—behind each one lie many experiences, many facts, and also many questions. The captions occasionally relate directly to the images; more often they connect the immediate subjects of the photos to different voices in that rich context, such as others’ oral histories, a Broadway musical, and state regulations, as well as viewers’ experiences and ideas.

In the broadest context, it is 2012 – a Presidential election year and another year of global economic crisis. Issues of health and healthcare, energy and resource use, and above all, jobs hit close to home for us as individuals, North Carolinians, and U.S. residents. Arguments about the best route to prosperity highlight disagreement about what prosperity really means for individuals and communities. The photographs in North Carolina at Work show us how the people of North Carolina, and the work we do, are integral to the beauty and prosperity of our state.