From what to cook for dinner to what color to paint a room, Instagram provides a wealth of visual inspiration. For E. Watson Brown, it inspired a second act. The retired Tarrboro, North Carolina, city planner started an account, @planterboy, on the social media platform to pursue a passion for photography.
“After thirty years of working with the public, I joyfully retired in 2004,” Brown says. “Around 2010 and back on the farm in eastern North Carolina, I was going stir crazy. Historic preservation had always been a love of mine, so I started my photography to document old buildings and anything unique I found on the back roads of the region. I wanted to get pictures of significant things before they were gone.”
Watson’s photographs—of houses, out-buildings, streetscapes, porches, and more—are documents of structures lost to time in various ways (including the occasional kudzu attack), but still rich in history and architectural detail. They call to mind the work of Richard Sexton, who also finds melancholy beauty in timeworn buildings. And they illustrate the sheer diversity of architectural styles across the Old North State, from high-Victorian Queen Anne cottages to Greek Revival manor houses, even sharecropper cabins and ramshackle beach houses.
Watson photographs with a digital point-and-shoot Nikon and sometimes uses overlays to enhance colors for a painterly effect. He always asks permission to photograph and he returns to the same areas often. “I find a lot more really old buildings and things from the past in the northernmost counties, like Halifax, Warren, Edgecombe, Hertford, Chowan, and Perquimans and along the sounds, like Hyde and Washington,” Brown says.
Click through the slideshow below for a sampling of Brown’s shots, along with North Carolina counties where they were documented. Follow Watson on Instagram, and message him directly if you’re interested in purchasing a print.