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William Ferris, Cold Watermelon Vendor, Leland, Mississippi from the series The South in Color, 1976 (printed 2018). Archival pigment print on Hahnemühle FineArt Baryta paper, 12 7/8 × 19 3/8 inches (32.66 × 49.23 cm). Collection of the Nasher Museum of Art at Duke University. Gift of William Ferris, 2019.14.2. © William Ferris.

Recently on view in the Nasher Museum exhibition Across County Lines: Contemporary Photography from the Piedmont, this photograph captures a scene from the artist’s home state, Mississippi, during the last quarter of the 20th century. William Ferris began his photography career with a Kodak Brownie Hawkeye camera as a teenager and continues to this day. As the artist stated in his 2016 publication The South in Color: A Visual Journal, in which this image is published: “These photographs document my work as a folklorist and my life as a southerner…. They reflect my ambivalent relationship with both beautiful and haunting worlds that always surround me. My photographs reflect that tension as they engage the region with a knowing, unflinching eye… Having grown up on a farm in rural Mississippi, I feel the South’s power and presence in deep, intimate ways.”
Taken in color, a format unusual for this period of documentary photography, the images of this series capture both beautiful and troubling scenes of life in rural Mississippi. William Ferris is a recently retired professor of history at UNC-Chapel Hill and an adjunct professor in the Curriculum in Folklore. He was also associate director of the Center for the Study of the American South and is widely recognized as a leader in Southern studies, African American music and folklore. He is a 2019 Grammy-winning scholar and former chairman for the National Endowment for the Humanities. Ferris’s photographs are in the collections of the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, New Orleans; Mississippi Museum of Art, Jackson; Beinecke Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Yale University, New Haven, CT; and the Southern Folklife Collection, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, among others.

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