Bayard Wootten has been called North Carolina’s most important photographer of the first half of the twentieth century. Born in New Bern, North Carolina in 1875, Wootten was raised by another important photographer, Rufus Morgan. She began her prolific photography career in 1904, taking pictures of the rural impoverished areas of North Carolina where she grew up.
Along with being a photographer, Wootten was also a suffragette, accomplishing many achievements as a women. She was the first female aerial photographer, taking pictures of landscapes from some of the first Wright Brother’s airplanes. She also became the first women in the North Carolina National Guard.
Wootten’s photography features photos unique to North Carolina and real, intrinsic pictures of people in action. The collection featured currently at the Greensboro Project Space comprises many of her work from the 1930s and 1940s, known as some of her most successful years in photography.
In this exhibit, Wootten combines her knowledge of industrial work and artistic talent to create vivid photographs of everyday people in their environments, landscapes and landmarks. One particular photograph entitled “A tobacco farmer pausing for water” shows a farmer with his wife and child in the middle of a tobacco field taking a swig of water from a mason jar. The child in the photograph is looking at the camera with a jar of water at her side. The sun is shown shinning brightly in the background and the people are dressed working clothes. This picture, along with another displaying a work day in a spinning room for a manufacturing company, gives a glimpse into depression era North Carolina. The people in these photographs show the hard work and labor that went into making a living during this time. The people do not look solemn or joyful but instead are simply looking at the camera in a simple relaxed expression.
Another particularly striking photograph in this exhibit shows a man who was a former slave, now between the ages of 95 and 107, taking a rest in the sun. This photo was part of a Federal Writer’s project that contains interviews with several African American elders. Wootten had several photos of African Americans which are featured in this exhibit. Some are working in fields or relaxing.
One powerful photograph shows an African American women looking into the camera. This headshot has the women looking in a sort of tired, desperate expression. Wootten’s photographs of people features a range of blurry action photos to dead on head shots of people with a chillingly simple stare.
Along with people, Wootten also photographs landscapes. In this exhibit, there is a photograph of an apple tree on Clarkson’s Knob in Little Switzerland, North Carolina. This photograph show a simple serene landscape with a blooming apple tree on the side of a steep hill. Wootten’s landscape images show the diversity of terrain present throughout North Carolina, from beaches, to mountains and wide plains. Although the images are black and white, they retain a lively and vivid presence of nature, as well as representing aspects of Southern Culture.
This exhibit is a dip into the past through the authentic eyes of a true North Carolinian. The photos tell stories of simple life and simple pleasure, as well as the hard work that inhibited the real people who lived in this time period. The landscape photos show a sense of freedom and adventure, while examining the everyday lives of everyday people through photography. Bayard Wootten was a revolutionary woman of art and photography. Her exhibit will be displayed at the Greensboro Project Space until March 3rd.