Monday, March 30, 2009
Hale County Alabama
Hale County Alabama is in the west central part of the state. It is largely rural and has a population of less than 20,000. I claim no special knowledge of the place. In fact, what I know most about it is that it is the setting for three significant bodies of work in American arts.
Walker Evans, working with James Agee and on assignment for Fortune magazine, spent several weeks there in 1936, documenting the life of sharecroppers in the cotton belt. One result was Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, a seminal photo essay and probably one of the more important books of the 20th century. Evans' images from there continue to represent some of the collective American imagery of poverty and the Depression. The Library of Congress owns a number of these images. The first two photos above are his.
William Christenberry is a photographer, painter and sculptor. I have a particular weakness for his photographs. As a child he spent time in Hale County on his grandparents' farms. Later, as an artist, he used a Brownie camera to take snapshots in Hale County as references for his paintings. After discovering Let Us Now Praise Famous Men in 1960, he sought out Walker Evans in New York. Evans encouraged him to use the Brownie camera seriously and got him a job at Time-Life. They were friends until Evans' death in 1975. Christenberry has had a long and prolific career as artist and teacher. The third and fourth images are his.
The Rural Studio is a project of Auburn University's school of architecture. It was founded in 1993 by Sam Mockbee and D. K. Ruth, with the aim of teaching students about the social responsibilities of the profession of architecture and building well-constructed and inspiring homes and facilities for the people of western Alabama. They have utilized bales of hay, tires and other recycled materials in their innovative designs. It is based in Newbern, in Hale County, and has many exemplary projects in the area. You can see some of them and learn more here. The fifth image above is an animal shelter they created for Hale County.
The Hale County Road 51 sign, blasted by gunfire, is an artifact we enjoy in our house.