8/24/2008 - Encounters: Photographs By Kathryn Tucker Windham - The Birmingham News

Kathryn Tucker Windham's wit, insight revealed in photos

Wisdom has many faces. The photographs of Kathryn Tucker Windham reflect a folksy wisdom in the studies she captures on film.

For those who saw Windham's recent exhibition at the Birmingham Museum of Art, this gallery show is something of a reprise. But it is also an expansion on her gentle insights of life in the Deep South. These visual essays span more than 60 years of observing family, friends, neighbors and occasionally strangers who move through her world.

  She began her career as a picture taker with an original Brownie camera. Young Kathryn received her first camera as a promotional gift from the fledgling Kodak company, which was trying to give everyone the picture-taking bug. The success of that effort is a matter of record to be found in every attic, basement and storage room containing photo albums of long forgotten ancestors.

Windham's photographs are a constant tug of the memory. We see old men just sitting, silent as the concrete bench and table they occupy. Ladies with rakes and brooms clean the grounds of a small cemetery. Windham captures the lazy-day pastimes of a group of men playing dominoes on C.C. Bess' general store porch and a family picnic on the grassy bank of a river. A pair of ancient Civil War veterans and "Uncle Hiram Davis," a wonderful study of an old man born a slave and whose memory is as tattered as his clothes, serve as reminiscences.

It became a quiet passion that companioned the photographer's unique literary skills. Windham wrote for a small-town newspaper and graduated to writing delightful ghost stories and becoming a much sought-after speaker. Her keen insights, wit and ability to shape words into memorable experiences find an honest extension in the visual essays found in her photography.

For those who missed her recent BMA show, and those who are devoted admirers of her writings and photography, and above all, those who have not yet fallen under the spell of her homily and magical insights, this is a show to see.

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