Durham Then and Now: See Yourself in the Image Machine

Durham Then and Now: See Yourself in the Image Machine

Tom Whiteside

August 13 – 24, 2013

This exhibition takes historic images of Durham and puts them through new paces. It’s a rehearsal for the future.

Three motion pictures serve as inspiration and source material for this show – the Durham “Movies of Local People” made by H. Lee Waters in 1937, “Tobacco Land USA” made by March of Time in 1939, and “Negro Durham Marches On” made by Don Parisher in 1948. The first catches people candidly on the street, the second looks at work on a tobacco farm and in a cigarette factory, and the third shows Hayti at a high point, after the war and before the freeway. Consider the people who lived in Durham during that time – if you told them that Durham would still be here in 2013 but there would be no tobacco and there would be no Hayti, it would have been highly unlikely that they could imagine that future. That impossible future is our present. How could Durham change so much and still be Durham? The only answer I have to offer is simple but true – “Life is like that.”

One hundred years ago the 1200 electric lights of the short-lived “slogan sign” proclaimed that Durham was “Renowned the World Around” and further boasted of “Health, Wealth, Success, Progress.” The sign was atop a three story building on the corner of Church and Main, you would see it from the train as you pulled into town. When we look at historical images, do we fully understand how they reflect and refract their times? How do image machines work – how did they work THEN and how do they work NOW? What is it about our future that will prove impossible to predict?

Tom Whiteside is a filmmaker and film historian and is the founding director of Durham Cinematheque. He has been creating and exhibiting visual art for 35 years, mostly in film, video and photography.


Artist’s Talk and Opening Reception: Friday, August 16, 6 – 9 pm during Third Friday Durham

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