Whether wielding a pen or a camera lens, Eudora Welty knew how to tell a story. Before she became a Pulitzer Prize-winning writer, she took a job with the Works Progress Administration in 1935, traveling throughout rural Mississippi to photograph daily life. The images she captured would eventually inspire characters in the short stories that made her a fixture on library shelves around the world. Through September 3, the North Carolina Museum of Art is displaying eighteen of those early photos in its exhibition, Looking South: Photographs by Eudora Welty.
Toward the end of her life, Welty donated her WPA photographs and others to the Mississippi Department of Archives and History. “In 1992, the department asked if she would produce this portfolio,” says Linda Dougherty, the chief curator, of the images shown in the exhibit. “Welty looked back at her work and curated what she thought were her most iconic pictures. She picked the negatives and even oversaw the printing process.”
Welty’s portraits—of farmers, churchgoers, porch sitters, and sharecroppers—reveal the same quality as her writing: an extraordinary ability to empathize with people from all walks of life. “The grace and dignity [Welty] afforded her subjects, by the very act of making them the subjects of her work, in a time of Jim Crow, is remarkable,” says Durham-based writer and educator Mara Shurgot, who led a writing workshop earlier this month at the museum, using the photographs as prompts for her students. Whether you seek inspiration or just a look through the eyes of one of the South’s most beloved figures, make a trip to Raleigh before Labor Day Weekend.