“I am frequently asked by people who have not seen my work why I spend my life documenting one simple place like Decatur County, Georgia. People confuse simple with small; they’re not the same thing. There are no simple places or simple lives. . . . . Life [in Decatur County] is like life everywhere, and I cannot think of a higher goal than understanding what we can of it.” —Paul Kwilecki, excerpted from his essay “Decatur County” in One Place.
Though he ranks among the most important American documentary photographers of the twentieth century, Paul Kwilecki is also one of the least well known. An exhibit of his work at the Center for Documentary Studies features selected photographs from a new book of the same name, One Place: Paul Kwilecki and Four Decades of Photographs from Decatur County, Georgia. (See slideshow below.) Edited and with an introduction by CDS director Tom Rankin and coedited by Iris Tillman Hill, One Place is published by the Center for Documentary Studies in partnership with the University of North Carolina Press.
Read “A Life Sold on Photography,” a story about One Place that appeared on Lens, the New York Times photography blog.
One Place exhibition
March 18–July 27, 2013 [run extended to October 5, 2013]
Juanita Kreps and Lyndhurst Galleries
Center for Documentary Studies
1317 W. Pettigrew Street, Durham, North Carolina
Paul Kwilecki was born and lived his entire life in Bainbridge, Georgia, running the family hardware store, raising a family, and teaching himself how to use a camera. Over four decades, he documented life in his community, making hundreds of masterful and intimate black-and-white prints. The self-taught artist developed his visual ideas in series of photographs of high school proms, prison hog killings, shade-tree tobacco farming, factory work, church life, the courthouse. “Decatur County is home,” Kwilecki said, “and I know it from my special warp, having been both nourished and wounded by it.”
Praise for One Place:
“One of the best and most important books to come from the South, ever….”
–Clyde Edgerton, writer, from a review in Garden & Gun
“One Place is a deep reflection on one artist’s tilling of the soil at the heart of home, but mostly, these words and images are about time, what lasts, what doesn’t.”
–Natasha Trethewey, U.S. Poet Laureate
“One Place is a masterpiece of documentary art.”
–Roger Hodge, editor-in-chief, Oxford American magazine
“There is something downright supernatural about Kwilecki’s accomplishment. . . .It is a monumental chronicle of the real, messy, complicated, redeemed and redeeming American spirit.”
–Randall Kenan, author of Walking on Water: Black American Lives at the Turn of the Twenty-First Century
“Paul Kwilecki’s photographs and writings, and Tom Rankin’s introduction, offer evidence of a masterful visual drama of life in the South.”
–Deborah Willis, photographer, author of Posing Beauty and Reflections in Black
“As full of riches as Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha County, Kwilecki’s sustained portrayal of Decatur County is an American classic.”
–Alec Soth, photographer, author of From Here to There: Alec Soth’s America