During a three-year publishing partnership (2017–2019), the Center for Documentary Studies contributed to the Oxford American’s online publication series, The By and By. Enjoy all of our contributions, below.
More information on The By and By series, including links to current and past stories from all contributors.
Published in 2019
CDS editor’s note: As Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) audio director John Biewen preps for the next season of Scene on Radio, the podcast is headed to 5 million downloads, episodes are being used in classrooms and independent discussion groups across the country, and media outlets—Los Angeles Review of Books, Columbia Journalism Review, Buzzfeed, among others—have taken note. Here, John sets the scene for the upcoming season.
American Factory: Caught by a Story
CDS editor’s note: In The Last Truck, filmmakers Steven Bognar and Julia Reichert documented the 2008 closing of a General Motors plant in Dayton, Ohio. Six years later, when a Chinese billionaire bought and reopened the facility as an auto-glass factory, they returned to observe what happens when workers from profoundly different cultures collide. The resulting film, American Factory, is the first release from Barack and Michelle Obama’s Higher Ground production company in partnership with Netflix, and started streaming on the platform last month; view trailer. The Last Truck and American Factory were among the nine Bognar and Reichert works screened at the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival in April 2019, which honored the filmmakers with its annual Tribute. In the following excerpt from an interview published in the festival program, Full Frame artistic director Sadie Tillery talks to Bognar and Reichert about how they started out, their collaboration, and how their roots in the Midwest shape their work.
CDS editor’s note: Sini Nina Chen is a freshly minted Duke University grad, departing with a BA in public policy, a Certificate in Documentary Studies from the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS), and a Certificate in Policy Journalism and Media Studies. The Hangzhou, China, native discovered CDS during orientation week and was a regular here for the next four years, honing her interest and talents in photography. In Kelly Alexander’s celebrated documentary studies course, Our Culinary Cultures, she also discovered a passion for nonfiction writing. Nina wrote what she describes as an “experimental ethnography” for that class; her essay, “On Eating Lotus,” is featured in this dispatch. The piece garnered her an Honorable Mention for CDS’s 2019 Documentary Essay Prize, an extraordinary achievement for a young writer. She was also awarded CDS’s 2019 Julia Harper Day Award, which recognizes a graduating Duke senior who has demonstrated excellence in documentary studies and has significantly contributed to CDS programs.
CDS editor’s note: Sherrill Roland is a Post-MFA Fellow in the Documentary Diversity Project (DDP), a three-year pilot at the Center for Documentary Studies to build pathways for more people of color to engage with the documentary arts and to become nonfiction storytellers, gatekeepers, and critical consumers. Post-MFA Fellows and Emerging Documentary Artists work with faculty, staff, and visiting artists to expand their skills and portfolios during extended paid residencies while also joining in classes and fieldwork projects. The pilot is made possible in part by the William R. Kenan, Jr. Charitable Trust. Here, DDP affiliated artist Amber Delgado describes a trip with Roland to participate in a new element of his acclaimed project around issues related to incarceration.
CDS Shortwave is a new project from the Center for Documentary Studies’ DocX lab—a place for technology-influenced, imaginative thinking around documentary forms, styles, and perspectives.
The site is an experiment in new approaches to nonfiction storytelling, a digital space with an analog soul that invites visitors to slow down, explore, and discover, to let things just arise. An old shortwave radio in our offices was our inspiration and guiding metaphor—for its connotations of transmitting and receiving, of participation and discovery across great distances.
There is no static history. It lives on, layered in the landscape, painted on the brick mills. Through investigating the ripples of the words and deeds of local postbellum industrialist Julian Shakespeare Carr, paradoxically called “the most generous white supremacist,” and reenacting scenes from the childhood of Pauli Murray, an unsung civil and women’s rights activist, the film scratches away at surfaces of stories about Durham, North Carolina.
Published in 2018
Winding through these towns, behind buildings and homes, across fields—I am struck by the train’s intimate perspective. The very idea that I was looking into people's backyards felt voyeuristic; I could not avert my eyes. The fields seemed close enough to touch as we plowed through. I could almost feel the wind, the tall stalks of grass.
Tamika has described Hacking the Narrative, her ongoing project around the representation and history of her native Bahamas, as her life’s work. She began the project as an MFA student and continues that work at the Library of Congress, as the Jon B. Lovelace Fellow for the Study of the Alan Lomax Collection. Her new solo exhibition of photos, experimental videos, and collages incorporating archival images and natural materials is part of this larger project, and includes work that she created during her CDS fellowship. Tamika’s essay below describes the genesis of One Hurricane Season and includes selections from the exhibit, which will be on view at CDS from October 11, 2018, to February 17, 2019.
In the early episodes of MEN, co-host Celeste Headlee and I dive into history and science to explore questions like, How and when did men seize for themselves the top spot in the gender hierarchy? (Spoiler: It happened long after “cave man” days.) How did the patriarchy survive Enlightenment ideas about universal human rights? What is gender, anyway, and what does the latest research say about the old nature-nurture question—that is, are the differences that we think we see in male and female humans partly biological or are those differences entirely socially constructed and learned? —John Biewen, CDS audio director and Scene on Radio producer/host
Our Documentary Essay Prize honors the best in documentary photography and writing in alternating years. The focus is on current or recently completed work from a long-term project—fifteen images; fifteen to twenty pages of writing. Those of us who reviewed the photographic essays submitted for the 2018 prize—155 of them—found ourselves gravitating toward “Point d’eau” by Nastassia Kantorowicz Torres. For seven months last year, Kantorowicz Torres, a freelance photographer based in Colombia and France, covered the response of the French government, NGOs, and ordinary citizens around questions of access for migrants in northern France who are trying to reach the UK. —Alexa Dilworth, CDS publishing and awards director
Dear Reader: This essay is dedicated to Maira Kalman, the illustrator and author. Kalman’s recent talk at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) on her creative process inspired me to finish this piece, which I’d started long before I knew of Cake (Penguin Press, 2018; with recipes by Barbara Scott-Goodman). Kalman’s book proves what I’ve always believed: Cake is a most social food. We will be reading the book in my fall course at CDS, Our Culinary Cultures, when we talk about food in terms of its symbolism and imbued meanings. The students will write essays about an experience they’ve had with cake and “cake,” and will research at least one recipe, including details about its history and origins. À la Kalman, they will be required to illustrate their essays, as I have illustrated mine. —Kelly Alexander, CDS undergraduate education instructor
In the Center for Documentary Studies’ (CDS) first dispatch for The By and By series in 2017, we noted some of our similarities with the Oxford American, as university-affiliated nonprofit arts enterprises in the South with a shared reason for being: the enduring, transformative power of stories. We’re honored to continue our collaboration with such natural partners, and to feature the work of Katherine Yungmee Kim in our first story for this year’s series.
The writer and journalist is the latest recipient of our $10,000 Lange-Taylor Prize, which supports a long-term fieldwork project that uses both words and images in its powerful representation of a subject. Severance, her ongoing exploration of one of the world’s most dangerous geopolitical borders, is a visual “novel” that incorporates text and archival and family photographs to trace a personal and political history of the Korean peninsula’s Demilitarized Zone (DMZ). Roughly following the 38th parallel, the 155-mile-long, 2.5-mile-wide buffer of land that separates North and South Korea was created as a result of the post–Korean War armistice agreement in 1953. Raised in South Korea and the U.S., Katherine traveled to the area several times as a reporter in the early 1990s, but her more personal interest was sparked by her maternal grandmother’s unfulfilled longing to return to the family’s house on property that was taken after the war and became part of the DMZ.
Published in 2017
"My name is being called on the road to freedom. I can hear the blood of Emmett Till as it calls from the ground. . . . When shall we go? Not tomorrow! Not at high noon! Now!" —Reverend Samuel Wells, Albany, Georgia, 1962
The first installment in our partnership with The Oxford American magazine is now live. New writings and excerpts from Tim Tyson's latest book, "The Blood of Emmett Till," alongside portions of Tyson's interview with our Scene On Radio podcast + recordings from a CDS event this past December comprise "The Children of Emmett Till," our first feature for #TheByandBy series.
Photo: Bank of the Tallahatchie River, Money, Mississippi, 2009. Emmett Till’s body was recovered from the river on August 31, 1955. Photograph by Jessica Ingram from Road Through Midnight; A Civil Rights Memorial; the Center for Documentary Studies exhibited the series in 2015. To see more of Ingram's work, visit jessingram.com
In late April, we had the great pleasure of hosting one of our prizewinning artists here at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS). Her presentation on science writing and storytelling—which included selected readings from her new book on freshwater mussels—truly entranced the crowd.
Our Documentary Essay Prize honors the best in documentary photography and writing in alternating years. Those of us who reviewed the written essays submitted for the 2015 prize were immediately struck by one titled Immersion—lovely, graceful writing punctuated by the lyrical and surprising names of hidden creatures almost impossible for the untrained eye to see, with names like fatmucket and pigtoe. We’d found our winner: Abbie Gascho Landis, a veterinarian/naturalist/writer from upstate New York.
Abbie’s essay eventually grew into a book. Immersion: The Science and Mystery of Freshwater Mussels was published in April 2017 by Island Press. “This is nature writing at its best,” said no less an authority than E.O. Wilson.
This dispatch for The By and By includes the following excerpt from the essay for which Abbie won our prize and audio of her reading from the new book.
By the time she graduated from Duke University last month, Danielle Mayes had become a very familiar presence at the Center for Documentary Studies, having taken numerous courses here in video, photography, multimedia production, and social change and activism. Danielle is tireless in her commitment to her vision, which she pursues with a technical felicity and exceptional creativity that opens up new space for considering black interiority and subjectivity. For these reasons and more, we nominated her for a Louis Sudler Prize in the Creative and Performing Arts—a prestigious annual prize at fourteen major universities, including Duke—and were not at all surprised when she won.
Danielle entered college as a filmmaker, but a black-and-white film photography course with one of our instructors, MJ Sharp, helped her rethink what that medium might allow her to explore. Under MJ’s mentorship during Danielle’s last two years at Duke, she produced a body of work that is astonishing in its range and innovation. A selection of images from one of her black-and-white series, and her related text, are featured in this story for The By and By.
Center for Documentary Studies audio director John Biewen launched our Scene on Radio podcast in 2015 with the goal of “exploring human experience and the society we’re making for ourselves in America.” It’s not easy to stand out and get noticed in the existing sea of podcasts, but Scene on Radio grew its listenership at a steady, respectable rate. Then, earlier this year, John rolled out a new series of episodes—and things got crazy. An example, among many: one of the world’s leading radio production companies tweeted, “Currently the best thing coming out of the U.S. podcast scene.” John describes it all in this story for The By and By. Note: Seeing White was nominated for a 2017 Peabody Award.
In the 1970s, there was a big push on the part of many journalists and scholars to ensure that the stories of people on the so-called bottom rail of history—women, members of the gay community, black and brown liberation movements, indigenous rights movements—were amplified and made accessible. Building and contextualizing those archives remains a vital part of what documentary work is across the world today.
In 2013, veteran civil rights activists of the SNCC (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) Legacy Project began a collaboration with the Center for Documentary Studies and Duke University Libraries. One of our hopes was that we could take that idea of “history from the bottom up” and add a new dimension. We wanted to engage in a horizontal partnership with those activists who had made the history to tell us what the history meant—so that they would help us contextualize and frame how they had undertaken to make the country hew more closely to its mission statement of liberty and justice for all.
A couple of years ago, Alex Harris and Margaret Sartor, both photographers and writers and longtime colleagues at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS), mentioned a book that they were working on about the house, and therefore the mind, of renowned Southern writer Reynolds Price. We were immediately intrigued.
Reynolds was an intimate friend of Alex and Margaret’s and a committed and early supporter of CDS, which Alex cofounded in 1989. Reynolds, a beloved teacher at Duke University for more than fifty years, lived in Durham, North Carolina, in a modest brick house surrounded by trees and quiet. The exterior of the house revealed little about its vibrant, sometimes nearly ecstatic, interior.
Since 2001, Chris Sims, my longtime friend and colleague at the Center for Documentary Studies, has been engaged in investigating, with a profound and insistent curiosity, American military ventures from the perspective of the home front. He photographed inside an army uniform factory and followed an army recruiter for a year—a project that led to Hearts and Minds, his ongoing series about nationwide recruitment events—before embarking on his ten-year-long project on the “pretend” Iraqi and Afghan villages pictured in Theater of War. These villages, built on the training grounds of U.S. Army bases, are situated in the deep forests of North Carolina and Louisiana, and in a vast expanse of desert near Death Valley in California. Each base features clusters of villages spread out over thousands of acres, in a pretend country known by a different name at each base: Talatha, Braggistan, or “Iraq.”
We teach, produce, and present the documentary arts—nonfiction audio, film/video, photography, writing, and experimental and new media. That’s a brief summation of all of the many activities, projects, and works of the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS).
As far as the teaching part, our students are all ages, from all backgrounds and levels of experience, and the works they produce range as far afield in terms of medium and subject matter. For this installment of The By and By, we’re focusing on film students from two of our programs—Continuing Education and the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival—and the videos that they produce that are set in North Carolina towns.
In my fifteen years participating in the selection of the Center for Documentary Studies’ Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize winner, no year was more provocative or satisfying than 2016. On the selection committee with me for our oldest award—a $10,000 prize given to artists whose ongoing documentary fieldwork projects rely on the interplay of words and images—were four people of African descent and more than twice as many white people. CDS is a predominantly white institution, though over the past four years, we have been hard at work to change this.
Among the submitted works for the Lange–Taylor Prize was a series of drawings of people of African descent, on brown paper bags, including fragments of text from their conversations with the artist, Steven M. Cozart. He interviewed family and friends from multiple generations, different genders, and life experiences. The sitters are animated, caught in conversation, in a basic palette of black, white, and shades of gray, with the brown of the bag bleeding through to skin tones. Text appears in a throwback typewriter font that adds graphic impact. We’d never chosen a non-photo winner before, but Steve’s work really pulled at me. The Durham, North Carolina native’s drawings for The Pass/Fail Seriesexplored classism and stereotyping within the African-American community, primarily around the issue of colorism. -Courtney Reid-Eaton
In 2016, Lauren Pond won our eighth biennial Center for Documentary Studies/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography for her photographic series documenting a family who handles serpents as one part of their religious practice. But there’s so much more to their lives, even as those lives, including Lauren’s, are shaped and altered by tragedy: Pastor Mack Wolford’s death from a snake bite. The work is full of both otherworldly light—the Edenic green of a service—and the ordinary light of everyday living, of working and tending to family and keeping the faith.
As Lauren says, “Back when I started photographing serpent handlers in 2011, I dreamt that my work would one day become a book, one that would provide a nuanced portrayal of this religious community, which I quickly grew to know and love, but which faced widespread derision and misunderstanding. Publishing a book became even more important to me after Mack Wolford's death, as I wanted to create something tangible for his family—something to help honor his life, beliefs, and legacy, as well as share our mutual story.”
A Report Full of Holes, A Little Commemorative Edition
We at the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) were so fortunate that our and C. D. Wright’s stars aligned several times over the last fifteen years. In 2000, she and photographer Deborah Luster won our tenth Lange-Taylor Prize for their collaboration One Big Self, which represented and rendered the lives of Louisiana inmates in photographs and words. A special publication here at CDS preceded a limited-edition book of photographs and text (Twin Palms Publishers) as well as a volume featuring C.D.’s text alone (Copper Canyon Press), which the New York Times Book Review described as “[doing] to the contemporary prison-industrial complex what James Agee did to poverty—it reacts passionately and lyrically (and idiosyncratically) to a sociopolitical abomination.” In an email, C.D. commented on the impact that winning the prize had on her and Deborah’s collaboration: “That was such a fabulous project, and it was such a boon to both Debbie and I for the effort. I assumed my part of it would be a disaster—prison poetry—almost doomed. But it was so engaging, and gave me a push into attempting the book about civil rights in the Arkansas Delta in 1969.”
That book was One With Others: [a little book of her days], and less than two months before C.D. passed away, we had the honor of welcoming her as a featured panelist at our twenty-fifth anniversary celebration and national documentary forum, where she gave a powerful reading from One With Others.