The exhibitions program at the Center for Documentary Studies presents images, documents, sound, and written experiences in four galleries that serve as a community forum for documentary work, making the documentary arts accessible to a general audience and presenting experiences that inform, heighten our historical and cultural awareness, create discourse, foster understanding, and confront traditional views of “others.”

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Useful Work: Photographs of Hickory Nut Gap Farm

By Ken Abbott
June 2–September 10, 2016
Reception and Artist’s Talk: Thursday, August 18, 6–9 p.m.
Juanita Kreps Gallery, Center for Documentary Studies |
1317 W. Pettigrew St., Durham, North Carolina

It has an altitude of 2,700 feet so you can imagine how fine the air is & it is just at the crest of one of the Blue Ridge ranges with a most superb view across the valley at the mountains in the distance. —Elizabeth McClure to her cousin Martha Clarke, 1916

On a honeymoon trip to western North Carolina in 1916, Elizabeth and Jim McClure visited a place then known as Sherrill’s Inn; they were entranced, so much so that they purchased the inn and surrounding land, rechristening it Hickory Nut Gap Farm. A hundred years later, the “Big House” and property remains a vibrant home and community hub where five generations of McClures and extended family have visited, lived, and worked the land.

Photographer Ken Abbott first visited in 2004 on his daughter’s class field trip and was as taken with the site as the McClures had been decades earlier. “The place had a time-capsule quality,” he writes, “but it was clearly no museum—there were signs of a busy contemporary life, with a story of its own to tell. . . . It was a beautiful setting, rich in lore, and I looked forward to coming back with my camera.” Abbott’s photographs, taken between 2004 and 2009, are featured in the traveling exhibition and book Useful Work: Photographs of Hickory Nut Gap Farm (Goosepen Studio & Press, 2015, with essays by Ken Neufeld).

The images document the objects and actions of day-to-day life at the Big House and land—rugs hang over a fence to dry, flowers and eggs are gathered, a battered silver pitcher that belonged to Elizabeth McClure, still used every day to bring water from the springhouse, sits on the kitchen counter. The latter photograph distilled for Abbott “one of the great lessons” of his time at Hickory Nut Gap Farm: “that we should honor beauty and our past and reach for intimacy with our given place. Like a camera lens the pitcher focuses the family story. Yet in the photograph of it, we are also reminded that there are dishes to wash and work to do.” 

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Where We Live: A North Carolina Portrait

Photographs by Alex Harris, Amanda Berg, Rachel Boillot, and Jennifer Stratton
Reception and Artists’ Talk: April 28, 4–7 p.m., Rubenstein Photography Gallery
March 5–June 26, 2016
Rubenstein Photography Gallery, Rubenstein Library, Duke University
411 Chapel Dr, Durham, NC 27705

High Resolution Photo Gallery

In the fall of 1971, under the auspices of the new Public Policy program at Duke University, documentary photographer Alex Harris began his first assignment: to photograph substandard housing and living conditions in North Carolina. With support from the Annenberg Foundation, in 2014 the CDS cofounder, who has taught at Duke for thirty-five years, turned to three former students and recent graduates of Duke’s Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts program to tackle the same broad assignment—photographers Amanda Berg, Rachel Boillot, and Jennifer Stratton.

Where We Live: A North Carolina Portrait features Harris’s 1971–72 work and Berg, Boillot, and Stratton’s contemporary portraits of, respectively, women whose factory jobs disappeared as industries closed, migrant workers who harvest Christmas trees and pick crops, and low-income neighborhoods that habitually bear the brunt of environmental damage.

“Forty-four years separate these photographs,” writes Harris. “By exhibiting together, we hope to show some of the ways in which the State of North Carolina has changed during this period. Our different styles and approaches with a camera also hint at how the practice of documentary photography has developed. But some things remain constant. Our photographs then and now show the human dimensions of policy issues, not only connecting these issues to individual lives, but, we hope, giving a sense of our own kinship to the people portrayed.”

Where We Live is sponsored by Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies, Archive of Documentary Arts at the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Forum for Scholars and Publics, Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts program, and Sanford School of Public Policy. Project funding was provided by Anne Reynolds Forsyth, the Annenberg Foundation, and the Duke Council for the Arts. All photographs will be preserved in the Archive of Documentary Arts.

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Beyond The Front Porch 2016

Exhibition Dates: May 1October 1, 2016
Project Presentations and BBQ: Sunday, May 1, 2:30-5 PM
Center for Documentary Studies, University Gallery
1317 W. Pettigrew St., Durham, North Carolina

This exhibit features the final projects of six college seniors who will graduate with a CDS Certificate in Documentary Studies. Below are words from the seminar instructor, Alex Harris. Click here to see more information on the students and their projects.

Students in the Documentary Capstone Seminar have the spring semester of their senior year to complete a photographic, video, audio, or multimedia project that is meant to be the culmination of their course work at the Center for Documentary Studies and their four years at Duke (and in one case, UNC–Chapel Hill). This year's class has shown what former Duke President Terry Sanford coined over three decades ago as the unofficial University motto: outrageous ambitions! They are tackling projects —like womanhood at Duke, forming a non-traditional family, the essence of Quaker thought and life, the idea of beauty in relation to aging— that might be reasonable to complete if these students weren't also enrolled in three or four other courses, weren't also involved in various local and national causes, and weren't also taking the time to maintain Duke friendships that will last some for the rest of their lives. 

In completing these capstone projects, students are showing the one quality that is most difficult to achieve for any documentary artist bombarded with life’s daily distractions alongside news of huge and complex problems facing society: they are taking themselves and their own work seriously. This is the quality they will need in order to move beyond university life, to remain aware of the big picture, while maintaining focus on particular subjects and issues they themselves consider to be of vital importance. —Alex Harris, Duke Professor of the Practice of Public Policy and Documentary Studies

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How Do We Heal?

May 1October 10, 2016
Center for Documentary Studies, Porch Gallery
1317 W. Pettigrew St., Durham, North Carolina

“In an endless sea of opportunities, we can either sink or swim. At Duke, I’ve done both. Over the past two years, in order to help me cope with difficult issues in my own life, I sought out a broad range of Duke women to talk about their own experiences dealing with trauma,” says Zhang. “Through the process, this project transformed from an exhibit about trauma to an exhibit about healing. You’ll notice that none of the portraits have captions and that’s because captions could never sufficiently describe who these women are. It is my hope that you will take the time today to meditate on each portrait in order to get a sense of the strength, beauty, and complexity, of these women.”

“The RIPP Fellowship has helped me grow immensely as an artist through the incredible mentorship and community support,” says Zhang. “The RIPP Fellowship allowed me to pursue what I loved, which is storytelling and connecting with others. With the help of Alex, I was better able to frame my work to deliver my intended message. I learned how to make a cohesive body of work and refine my artistic vision. Seeing the process from beginning to end has been unbelievable and inspires me to keep creating.”

The exhibition and public forum are supported by the RIPP Fellowships in the Documentary Arts.

CDS Gallery Spring Hours

Monday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Tuesday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Wednesday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Thursday: 9 a.m. to 7 p.m
Friday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Saturday: 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Sunday: closed

On occasion, the galleries are closed for installation, maintenance, and university scheduling considerations. Visitors might wish to call 919.660.3663 before they make a special trip to see an exhibition, to ensure that the galleries are open. 
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