Trust and Intimacy

Not long out of college in the 1930s and well before she became an acclaimed short story writer and Pulitzer Prize winner, Eudora Welty, who died on July 23 at age 92, worked as a publicity agent for the Works Progress Administration. Her duties included visiting remote corners of her native Mississippi distributing books to eager hands, putting up booths in county fairs and interviewing local dignitaries. Before long the eldest child of a Jackson, Mississippi, insurance executive had begun carrying a camera, taking pictures of the mostly poor, black people she encountered (published in 1971 as One Time, One Place). "I was never questioned or avoided," she recalled in 1989. "There was no self-consciousness on either side. I just spoke to persons on the street and said, ‘Do you mind if I take this picture?’ And they didn’t care. There was no sense of violation of anything on either side." Certainly, there was no such sense in the undated photograph of a young Jackson woman taking her leisure that Welty called Saturday Off. Nor in the 1929 photograph of the Sunday School class at Jackson’s Liberal Trinity Church of God in Christ. The words Welty wrote in her introduction to One Time, One Place still ring true: "In taking...these pictures, I was attended, I now know, by an angel—a presence of trust. In particular, the photographs of black persons by a white person may not testify soon again to such intimacy. It is trust that dates the pictures now, more than the vanished years."

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