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Capturing the SouthImagining America's Most Documented Region$
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Scott L. Matthews

Print publication date: 2018

Print ISBN-13: 9781469646459

Published to North Carolina Scholarship Online: September 2019

DOI: 10.5149/northcarolina/9781469646459.001.0001

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Protesting the Privilege of Perception

Protesting the Privilege of Perception

Resistance to Documentary Work in Hale County, Alabama, 1900–2010

(p.194) Chapter Five Protesting the Privilege of Perception
Capturing the South

Scott L. Matthews

University of North Carolina Press

This chapter explores how Hale County, Alabama became an iconic site of documentary representation during the twentieth century and why some its poor black and white residents resisted the attempts of documentarians to turn their private lives into public symbols. The chapter begins by examining the collaboration between two local white documentarians, amateur folklorist and poet, Martha Young and photographer J.W. Otts, who recorded the lives and customs of Hale County’s rural black people in the early 1900s. It focuses on Young’s dialect poems that speak from the perspective of black women who refused to be photographed by whites and who saw photography as an exploitative medium. Next, the chapter demonstrates how this narrative and tradition of resistance to documentary continued during the 1930s. It explores the resistance writer James Agee and photographer Walker Evans faced in the 1930s from some of the white tenant families they documented for their book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and it shows how their descendants often found new ways to resist documentarians and journalists in succeeding decades. These acts of resistance transformed poor black and white residents into actors rather than just icons in the documentary process.

Keywords:   Hale County, Alabama, documentary, resistance, Martha Young, dialect poems, photography, James Agee, Walker Evans, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men

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