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PASSIONATE OBSERVER
Eudora Welty

November 11, 2005 - January 8, 2006
Gallery Talk: November 30, 12:00-1:00pm
Museum Open House: November 30, 5:30-7:00pm
Museum Lecture with Dr. Pearl McHaney: December 1, 7:00pm


Eudora Welty
Tomato Packers’ Recess, Crystal Springs, 1935-1936

“I traveled the entire state of Mississippi taking pictures. I saw so many people who had nothing.. . . But even as people struggled, I was aware at a deep level of the richness of life going on all around me. I felt something about this time so strongly that the image stayed with me always.” –Eudora Welty

ABOUT THE EXHIBITION

Eudora Welty is widely known as one of America’s great writers, but she was also a photographer of great skill and sensitivity. Her early use of photography left a profound impression on her writing, teaching her that "Life doesn't hold still," as she explained in One Writer's Beginnings. "Photography taught me that to be able to capture transience, by being ready to click the shutter at the crucial moment, was the greatest need I had."

What Welty reveals in her photography is more than a record of the times; she captures the courage, dignity and spirit of ordinary people in their struggle with daily living conditions during an era of economic instability and personal uncertainty in the Depression. Her photographs illuminate the same qualities that attract readers to her fiction: compassion, depth of observation, sly humor, and quiet, profound views of life. In the twenty years Welty worked with a camera, we see the same intensity and insight that she reveals in her fiction. In the role of observer, Welty shows she is just as deft with a lens as she is with a pen.

In One Time, One Place, an early collection of photographs, Welty explained that her years of photographing rural and small-town Mississippi brought her to the realization that the main objective in her art was to push beyond the silent voice of an image to the stronger but slower voice of words. In a letter to her agent Diarmuid Russell in 1940, Welty wrote: "I am one of those who believe that to communicate is the hope and purpose and the impulse and the result and the test and value of all that is written and done at all, and if that little spark does not come, and with a little sheltering flash back & forth, then it's the same as being left confined within ourselves just when we wished most to reach out and touch the surrounding life that seemed so wonderful in some way."
    Eudora Welty
Sunday School, Holiness Church, Jackson, MS 1935-36

Passionate Observer: Photographs by Eudora Welty features 52 of the artist’s striking photographs from the 1930’s and is drawn from the exhibition and companion book: Passionate Observer: Eudora Welty Among Artists of the Thirties, produced by the Mississippi Museum of Art.


ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHER

Eudora Welty was born in 1909 and was a life-long resident of Jackson, Mississippi, until her death in 2001. She left only to continue her education at the University of Wisconsin in Madison and to live in New York City for about a year, where she attended Columbia University. Welty enjoyed the opportunities provided by New York such as museums and theatrical performances, but her father’s illness motivated her return to Jackson in 1931. At this time a number of younger artists were also returning to Jackson to ride out the Depression in their home state of Mississippi. Equipped with serious intentions this group of artists and writers became friends, admirers and collaborators in a revitalized cultural scene in Jackson.

The Depression deepened America‘s need to look at and define the national character. Artists nationwide focused on the activities and patterns of everyday life in America, some to critique it, some to glorify it, and others simply to show it. It came to be collectively called the American Scene movement. Some of the artists were social realists, like Edward Hopper; others were Regionalists, the dominant group, intent on creating authentic American art through the experiences of rural America. Among the lead artists of this group was Thomas Hart Benton. Welty and her friends in Jackson focused on the American scene, but none of them veered into the hyper-patriotic sentiments frequently encountered as part of the American Scene movement.

The Farm Security Administration (FSA) was created within the Department of Agriculture in 1930’s, one of the New Deal programs designed to assist poor farmers during the Depression. The black-and-white photographs created by the artists of the FSA are a landmark in the history of documentary photography and are perhaps the best-known pictures from that era. Welty’s images stand alongside those of Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, Arthur Rothstein, Ben Shahn and Marion Post Wolcott who also traveled through Mississippi during the 1930s.

Welty's formal career as a photographer never really materialized, though two exhibitions of her photographs were mounted in New York in the late 1930’s and her photographs were published in several books. Few American writers share both a gift for pictorial precision and words as does Welty; the craft of metaphor, the gift for discovering the world and then transmitting the image clearly. Eudora Welty, perhaps more than any other artist working during the Great Depression, was the ultimate passionate observer of her times.

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Eudora Welty Eudora Welty
Eudora Welty
Child On Porch, Hinds Co, MS 1935-1936 Preacher and Leaders of the Holiness Church, Jackson, MS, 1935-1936 Delegate, Jackson, MS, post-1936
Installation Images:
Eudora Welty Exhibiton - Installation Image Eudora Welty Exhibiton - Installation Image
Eudora Welty Exhibiton - Installation Image

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