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May 29: Photographer of Appalachia

May 31, 2013

face_APhotographer Doris Ulmann, a member of the Pictorial Photographers of America who created moving and dignified portraits of mountain people of Appalachia and the Gullah people of the South Sea Islands, was born in New York on this date in 1882. Ulmann was a product of the Ethical Culture Fieldston School and the Clarence H. White School of Modern Photography, which also graduated Margaret Bourke-White, Anne Brigman, Dorothea Lange, and other notable women in her field. Her early work included portraits of prominent intellectuals, artists and writers, including John Dewey, Lillian Gish, Martha Graham, Sinclair Lewis, Anna Pavlova, Paul Robeson, and William Butler Yeats. In 1932 Ulmann began her best-known work, documenting Appalachian folk arts and crafts and their creators for Allen Eaton’s landmark book, Handicrafts of the Southern Highlands. She died only two years later; a large body of her photographs were developed and printed posthumously. The University of Oregon is the prime repository of her work, and numerous museums, including the Smithsonian and the J. Paul Getty Museum, include her photographs in their art collections.

“A face that has the marks of having lived intensely, that expresses some phase of life, some dominant quality or intellectual power, constitutes for me an interesting face. For this reason the face of an older person, perhaps not beautiful in the strictest sense, is usually more appealing than the face of a younger person who has scarcely been touched by life.” —Doris Ulmann

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