Center for Documentary Studies Overview
Created in 1989 through an endowment from the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) opened its doors as a support corporation of Duke University in January 1990, in a historic art deco office building in Durham, North Carolina. It was the first institution in the United States dedicated solely to the rich legacy and continuing practice of the documentary tradition in the American experience.
Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South and Literacy Through Photography were the signature projects in the early years, though CDS maintained an active and diverse curriculum of programs and initiatives throughout the early 1990s, including innovative coursework, several generous documentary awards, a migrant farmworker project, and a South Africa Initiative.
In the winter of 1994 CDS moved into the newly renovated and relocated Kreps-Satterfield House and dubbed it the Lyndhurst House. Work began the following year on a large three-story wing, known as the Bridges Building. These buildings currently house the main activities of CDS on the edge of Duke University’s campus.
More than a traditional educational center, CDS has a broad mission: to bridge university and off-campus communities and experiences through the pursuit of the documentary arts, with an emphasis on the role of individual artistic expression in advancing broader societal goals. That thrust has encouraged the growth of undergraduate and continuing education course offerings alongside numerous wide-ranging public arts endeavors.
CDS began publishing DoubleTake magazine in April 1995. The publication won great critical acclaim, but did not succeed financially and left CDS in 1999. With seed money from CDS, the DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival started in 1998. Now known as the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, it continues today as a CDS program and is one of the premiere documentary gatherings in North America.
Other signature programs and projects over the years have included Indivisible: Stories of American Community, a national photography and audio initiative funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts; The Jazz Loft Project, based on photographs and tapes made by W. Eugene Smith in New York City; Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life, a public mural project; the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, supporting writers and photographers in fieldwork projects; the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, for accomplished American and Canadian photographers who have not yet published a book; and Five Farms: Stories from American Farm Families, a national public radio and photography project.
At CDS, we continue to teach the documentary arts of photography, film/video, audio, narrative writing, and other creative media; to produce and promote documentary work; and to present the documentary arts to audiences at home and abroad.