Dreams and Premonitions: The Haunting Collaborations of Wendy Ewald | News Feature | Indy Week
Pin It

Dreams and Premonitions: The Haunting Collaborations of Wendy Ewald 

For more than 30 years, Durham resident Wendy Ewald has been working with children to create artwork of stark beauty and deep insight. She has collaborated with children in Mexico, South Africa, the Netherlands, India, and Durham, N.C. A retrospective of these works, Secret Games: Collaborative Work with Children 1969-1999, is opening at the Corcoran Museum of Art in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 19.

Ewald's work extends an idea initially offered by James Agee in Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, when he described his collaboration with Walker Evans: "The photographs are not illustrative. They, and the text, are coequal, mutually independent, and fully collaborative." Ewald's early work was a unique collaboration. As a photographer-teacher in rural Kentucky, she developed long-term relations with her student artists, some of whom produced works of startling originality, beauty and terror. These works from 1975-1982 mark a revolutionary shift in photography and writing, yet they're drawn from old mountain traditions. Telling stories that cross artistic traditions and wander through a routinely grotesque world, these are works of "dreams and premonitions."

Her collaborations with two children in particular haunt us: Denise Dixon and Johnny. Dixon wrote the stories and directed the photography for her pieces, while Johnny and Ewald's work was a more complicated collaboration. Dixon's dreams present her as Dolly Parton, a Marilyn Monroe-like snake-handler, and a fancy dancer reaching wildly for the "Red Star sky." Her premonitions employ her younger twin brothers to enact stories of mystery and murder. All are narrative moments that drop us into the middle of a Faulknerian short story.

Johnny's story draws you deep into the poverty of the mountains without once letting you think that he's impoverished. As he tells it, his family narrative is as rich as any famous writer's description might tell it: "Uncle Herbert, he's dead. Cancer killed him. One time he was working for somebody when he was about 12 and he was cutting a juice wire. When he jerked back, he cut his eyeball right through. He just pulled it out and went on. I got a picture of him holding me in his arms."

Ewald's photos of Johnny, his brother Charles, and their home, were staged by Johnny but shot by Ewald. We look at Charles hog-tied with some writing on his back--the kind you find on school desks and in notebooks declaring who loves whom. We see Charles hanging over quilts strung on a line, holding a small caliber revolver. Charles and Johnny pretend to fight in an image that could also be an embrace. Finally we come to a picture of Johnny and Charles sitting like gifts before a Christmas tree, underscoring the gifts that we as spectators have been given in the previous images.

Ewald is the director of the Center for Documentary Studies' Literacy Through Photography Project and artist-in-residence at Duke's John Hope Franklin Center. She has recently produced a book, I Wanna Take Me a Picture: Teaching Photography and Writing to Children, and will have an exhibition at the North Carolina Museum of Art in 2003. EndBlock

Kathy Hudson is Exhibitions Coordinator at Duke University's John Hope Franklin Center. She ran partobject gallery in Carrboro with her brother, Diego Cortez.

More by Rob Sikorski

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

INDY Week publishes all kinds of comments, but we don't publish everything.

  • Comments that are not contributing to the conversation will be removed.
  • Comments that include ad hominem attacks will also be removed.
  • Please do not copy and paste the full text of a press release.

Permitted HTML:
  • To create paragraphs in your comment, type <p> at the start of a paragraph and </p> at the end of each paragraph.
  • To create bold text, type <b>bolded text</b> (please note the closing tag, </b>).
  • To create italicized text, type <i>italicized text</i> (please note the closing tag, </i>).
  • Proper web addresses will automatically become links.

Latest in News Feature



Twitter Activity

Comments

A couple of typos/errors:

It's the "North American Soccer League," not the "National American Soccer League."

The Charlotte …

by Chuck Givens on North Carolina FC Has Come a Long Way in Two Years. But Is Raleigh Ready to Be an MLS Town? (News Feature)

Let's imagine these Icon prisoners that do have stimuli; being cuffed to the rear with handcuffs too tight,
summer heat …

by John Wong on What life is like in solitary confinement at North Carolina's Central Prison (News Feature)

Most Read

Most Recent Comments

A couple of typos/errors:

It's the "North American Soccer League," not the "National American Soccer League."

The Charlotte …

by Chuck Givens on North Carolina FC Has Come a Long Way in Two Years. But Is Raleigh Ready to Be an MLS Town? (News Feature)

Let's imagine these Icon prisoners that do have stimuli; being cuffed to the rear with handcuffs too tight,
summer heat …

by John Wong on What life is like in solitary confinement at North Carolina's Central Prison (News Feature)

Get real Rebekah. If you are here illegally you do not have the rights associated with legality. Certainly the inability …

by adnan pitrian on What rights do undocumented immigrants have when they become crime victims? (News Feature)

Aqua America Water is getting ready to be held responsible for their actions which are beyond the pale. This company …

by Quancidine Hinson on Why Aqua NC customers are furious about their service (News Feature)

Dude is a rich white man who could afford good representation. What about the truly innocent people who can't access …

by Jane Doh on After Fifteen Years, the Michael Peterson Case Concludes But Provides Little Closure (News Feature)

© 2017 Indy Week • 320 E. Chapel Hill St., Suite 200, Durham, NC 27701 • phone 919-286-1972 • fax 919-286-4274
RSS Feeds | Powered by Foundation