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Oil Paintings by AC Brown MD
The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what it saw in a plain way”(Reynolds Price, foreword to EUDORA WELTY PHOTOGRAPHS, University Press of Mississippi, 1989). Eudora Welty’s (1909-2001) travels through her native State of Mississippi in her twenties opened her eyes to the misery of the Great Depression in the 1930s. Welty photographed “unposed” people intheir daily life with a 2 ½ X 4 ½ Kodak Eastman Six-16 camera with a 6.3 lens, a common shutter, and bellows. Each roll of the black and white film sold for about thirty-five cents and provided six to eight frames. The original negatives and prints (which I have reviewed) are stored in the Mississippi Department of Archives and History in Jackson, MS. Eudora Welty recorded some of these photographs in ONE TIME, ONE PLACE: Mississippi in the Depression, A Snapshot Album (Random House, 1971). Welty stirred my interest in these “snapshots” (Welty’s term) which captured a moment in time which will never be seen again and in her words “the viewer produces the story based on their background”.
The Eudora Welty Foundation gave me permission with artistic license to reproduce these images in oil on canvas paintings. I have selected images some of which I remember growing up in my early life in rural South Carolina. The oil colors bring to life for me these captured moments in time. Frequently I changed the scene or participants to enhance the painting, but the vision remained the same. Eudora Welty said “I never posed anybody-that was on principle.….. I let my subjects go on with what they were doing and, by framing or cutting and by selection found my composition…. All of that unself-consciousness is gone now. There is no such relationship between a photographer and a subject possible any longer. Everybody is just so media conscious. Maybe it’s television. Everybody thinks of pictures a publicity or-I don’t know.” I wouldn’t be interested in doing such a book [One Time, One Place] today, even if it were possible. Because it would assume a different motive and produce a different effect.” In select photo histories this observation is critical in that the poverty, scene, or individuals were never posed.
Welty started her career as a junior publicity agent for the WPA who lived in Mississippi and occasionally took photographs during the Depression which confirmed the adage that a picture is worth a thousand words. Later in her life she felt that she could best express her passion and emotions in the printed word which resulted in over twenty books, stories, novels, essays and many national and international honors. The photos represented a record of her “feelings” which she summed up as her legacy for future generations. “I think it lies only in the work. It is not for me to say. I think it is what the work shows, or comprises all together. I want the work to exist as the thing that answers every question about its doing. Not me saying what’s in the work.” (interview by Hunter Cole and Seetha Srinivasan, University Press of Mississippi at Eudora Welty‘s home in Jackson, MS, January 1989.)
I can only hope that the viewer of my oil paintings will reach the same conclusion.
ALGIE C BROWN, M.D.