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Eudora Welty, Sunday Morning (early 1930s)

 

 
       
 

 Eudora Welty

   
 

The Transient Moment

   

 

  

 

In his 1949 extended essay, Here is New York, E. B. White famously said that there are three New Yorks: the New York of the natives who give the city its "continuity," the New York of commuters who give it its "restlessness," and the third New York - the city of those who come from elsewhere on a quest.  To him it was this last New York that was the greatest - the idea of the city as a goal that gave the city its "high strung disposition, its poetical deportment, its dedication to the arts, and its incomparable achievements."  Eudora Welty stopped for a while in New York, and brought with her the eyes of an outsider….

Eudora Welty was a Southerner by birth who came to New York in 1930 to attend Columbia Business School.  She returned South the following year, and spent several years as a junior publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration, photographing people in rural Mississippi and the way the Depression marked their lives.  In 1936, she exhibited her Mississippi photographs at the galleries of Lugene Opticians in New York.

The photographs from the Lugene show as well as her New York City photographs, taken around 1935, are currently on view at the Museum of the City of New York's exhibit Eudora Welty in New York: Photographs of the Early 1930s.  They offer a glimpse into Depression-era America, both rural and big city, through a writer's eyes for subtlety and nuance.  In Sunday Morning, an African-American girl in her Sunday best holds a black umbrella at an angle. The umbrella is no dainty parasol - it is large, a grown-up's, and perhaps protects her from the sun for it is not raining.  The photograph is beautifully composed, a tentative hopefulness in the eyes and smile of the child.  Welty's New York photographs are conscious of architecture and urbanity. In Outdoor Stairway, New York, one looks down through the wrought iron staircase of an elevated subway line.  A man in a hat walks past a sign which reads 'United Cigar' - Welty captures the city's evanescent beauty in a moment of quiet repose.

Welty went on to become 'the First Lady of Southern Literature,' for her short stories and novels, and received a Pulitzer Prize for her 1973 novel The Optimist's Daughter.  She died in 2001 at the age of 92. 

She said of her photography, which she gave up after leaving behind her camera on a bench in Paris in the 1950s: "… a camera could catch that fleeting moment, which is what a short story, in all its depth, tries to do. If it's sensitive enough, it catches the transient moment."   

 

See: Eudora Welty in New York: Photographs of the Early 1930s

Tags: paris  photography

 

 

 

Eudora Welty
Outdoor Stairway, 
New York
(c.1935)

       
 

 
       
     

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