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Title: Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, November 6, 2003. Interview O-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Electronic Edition.
Author: Barnes, Billy E., interviewee
Interview conducted by Gritter, Elizabeth
Funding from the Institute of Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this interview.
Text encoded by Jennifer Joyner
Sound recordings digitized by Aaron Smithers Southern Folklife Collection
First edition, 2008
Size of electronic edition: 180 Kb
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
2008.
© This work is the property of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. It may be used freely by individuals for research, teaching and personal use as long as this statement of availability is included in the text.
The electronic edition is a part of the UNC-Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2008-00-00, Celine Noel, Wanda Gunther, and Kristin Martin revised TEIHeader and created catalog record for the electronic edition.
2008-01-04, Jennifer Joyner finished TEI-conformant encoding and final proofing.
Source(s):
Title of recording: Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, November 6, 2003. Interview O-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series O. Foundation History. Southern Oral History Program Collection (O-0038)
Author: Elizabeth Gritter
Title of transcript: Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, November 6, 2003. Interview O-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Title of series: Series O. Foundation History. Southern Oral History Program Collection (O-0038)
Author: Billy E. Barnes
Description: 289 Mb
Description: 55 p.
Note: Interview conducted on November 6, 2003, by Elizabeth Gritter; recorded in Chapel Hill, North Carolina.
Note: Transcribed by Elizabeth Gritter.
Note: Forms part of: Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007): Series O. Foundation History, Manuscripts Department, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
Note: Original transcript on deposit at the Southern Historical Collection, The Wilson Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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Interview with Billy E. Barnes, November 6, 2003.
Interview O-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007)
Barnes, Billy E., interviewee


Interview Participants

    BILLY E. BARNES, interviewee
    ELIZABETH GRITTER, interviewer

[TAPE 1, SIDE A]


Page 1
[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
This is Elizabeth Gritter. I'm recording an interview with Billy Barnes at his home in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, on November 6, 2003. [Barnes and Gritter chat about recording equipment.]
BILLY E. BARNES:
So how do you want to start?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Well, like I e-mailed you, it seems like an under-explored angle of the Fund is discussions about the photography and so I'm really curious about that. I've been doing some reading on photography. So just sort of focusing the interview around that. [Gritter motions to a scrapbook of Barnes.] I saw that, yeah, there's a lot about the radio controversy in that scrapbook that I think will be useful. So I thought that would be a good starting point. I wouldn't be surprised if the whole interview is just about photography. So, I was wondering how you got interested in photography.

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BILLY E. BARNES:
Gee. I think I first got interested in photography when I was traveling with the Marine Corps here and there. I couldn't afford a decent camera. My wife gave me a camera that her family had had, and I carried it around with me until it literally fell apart. It fell into pieces one day while I was aboard a ship. I knew that it couldn't be fixed. I knew that I couldn't afford to have it fixed. So, I took the film out of it and dumped it in the ocean. But I still had the interest.
When I was in school—. When I came back from the Marine Corps and my wife and I decided it would be a good idea for me to finish college. I had completed one year before going in. We had one child by then, and we literally couldn't find a place to live in Chapel Hill because this place was flooded with Korean War veterans. We couldn't find housing. So, I decided to move to Greensboro and go to Guilford College for a quarter. They were on a quarter system then. And so I did. We did. While I was in Greensboro, I really got the photo bug. I managed to buy a little camera. It was really a hard camera mechanically but it had very good optics. I went to the Greensboro Library and I read every book they had—which was a lot—I read every book and magazine that they had on the subject. When I got to Chapel Hill, I didn't have quite as much time when I was here because I had three part-time jobs. But I continued my interest in photography and read the stuff at the library every chance I got.
So when I finished school and went to work for McGraw-Hill Publishing Company as a magazine writer, I had an incredible amount of head knowledge. I just didn't have a camera that was a professional level camera. So one day I had an assignment out in New Jersey. I don't remember exactly what the assignment was. I said to my editor, "Look, I know the magazine owns a really nice [unknown] camera. I want you to

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give me some film and the camera and let me see whether I can illustrate this story. Then you won't have to hire a photographer to go out and do the pictures. If my pictures stink, then all you've lost is the cost of a roll of film." He said, "Well, sure." So, I went out there with all this head knowledge and no experience and shot that assignment. The pictures—they were not wonderful—but they were useable. So, the magazine used them. From then on, I illustrated all my own stuff almost always.
Then, a year later when I left New York and was transferred to Atlanta to work for the same company in their news bureau, we were their eyes and ears—we were McGraw-Hill magazines's eyes and ears in the Southeast. We covered seven states, I think it was. I bought some photographic gear of my own and started shooting all of my own stuff. I was very popular with the editor because my writing was fine but.the fact that they didn't have to hire a photographer to go with me everywhere I went was very appealing to the editor of these magazines because every three or four hundred dollars you can save is three or four hundred dollars profit. So, I got a lot of experience during that five years in Atlanta and one year in New York.
So, in '64, when I moved here to Chapel Hill from Atlanta, I said to George Esser, when I came up for an interview, "One of the things that I'm interested in doing should you hire me or should I want to be hired—if we're able to make a deal. One of the things I am really interested in doing is some documentary photography of what are the problems and what is this organization trying to do about them. So, as I told you earlier, George fully agreed that I would be able to do that and that I would be able to do that on the North Carolina Fund's nickel. Now, they never bought me any equipment. I did buy with my budget a camera for some members of my staff to use when they were going

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places that I didn't have time to go. But, I used all my own equipment during that time. George Esser never complained about the time or the money I spent for film and lab work and all that.
He not only never complained, he highly approved of the fact that I was building a photo library. We had journalists come in early in the quote War on Poverty years. We had journalists come in especially from places on the East Coast. We had a guy come in from the Wall Street Journal. The Ford Foundation frequently sent journalists down to—. Because we were their grantee, they sent journalists down to see what was going on in the War on Poverty in North Carolina. We got a lot of attention from the Charlotte newspapers because their editor was on our board, a guy named Pete McKnight. When they would come to do a piece, I would always have more photography in the file than they needed. [Barnes points to a folder of newspaper clippings on the North Carolina Fund.] If you look through these clippings and my personal library of Fund stuff in the Southern Historical Collection, you'll see that those pictures used over and over again. I won't say because they were magnificent pictures. Part of it was because they were there. They were there, and they did the job that was needed by publications. So, they came to be published very widely during that period.
I think I told you about the guy from the Library of Congress [who] called me. By the way, I remembered—. The last time we talked, we talked about—. I told you what amuses me about what a big deal I—. It didn't make me feel like a big deal. Really, it made me feel very humble to be included when the Smithsonian put together an exhibit on the War on Poverty. They used one or two or three of my photographs. They printed a little guide to the exhibit. They printed zillions of them and sent me half a dozen. My

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name was right under Margaret Bourke-White who is one of the half dozen most famous American photographers in all of history. Because the photographers were listed alphabetically, my name came just before Margaret Bourke-White's, which tickled me and made me feel very humble to be in such company. And a guy from the Library of Congress called and asked whether I would send a selection of my photographs for possible inclusion in a permanent portfolio. So, I kept shooting and amassed this incredible 30 to 40,000 [unknown] bunch of photographs which are now in the North Carolina Collection.
Since the Fund went out of business, I have sold those photographs—which are now copyrighted in my name—from time to time but the older they get the more in demand they seem to be. Actually, the first ten or fifteen years, there really was very little interest in them. I think that was partly because the media was so focused on the Vietnam War. The War on Poverty was ancient history, and something that went out of vogue when Lyndon Johnson said he wasn't going to run again. So, that's a long answer to the way I kind of metamorphosed into having photography be just as important to me both income-wise and aesthetic-wise as writing was. Actually, I was first hired out of college as a magazine writer. I've done an enormous amount of writing since then, some of which went along with my photography and some of which didn't. I've done a good bit of photography that didn't go with a story I had written. But, probably half of the time, it was a package of photographs and words.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
These photo essays—was that when you were at McGraw Hill and after you left too? When were you doing the pictures? I didn't express myself very clearly. You said the writing and the photography so that when you were at McGraw Hill you were

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able to do both and you illustrated your stories with the pictures and you did that obviously with the North Carolina with the newsletters and you did that after the Fund as well? Writing—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yes. Yes.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
And who was that—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Not on the same subject.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Right.
BILLY E. BARNES:
I did some travel writing for various travel magazines. And, I did a whole lot of—. For some reason or other, I've always been interested in business. I've never wanted to be really involved in it. But I've always been interested in business, especially in manufacturing. I think this came from my McGraw Hill experience. Most of the magazines I worked for at McGraw Hill had to do with making something. I really liked to see machines and people doing stuff and making stuff especially if it was stuff that was really useful or really good to eat—worthwhile stuff. I covered mining stories and saw mining machines at work. I remember doing stories on a Lay's Potato Chip plant there just outside of Atlanta. You might think making potato chips would be boring but putting potato chips in a bag and blowing it up with air so that the bag is stiff enough so that the potato chips aren't in little bitty pieces by the time they get in your kitchen—that requires a very intricate machine. Things like that interested me although I have no mechanical ability whatsoever. I admire seeing interesting gadgets that work.
Because of that interest and the ability I developed to write about business and manufacturing, I have written a lot of stores and done a lot of photography in American industry. I was a consultant for I-B-M for sixteen years in the '90s, in the '80s. There

Page 7
were times when I worked 100 percent of my time for them. I never was employed by them. I was always a freelancer. I always illustrated my own stories in that respect. I worked for other companies. I did some work for the Goodyear Corporation. So that was kind of carry over of my experience not with the North Carolina Fund but with the McGraw-Hill Publishing Company.
I did some construction stories. I love construction because I like to be outdoors. How really big buildings are put together always interested me. The people in the construction business—. The construction business is the last great crapshoot in American business and industry because you're dealing with the weather and you're dealing with—. The construction business, the onsite work, is still run largely by people who never spent a day in college. They're gruff, muscular men who worked their way up through and through the construction business and learned it on the job. They're just fascinating people. It's a great piece of Americana to spend the day with a construction stiff, you know. So, I loved the construction work. Okay, next question.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
So that after the North Carolina Fund you did freelance work—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah, I did everything. I did business and I did travel. The only thing I didn't do much of—. I never but once or twice had an advertising shoot. I just didn't shoot that kind of picture. I now have a collection, including the North Carolina Fund stuff, of about 120,000 photographs. Well, I forgot to say that during the '70s I was Time magazine's—what they call a stringer—freelancer in North Carolina. I remember shooting the Vietnam peace protests and the tail end of the Black Power Movement—protests and marches. I shot a lot of pictures of college professors who had written books

Page 8
that were being reviewed in Time magazine and Jesse Helms's campaigns for the Senate and all kinds of stuff.
I ran into a problem in the '70s. The magazine world at that time was making the transition from being illustrated by all black and white photographs to all color photographs. But there was a time about six years in between, in the middle of that transition, when every assignment I got from Time magazine, I had to shoot in both black and white and color. Well, that drives you nuts. It means to begin with you have to carry two cameras: one loaded with black and white film and one loaded with color. Well, they shoot at different film speeds. I was always grabbing the wrong camera in the heat of the moment when something was happening that I didn't want to miss. Grabbing the wrong camera even though I had them labeled on top where I could read it. I would grab the wrong camera and shoot the picture at the wrong exposure. It was a mess. Also, I didn't know how to shoot color because I had never shot any color. Everything I shot for the North Carolina Fund and everything I shot for McGraw-Hill before that for six years was in black and white because magazine editors weren't interested in color. They were interested in it but the technology hadn't advanced to where it was an affordable thing to do. [unknown] So, I had to re-learn how to shoot photographs. Not how to compose them, it's the same—the composition is the same. But how to light a picture for color is an entirely different problem. For one thing it takes five times as much light to shoot a good color picture as it does a black and white picture. So, I had to go back to first base and re-learn a lot of stuff about photography when I started having to learn to shoot color. But nowadays I don't shoot anything but color. I haven't shot a roll of black and white film in about six years. So, that probably was my adventures in the world of photography.

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I also found that I used to—. When I had cheaper cameras because I couldn't afford the best that money can buy, if I screwed up an assignment, I could always say, "Well, you know, if I had a better camera, I could be just as good as Henri Cartier-Bresson." But then I got the best camera money can buy, and I still wasn't as good as the great American and European photographers. So, I had no excuse, see. So that took all my excuses away. So, I had nothing to blame it on but me if they weren't up to par. But, anyway, I have really enjoyed photography.
I am a rarity in that I never enjoyed lab work. I've developed two rolls of film in my life, and I screwed both of them up. When I was at Mc-Graw Hill, I quickly came to the conclusion that I am not psychologically-equipped to spend long hours at midnight in a smelly room full of chemicals sticking my hands into acid. There are so many good labs around the country that can process film for a reasonable price that I—. After I went into freelance where I had to pay my own bills, I realized that the money, the income, is in the shooting of the picture—not in the lab work. Aesthetically, if I had been a real artist, I would have insisted on doing my own lab work because all great photographers do. But I just didn't want to do it. For one thing, I didn't have here in my home, where my office has always been, a place to do it. You know, it's environmentally nasty, it smells bad, and it requires a whole lot of plumbing. So, I have shipped out stuff all of my photographic life to labs to have it done.
Now, God has smiled upon me and allowed me to live long enough to have a digital camera that shoots just as good a picture as a film camera. So, I haven't bought a roll of film of any kind in the last three or four years. That's very emancipating to be able to—. When I was shooting color film, exclusively, eight years ago, every time my

Page 10
index finger pushed on that shutter button, I had spent a dollar—for film, lab work—for the whole schmear—travel to and from the lab, Federal Express to the lab and back. I had spent a dollar. Now, I can shoot all day, and I haven't spent a dime. I don't have to go to the lab. I don't have to ship any film out. I don't have to worry about whether the film got hot in the trunk of my car. It's so emancipating to be able to shoot all you want for all the angles you want, and it doesn't cost you a dime. So the age of digital photography I look on much as I did the age of word processing. When I got a computer, my first computer, about twenty years ago, I had bought my last bottle of Snopaque. Young people your age probably don't even know what Snopaque is. It's called white out. Its generic name is white out. You know what white out is?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Uh huh.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Okay. Well, writing a twelve-page magazine article used to be—. Really it was such an onerous task because if you decided after your first draft, [unknown] if you decided at the last minute that you wanted to change something on page eight and put in a new paragraph, it meant you had to re-type eight, nine, ten, eleven, and twelve. The second draft was just agony. If you spotted a place where—. If you wanted a nice manuscript for an editor you'd never worked with before, you wanted to make a real professional impression, you would find a place where you would not capitalize something that needed to be capitalized. So, you're in there with this nasty white stuff, this white-out goop, making a real nasty mess of the page. And, you'd say, "Oh, I need to re-type that page because I'm trying to make a good impression." It was just painful. Word processing took all of the drudgery—all of the drudgery—out of it and left the fun part. I love to write but I didn't like to re-write. I didn't like the Snopaque routine and to

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do all that retyping. So, there's a tandem here in my mind and in my heart. I appreciate having lived long enough to see word processing and digital photography come into flower.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
You shot 35 mm—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
For the North Carolina Fund?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Okay. So, you're a self-taught photographer.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yes, absolutely.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
You've never had any training in photography?
BILLY E. BARNES:
I think I went one time to what's called a Nikon school. It's a one-day workshop that they bring around all over the country. That's the only formal training that I can ever remember having. It was very helpful. But, yeah, most everything else I learned I learned from making mistakes. I've written an [unknown] book and self published it about five years ago. It was called "101 Ways to Make your Photographs Sing." What I did was I made it into a compendium of all the things I learned by messing up. I also taught a short course for about twelve years at Duke, either once or twice a year in Duke continuing education. Most of it was stuff I had learned the hard way that I wished somebody had taught me. I based the book on my course. My course was an eight-hour course in two sessions on Saturdays. Yeah, I was self taught—about half through reading and about half through making mistakes and trying not to repeat them.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
What do you like about photography?

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BILLY E. BARNES:
I like to—. I love to look at people. I mean what's more interesting than people? It's been a great mystery to me why as a society we are forbidden to look at people unless we're talking to them. You get on a bus or subway or train and if you look at somebody that you find interesting looking, you know, somebody may slap you or call a cop. And yet there's nothing more interesting—squirrels, [unknown], sunsets—there's nothing more interesting than people to look at. Now, I didn't think this through. I didn't think I'll become a photographer so I can get paid for looking at people. But you'll find that 98 percent of my photographs have people in them. Photographers get to stare at people without getting slapped or thrown in jail or having resentment formed about what they're doing. I like to look at people, and I think, psychologically, that is one way of compensating for that.
Another thing I like about photography is that it satisfies a creative urge I've always had. I've always wanted to be able to draw. I almost—. Except for a little bit of cartooning, I have no drawing ability whatsoever. I have no drafting ability. I have a friend who went all the way through school with me who from about the third grade had more drafting ability than the average 40-year-old graphic artist. I mean that little sucker could draw anything and it would look like something that you saw in a magazine. I was so jealous. I really think that one reason that I felt compelled to learn something like photography is because I wanted to be able to record images and I couldn't write, I couldn't draw, I couldn't paint. So, that's kind of an oblique answer to your question.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Why did you use photography to such an extent in promoting the North Carolina Fund and doing the work of the Public Information Department as opposed to doing more press releases or more films or other means of communication?

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BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, partly, because it's something I really felt I like knew how to do because of my McGraw-Hill experience and my general photographic experience. But I justified it—the expense and the time I was spending—in this way: You can write all you want to about people's problems. Until you see the people you're talking about—until you see their faces and see how they're dressed and see the looks on their faces, the children, the adults, the homes they live in, and see that A) they're human beings, the type that God loves just as much as He loves anybody else, just as much as He loves the president of the United States. There's beauty there. It's just been beat up on a little bit. Until you see these faces—I don't think until you have faces that go with the statistics about how many poor people there are and the statistics about median income and stuff and discrimination and all that—I think it really lacks impact. Because you can think, "Well, they're talking about somebody who lives in Lithuania."
But, to show, especially the communities that we helped try to get their antipoverty programs off the ground, I developed a core of pictures. Then if we needed a slide program for Charlotte or for Rocky Mount, I would develop a whole lot of local pictures that obviously were in local places that these people could look at and see. You know, "This is something in my community that I've never seen. I didn't especially want to see it. But, dang, I drive within four blocks of that place every day." I think, well, "A picture is worth a thousand words." In many ways, that's true. So, I felt that if we had a library of photographs from which to draw—and this is something we could offer to the media and also use for our own use and could use it in little neighborhood presentations—that this would be at least as effective as all the words we could crank out with whatever kind of copying machine we had at the time.

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ELIZABETH GRITTER:
I know we talked about public relation efforts are hard to measure. Did you see concrete instances or concrete examples of the impact of these photographs on communities, on people?
BILLY E. BARNES:
No, I don't know that I did because it's just like all of our other efforts. It's hard to document the changing of people's minds or the awakening of people's minds. However, I guess one way to gauge not the effectiveness but whether these were photographs were worth doing was the extent to which the media used them. [Barnes motions to a scrapbook of newspaper clippings on the Fund.] When you look in these scrapbooks, you'll see that when the Winston-Salem paper decided to do an opening front page of one of their Sunday sections on the War on Poverty, there'd be more space taken up with pictures than words. I think that to some degree is a measure of whether the effort and expense that we expended on these photographs—and keeping a file of them and knowing where they are, and keeping a log of every roll that was shot, and keeping a file of contact sheets, of proof sheets—was worthwhile. I think that was one measure of it. They were used. They were widely used. They were used by the national War on Poverty effort. They were almost always used by reporters who would come in to see what we were doing. So, I think that's about the only way you could measure. You knew that they weren't just sitting in a file. They were out there being used. They were being seen by anyone who flipped through the paper that morning.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
How were they used by the O-E-O besides in the traveling photography exhibit?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Oh gosh, the pictures of the North Carolina Volunteers, I remember, were used extensively in all the O-E-O recruiting materials for VISTA for years and years. O-

Page 15
E-O was, of course, involved in the exhibit, that I told you about, that the Smithsonian put together. I don't think they had anything to do with the Library of Congress thing. But, they used—. I've forgotten a lot of the way they used them but I frequently had requests. I can remember time and again sending a package of pictures with incomplete captions. They were really interested in knowing exactly where this was happening and exactly what was happening. You could look at the picture. If it was a decent picture, you could look at it and tell generally what was happening. But they wanted to know—if there was a picture of a college- aged woman with two little kids and some books in between them, they wanted to know whether it was Head Start or whether it was one of our own programs or whether it was a Volunteer or whether it was a staff person—the whole thing. So, they weren't caught by somebody who wanted to say something derogatory about their program—say they were lying about what they were doing. So, we did a lot of that in the heyday of O-E-O—late '64 and '65 and '66.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
You were saying in the last interview that you did similar tactics with your own program in terms of giving them to people in communities to show that it wasn't a subversive program what you were doing. You were doing tutoring and health programs and—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Exactly.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
So forth. Who were you worried about? Who were you fighting against? Who would think that it would be a subversive program?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, there are people in our society—maybe more so then than now, though I'm not sure of that—who pride themselves on being self-made people. Well, I'll give you an example in the Congress, Phil Gramm. Phil Gramm, as I understand it, his mother

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was a welfare mother. He went to college on the G-I bill but today he is continually making speeches saying that Social Security is a handout and saying that we shouldn't be giving that kind of—. "Government money shouldn't be used to help anybody because this is a land of opportunity and you pull yourself up by your bootstraps and the government shouldn't be in the business of subsidizing anything or anybody until they get on their feet." He's the worst kind of Republican there is. There were a lot of people like that in North Carolina and everywhere at the time, hard-working people for the most part. They resent every penny of taxes they pay. They thought that poor people are poor because they're too lazy to work. Period. "And yet they go and get those Food Stamps and they buy beer with them." Well, anybody's who's informed knows that they won't sell you beer for Food Stamps. But there are all these myths. There was a song about the welfare Cadillac. I don't know whether you ever heard it. It was about a mother who drove a big white Cadillac up to get her Food Stamps. Welfare is such a horribly pejorative word that folks in the social services business stopped using the word "welfare." You very seldom see it in a government publication anymore. That name of that word. And, so, what these detractors would do—. These people were members of boards of county commissioners. They were local businesspeople. They thought people were poor because they—.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE A]

[TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]
BILLY E. BARNES:
Show that these poor people are people who will participate in job training if we offer it to them. Teenagers who will work there buns off laying water lines and cleaning windows at schools in the summer time if they're offered a job through

Page 17
Neighborhood Youth Corps. That these little children will have a better start in school if they're getting tutoring and Head Start programs and can get some education boost in the summer time. If we could show photographs of those things happening, then this would debunk the myth that these people aren't interested in bettering themselves. I don't know whether you've ever seen the North Carolina Fund logo. It's an outline of the state and what it says on the state is "opportunity." We were trying to make the point that everything we did, that my department did—. We were trying to make the point that what we were offering people was opportunities. If they choose not to take the opportunities, then that's their business. But we were convinced, and I think we were right, that ninety percent of the people who were quote poor people would jump at a chance for an opportunity to better themselves: to live in a nicer place, to have a nicer job or a job at all, to have their children learning. So, the best way to do that, I was convinced, was through photographs. To show these activities. To show a doctor in Winston-Salem examining a little child—looking in the little child's ear or looking down the little child's throat. The North Carolina Volunteers showing people how to use government surplus commodities. I didn't know any better way to do it than with photographs and with movies and images.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
And I saw too that with your movies, you often used stills in the movies, and I was wondering why you employed that technique instead of just rolling the camera?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Part of it had to do with money. We had the stills already. My photography career with the North Carolina Fund was full of serendipity. Many of those situations were situations that would have been very hard to find something that compelling and shoot it with a movie camera for several reasons. One is just because you wouldn't know

Page 18
where to start to find the situation. The other is that there's nothing candid about movies. It involves lighting. It involves usually two or three people. It is not—. As a photographer, I learned to do what they call "blend into the wallpaper"—just kind of be there and be a non-threatening nonentity. Actually, after ten or fifteen minutes, three out of four of the people you're trying to photograph forget you're there, and they just be themselves especially if they have someone to talk with and interact with other than a photographer. It's just very difficult to do that with motion pictures because your camera is five times as big. You got to have auxiliary lighting if it's going to look decent if it's indoors. The whole thing is much more ponderous than an ordinary looking guy with a little bitty camera. The ambiance, the psychological ambiance, is just not the same. So, those are the two basic reasons—the one being cost. We already had the photographs. And the other is that—. It would've taken years to shoot footage that had the same impact and the same visceral code written into the image that some of those photographs that I got lucky enough to capture had.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
What did you say to the people? How did you, you know, become a nonthreatening presence in their home? You talked last time about having a field worker take you out—a case worker. So, if you could talk some more about how you ingratiated yourself.
BILLY E. BARNES:
That's the secret. The secret is to have a trusted person take you around and say, "I know you like our program. You prove what we're doing, and you're enrolled in our adult education program. We're delighted to have you. This guy is helping us tell the story of how well this program is working. Do you mind if he stays here while I'm

Page 19
talking with you and takes some still pictures?" They say, "Well, no, that would be fine." Did I tell you what happened to me when I was in Africa in 1988? About the family?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
[Shakes her head to indicate he had not told her the story.]
BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, I had a chance to go to Africa in 1988 and visit some friends of mine who were over there doing community development work. Some very—. I don't know why I can't think of the right word. They weren't savages. They were living in some very undeveloped areas of South Africa in small villages. They were round homes, some of which had thatched roofs and some of which had tin roofs. They had cow dung floors. Cow dung makes wonderful floors. Did you ever see any?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
[Shakes her head to indicate she has not seen any such floors.]
BILLY E. BARNES:
When that stuff dries it's just as hard as a rock. It's dark brown. It's impervious to water. If you spill something on it, it just kind of runs off. It's like linoleum but a lot cheaper. It doesn't smell at all. Even when it gets wet, it doesn't smell once it's dried up. Anyway, I got off on a tangent.
I knew I wanted to [unknown] be ready to shoot some pictures on that trip. I was over there about a month. I was in places where tourists don't go and talking with people whom tourists don't meet. I was concerned. You know, how am I going to do this without embarrassing these people? I've always read that some of these people think that you're stealing their soul if you take their picture. Is this going to be comfortable, the way I've always been comfortable with folks, or what? Well, I took sixty rolls of film over there. A nice lady in the airport in London inspected every one of them. Took the top off of it, pulled the film out, and looked at it. [Laughter] It took her about half an hour. She was looking for plastic explosives, I guess.

Page 20
I got over there and the people over there had never had—. Lots of them had never had their pictures taken and they just begged to have their pictures taken. I was out with a friend walking along the valley one day, and this little boy came up and said, "My grandpa wants to know whether you'll come take his family's picture." I said, "Well, sure." I got there, and there were about fourteen of them. They ranged in age from tiny babies to this man who must have been in his eighties. They were all dressed up in their best finery—not costumes like the kind you see in National Geographic but plain old clothes. Well, some of them wore interesting headdresses. They just wanted their pictures taken—everywhere I went. I never had anybody shy. I would go to the spring where the women got water and put it in huge, huge, huge plastic buckets and carried them on their heads as they walked these hills. They loved it.
So, when I got back home, I had prints made of these pictures—small prints made. I sent them back to my friends over there and said, "Distribute these among the people." When I next talked to them, they said the one that you took of that big family. They said they passed those pictures around, and they kept saying, "Man, that guy must be good." He says, "That mountain behind the house looks exactly like our mountain." They didn't understand that it was a mechanical, chemical process. They thought I had somehow done that picture myself. Well, I did, but I did it with a gadget. They thought it was the same as if I had painted the picture. They were astounded that it looked just like their home and their faces and their mountains. [Laughter] They not only didn't mind—.
Well, everywhere I went when I was working for the Fund, the children especially—. The adults were usually so delighted to have somebody interested enough in them as individuals to want to take their picture. But, they didn't express it as ebulliently

Page 21
as these kids did. The kids would follow you around. I remember Lumbees have a way of pronouncing p-i-c-t-u-r-e that sounds like p-i-x-t-u-r-e. Lumbee kids would follow me around and say, [Whispers] "Aren't you going to take my picture? Aren't you going to take my picture?" You'd go into a school and everybody would want to be in the picture. As I said, I very seldom had an adult say, "Will you take my picture?" But you could see by the light in their eyes that clearly if there was some picture-taking going on that they would like to be involved.
Actually, I have found this same syndrome among middle-class people. I've been in situations at I-B-M where I would need to take a picture of four people working at some job. One of the women would say, "Oh, no. You can't take my picture. My hair looks bad today." I'd say, "Well, okay. That's okay. Just step over here to the side and I'll just—." "Well, no, if you really want to."
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
[Laughter]
BILLY E. BARNES:
That happened over and over and over again. She didn't want to be left out but she wanted to protest just a little bit. I didn't want to put any pressure on them. I would occasionally have somebody who really was so self conscious they didn't want to be in the picture, but three out of four times they would change their minds. "No, well, no. I don't want to mess things up. I'll just stay and be in the picture." But, I can't think of a single instance during the '60s that I ran into any resistance to being photographed. Most of the time they considered it a compliment that the person I was with, the field worker, had thought of them as an example of someone who is interested in being involved in the programs or whatever. This is someone who is paying some attention to

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their life, is recognizing them as a unique human being worth spending some time with and worth spending some film on. So, it just was a non-problem.
Now, there were times when I would go alone, or with one of my people into an area, and it would take considerably longer to try to explain what we were doing and get them relaxed, but it almost always worked. I don't ever recall running into animosity. It was usually curiosity. They would see us shooting some pictures of a row of houses or some people working in the fields. They would want to know, you know, who are you and what are you taking these pictures for? Everybody asked that—people from all walks of life—but there was never any resistance or animosity to it.
But, I think people, most people, can tell by your manner and the look on your face: Does this person respect me and is this being done with respect? Or is this being done as a matter of exploitation? I think people can sense that. I don't care whether you've been to college or not. I think there's something built in to us where we can sense what people's motives are and whether this is a person who really has some respect for me and is going to photograph me or write about me with respect. Or is this just some hotshot from New York who has blown in and is going to spend five minutes here getting what he was sent down here to do and leave, and I'm just another object. I think in male-female relationships you can tell very quickly whether somebody sees you as an interesting person or just as a sex object or an object of your exertion of power or whatever. So, it's all the same game.
I have tremendous respect for everybody I've ever photographed, especially in the Fund days. That's one of the reasons that I was always known as an editorial photographer as opposed to an advertising photographer—because there was not much

Page 23
sham involved in it. I liked to shoot pictures of real people doing real things that they do in their real lives. So, I never really had any problem. I never felt then there was any problem being at ease with folks and getting them in an un-posed, natural-looking situation.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
You were saying before, in the last interview, that you thought it was a sin to pose people and you never told anyone to stand here or sit here.
BILLY E. BARNES:
That's right.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Why did you think it was a sin to pose people?
BILLY E. BARNES:
It was because I had read too many photography books about people who felt that way. And actually the kind of work I was doing at the time—I think it was a good thing that I felt that way. I also think it's a good thing that I didn't come in with three bags of lights and stuff. I'm not even sure I owned a flashgun for most of the time I was working for the North Carolina Fund. Some of these pictures are what people would think is grainy. But they're all shot with natural light which is another reason—. Too much equipment can be intimidating even if the photographer is not. And, it's just me and that little bitty thing, that little bitty camera. So, I lost my train of thought, but did I answer your question?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
[Nods]
BILLY E. BARNES:
Okay.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Who were some of the photographers that influenced you or who are some of the ones you admire?
BILLY E. BARNES:
I admire—. What's the name of the guy who shot the pictures for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men?

Page 24
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Walker Evans.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Walker Evans. Thank you. I always admire his work, and my work has been compared to his by people who know who Walker Evans is and who have seen my work. I like Henri Cartier-Bresson's work because a lot of it has a touch of humor in it. And also Margaret Bourke-White and Dorothea Lange's photography. All of the people who worked for Stryker during the Farm Security Administration years during the Depression, if you're familiar with that group of photographers. All of them were—. I admired their photography a great, great deal. I discovered their photography when I was trying to learn how to shoot pictures. They've all—. All of that collection of photographs has influenced me a great deal.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Yeah, I noticed when I was doing some research on photography for this interview that there were so many parallels between your work and the FSA work—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
How they did the similar thing of giving pictures to communities to show it wasn't a subversive program—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Hm. Hm.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
And win political support—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Hm. Hm.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
I also noticed that your pictures were similar to Walker Evan's and so forth—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Who has compared you to Walker Evans?

Page 25
BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, the legendary teacher in journalism who for a while was the managing editor of the Chapel Hill newspaper. Now, I got to think of his name. I can't think of anybody but his boss's name. Shoot. He died about three years ago. Shumaker. Did you ever read the comic strip Shoe?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
[Nods]
BILLY E. BARNES:
Okay. Shoe is—. McNelly who is now dead. He's a way younger fellow than I am. Jeff McNelly who drew that strip worked for Jim Schumaker when McNelly was in school at U-N-C. He drew editorial cartoons for the Chapel Hill Weekly, and he drew editorial cartoons for the Tar Heel at the same time. He nearly started to work for the Chapel Hill Weekly, and he was so good he was quickly snatched away by, I believe, the Chicago Tribune. He won two Pulitzer Prizes for his editorial cartoon work. Well, Jim Shumaker said to me one time in a conversation that every time he saw one of my photographs he thought of Walker Evans. And several other people—and I don't remember who they are—have said that. It's a great compliment to be mentioned in the same breath with Walker Evans.
As far as the posing is concerned, I learned in later years that if you're going to work for a publication that has a deadline you have to do some [unknown] directing. You have to suggest where you want to shoot the picture and so that the background will be right and so forth and so forth. And you don't have a half a day in which to do it. So, I changed my mind about that. But, I still think if you're going to do topical photography as opposed to symbolic photography, you really have to try not to over-do the direction. For example, a guy who is a great photographer—I won't mention his name—was doing some work photographing the North Carolina Volunteers for a national magazine. He

Page 26
was doing a piece on this young woman who drove a bus around and picked up kids and took them to something like tutoring or Head Start or something like that. Actually they were a team—there was a boy and girl involved of college volunteers. He asked them to stop and pretend to be changing a tire with all the little kids standing around along side of the road. I was aghast. Well, actually the Volunteers were aghast that he would stage a photograph like that. But then, you know, his work was published in Look magazine, and mine wasn't. So Look magazine back then, along with Life, were the two premier magazines that used a great deal of editorial photography in those days. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
I was looking at a book of oral histories of Life photographers, and one of them commented that sometimes photographers realize that they have missed opportunities—that they'll see something and think, "That could have been a picture if only I had a camera with me." I was wondering if you had things like that happen.
BILLY E. BARNES:
I don't do it so much anymore but there was a time—actually I guess it was during the '60s and early '70s—when I was so wrapped up in photography that I would sit in church and frame pictures of the pastor and think, "Oh man, that would've been wonderful." Everywhere I went, if I was visiting relatives—. For a while I started carrying a camera everywhere I went. If you would ask my wife, she would tell you that I still do. Actually, I almost never get in a car that I don't have a camera in the trunk. Of course, I don't ever go on a trip without a camera. So, I understand what the person says—that you don't want to miss anything. There are places where just because of its bulk, you don't carry a camera, if you're dressed in a business suit or something. But

Page 27
everywhere that I comfortably can—either socially comfortable or physically comfortable—I still carry a camera.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
So, you're preventing those missed opportunities by carrying a camera around.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Right, exactly.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
I ran across another quote in that book. I don't know if I wrote it down here. [Gritter looks at her notes.] Where the interviewer asks the photographers, "Aren't your pictures in some way an invasion of privacy? And he said, "Yes, but all good pictures are." So I was wondering what you would say to that.
BILLY E. BARNES:
I wouldn't say all good pictures are—not because of the privacy part but because of the invasion part. I don't think all pictures are an invasion. But I think the best pictures are the ones that give a private look at a person, which is interesting because it's a private look. It's a look that the average person doesn't see in a day. If you take a picture of a stop sign, it's very hard to take a compelling picture of a stop sign because it's something everybody sees every day. It's hard to take a picture of the bell tower on the Carolina campus that's a compelling picture because it's something that people walk by every day. It is a challenge to be able to frame it in such a way—with tree leaves around it and stuff and the clouds just right—so that it's more compelling than it would otherwise be. But pictures of people, yeah—. Even if you take a picture in the public, we have the idea that there is a certain privacy about our bodies that is invaded if someone takes a picture of it. So, I don't agree with the invasion part, but I do agree with the idea that in a way there's a relationship between the degree to which you are depicting someone in their privacy and the degree to which the picture is compelling. If it's a

Page 28
picture of Barbra Streisand or some great violin player, the picture is a whole lot more compelling if the violin player is in his or her own home, practicing, so that you get some idea of their environment not only of what their face looks like. It's going to be more compelling than a picture of them on the stage at Carnegie Hall. So, giving the person who sees a picture a look at the person's private feelings through their facial expression and body language. I think it's an exaggeration to call it an invasion. I think of it more as a visit. A very non-invasive, non-aggressive visit to this person.
A case in point is one of my favorite Billy Barnes photographs is the photograph—I think I showed it to you, it didn't have anything to do with the North Carolina Fund, it was shot in the '70s—of a black man with a hard hat on with a barber shop in the background, and there's a big old Chevrolet next to the black man. What the story looks like to me is the black man has just gotten off from work, and he's waiting for somebody to pick him up. He's leaning against this post. He's kind of tired, and behind him there is a barbershop. Through the window of a barbershop, we see two white guys—one of them sitting in a regular chair and one of them is sitting in the barber chair—and they're chatting. There's this old pendulum clock on the wall, and it says a little after five. What it does for me is it tells me a story about these three people. There's the barber who's talking to the guy who's sitting in the chair. His buddy who's come by from some other—. He's the jeweler down the street. Outside there's this laborer with his hard hat on, and he's waiting for something to happen. You got these planes of interest. The black guy is a lot closer to you—the worker is a lot closer to you. Just across the sidewalk behind him there's the barbershop. [unknown] I think it would be a stretch to say that I invaded other people's privacy. But I was driving by, and I saw that scene. I

Page 29
hopped out and found a parking place and hopped out and went back and shot the picture. None of the three of them knew I was there. I didn't want to know I was there because the whole thing would've changed. Everybody would've looked at the camera and grinned. So, I suppose, to a certain extent, I was exploiting their privacy but it was a public kind of privacy, you know—something that was going on. That's what great painters do. If you're going to shoot pictures of people, you shoot pictures of people doing things or caught not doing things—caught in a state of relaxation where they are not making something or sawing something. You're showing them being who they really are and showing what people really do.
I've always been fascinating with the painting called "Nighthawk[s]." I can't think now of the artist's name—.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Edward Hopper.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Okay. Hopper's "Nighthawk[s]." I love that photograph because it does the same thing. It looks through a window at people, doing what people do about 2:00 in the morning. They're chatting. They're drinking coffee. There's the guy behind the bar with his standard 1940s paper hat on. That picture has enormous appeal. It is probably one of the most famous paintings by an American artist that exists today. I see it everywhere. I saw it on the cover of an A-O-L free disk the other day in Walmart.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
[Laughter]
BILLY E. BARNES:
I ran into one of Hopper's disciples while I was doing a television piece on him. This guy is just a Hopper freak. The guy I was interviewing is a sculpturer. He makes these [unknown] small houses about that big—well, some of them are about that big and some of them are about that big—in exquisite detail. Some of them are done on

Page 30
commission, and some of them are just done because he wants to do them and sells them for [unknown] and so forth. He's gotten to be very well known. He's a real Hopper—. He must have mentioned Hopper thirty times during the time I was interviewing him for that television piece. But I don't think the people in "Nighthawk[s]"—. I don't think their privacy is being invaded. But they are having a little private scene going. Well, I think that's a very interesting quotation. I'm glad you told me about it. I don't agree.
I've met a whole lot of aggressive photographers who were intent on invading people's privacy and letting them know that their privacy was being invaded and considered people their subjects in the same sense that a king considers the peasants his subjects. These people—they want to be in the magazine or in the newspaper. "They're going to do what I tell them to do. They're going to smile when I say smile. If I tell them to take their clothes off, they're going to take their clothes off. If I tell them to change shirts, they're going to change shirts." But, I think that kind of photography gives an entirely different kind of picture which does invade people's privacy.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
What—you've touched on some of this. What, to you, makes a good picture?
BILLY E. BARNES:
It's a picture that tells a story. I'll use my photographs as an example. I just told you about one that I think just tells a lovely story about the time of day in a small town where three people—two of whom have a personal connection and the other one doesn't—are all in the same scene, doing what people do about ten minutes after five. There's even a clock in there that tells you what time it is. It's an exquisite piece of serendipity.
The picture of Miss Mary that I showed you—of the little old African American woman in the rocking chair. The first thing you see is this smile—this incredibly glowing,

Page 31
knowing smile. Then you see the way she's dressed. She's got on this shapeless dress. She's got on socks that don't match—one of them is striped and one of them is not. I think there's a little potbellied stove over here, and there's an old bedstead over here. There's a jar of something liquid sitting down on the floor, and you don't know whether it's white liquor or whether it's kerosene for the stove. You wonder, "What's in that jar?" You don't know the story the way I know the story. But if it were in a book, I could tell you the story about how that lump over here that has got all of her receipts in it for everything she ever bought so that she can prove that stuffbelongs to her. That, to me, is the perfectly conceived photograph. Although I didn't conceive it, it just happened.
Another example is the picture of the woman sitting on her little caravel bed, and the child has come over to her and laid her cheek on her mother's knee. Do you remember that one?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
[Nods]
BILLY E. BARNES:
I walked into the front door of this house, and there it was revealed to me. I didn't even ask. I guess the worker I was with said, "Mrs. So and So. We came to visit you, and he's getting some pictures." But I realized that if I didn't get to work, that situation was going to be gone. To me, it was clear at the time—and I hope it's clear in the picture—that she's real sleepy eyed, and she's kind of still not very with it because she just got up. Her hair is all frazzled, and she's in a nightgown. I think just before I got there this little child had toddled in and awakened her. I think Grandma was back in the kitchen making breakfast. And the little child—time for her mama to get up—she

Page 32
thought. She had come and awakened her mother. Her mother had sleepily thrown her legs over the side of the bed, and this little child had just kind of given her a cheek hug.
I think a picture has got to tell a story. The first thing a photograph has to have is a center of interest. If you look at a photograph and you don't know where your eye is supposed to focus, then it's a sorry photograph. I don't care whether it's a landscape or a street scene or a group shot. Well, I won't say it's a sorry photograph. It's a very ordinary photograph unless there's something central that the eye cannot resist focusing on. Then, after it feasts on that sight—often it's a face—for a while, then it begins to see the context. The perfect picture, in my way of thinking, is a picture that tells a story. Like the little freckled-face boy with the home-made wagon. Here's this little kid who's obviously not born with a silver spoon in his mouth. He lives out in the country because there's a barn behind him. He's got the tongue of this wagon that looks like it was put together by Rube Goldberg. You know, it's got an old plank here and an old plank there and an old wagon wheel here. You could probably write a short story about that. In fact, someone once bought a batch of my photographs to be used in high school texts that was an exercise in short story writing. The kids were to take these ten photographs, pick their favorite photograph, and write a short story about the person or people in the picture. That's, I think, is the ideal photograph.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
What was your typical process of going and shooting these documentary photographs? I know you went there with a third party. How many exposures did you usually shoot to get the shot that you wanted?
BILLY E. BARNES:
I would say that I usually shot at least a roll of pictures—that's 36 exposures—in any situation where I had the feeling that this is not just an ordinary piece

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of photographic exposition that's going to fill a hole in my files where I need Neighborhood Youth Corps or I need North Carolina Volunteers. This is one of those special—.
[END OF TAPE 1, SIDE B]

[TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Repeat. Backtrack a little bit. That was so great. [unknown]
BILLY E. BARNES:
There are situations where you go in, and it's as if you work for a newspaper. They're having a jump-roping contest at a local park and you need to get a picture of some kids jumping rope. You need to get back and make it on time for your deadline. It's a very cut and dry sort of thing. You get a decent picture. You compose it decently. You expose it decently. You come back with something that nobody is just outrageously enthused about, but it's something that fills a hole in the newspaper or magazine or whatever. There are times when you come upon a scene and everything is right. It tells a story. It has a center of interest. It has emotion. It has people in it who are beautiful people—and I don't mean Hollywood beautiful but I mean beautiful in the way they express their faces and their body language expresses their own selves and their own lives. The hair stands up on the back of your neck, your heart needs to brace, and you realize this is a golden opportunity. "Please Lord, help me have all of the buttons on the camera sit just right so I don't blow this one." Then you start to shoot. You shoot until you realize that the people are beginning to get tired of your shooting and listening to that click clack or the scene begins to fall apart in terms of their intensity.
There will almost always be one—never before than two—photographs on that proof sheet when it comes back that are the perfect ones. I never had any trouble figuring

Page 34
which ones they are. When those lovely young people over in Durham who raised some money for the only gallery exposition or exhibition I've ever had back about '97. When they had those about fifty-two photographs mounted and displayed in the gallery over at Duke, they searched my contact sheets. They probably saw three or four thousand pictures. They found one photograph that they wanted to use that wasn't on my A-list. It was one that I had missed. It had some action in it that somehow in my haste or in my just stupidity I had missed. It was really a wonderful photograph. I say that by way of illustrating how it's—. I mean it's not a special gift of mine. Most any photographer, I think, would tell you that there's from any given situation you shoot, the ones that are perfect—you knew it at the time and you know it when you see the contact sheet. "Hey, there's the one I remember. I remember when [unknown] was perfect. Thank goodness, it's properly exposed."
I have had a few real memorable disasters. One time I was in Miami, and I was shooting some stuff for Architectural Record Magazine. They had brought over—. This was the annual meeting of the American Institute of Architects at the Americana Hotel in Miami about 1961. The editor of the magazine had brought over to be the keynote speaker a fellow named something like P-a-o-l-i, who was the world's most renowned architect at the time. I mean they worshipped this guy. This guy was royalty. They set up a discussion of him with some of the nation's leading architects in this great big hotel suite, and I was to photograph it. I was going to be so thorough, man. This was because to be something that I had control of. So, I went up there. At the appointed time of meeting, I went up the day before when the sun was coming in the same way it would be at the time of the meeting. I drew a diagram. I took an exposure reading on every

Page 35
possible place that this man would sit and put it on the diagram on a card and had it in my pocket. The next day, I went up there to this meeting. The great "I Am" was there. They started the meeting. For about twenty minutes, I went around and shot pictures of him and other people and dialogued with them. I had my little diagram with me. It wasn't a cloudy day or anything. The sun was just like it had been the day before. I rushed to the lab to get my film developed, and I opened the camera, and the damn thing was empty.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Oh.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Of course, the meeting was over by then. [Laughter] I got back—and I was doing some other stuff for the magazine—and I managed to avoid the editor of the magazine for about a day and a half. He ran into me in the elevator and said, "When I'm going to get to see the pictures of the meeting with so and so?" I said, "You're not going to believe this, but I blew that one." He said, "What do you mean?" I said, "There wasn't any film in the camera." He said, "That's good, Barnes. Ha. Ha." He slapped me on the back. He said, "When am I going to see those pictures?"
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Oh, no. [Laughter]
BILLY E. BARNES:
I said, "I don't even know how to prove it to you. How do you prove there wasn't any film in the camera? All I can tell you is there ain't going to be no pictures." [Laughter] He didn't make a big stink about it. He didn't laugh about it. He was distressed. But, he didn't make a big deal out of it. I was so embarrassed, but that can happen. Of course, I worried about that the rest of my life as a photographer. I worried about it every time I got into a situation that I thought was especially important or wonderful. Do I have film in the camera? Hm. In fact, I got so that I developed a little way of double checking to make sure that there was film in the camera when I started. I

Page 36
taught that to my students at Duke—how to make 100 percent sure you've got film in the camera.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
We were talking earlier about your work and how it compares to Walker Evans. Were you connected at all with Al Clayton?
BILLY E. BARNES:
No.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Are you familiar with his work?
BILLY E. BARNES:
I'm not familiar with his work.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
I found a book of his, and he shot photographs of people in poverty in the 1960s and did work with Robert Coles. Some of his photographs were what spurred the passage of some antipoverty legislation in DC, and I saw that there were parallels between his photographs and your photographs. Were you connected with other photographers? Were there other people doing what you were doing in other states or also in North Carolina? I saw that Peter Range was someone you worked with and that John Justice also shot some photographs and Bruce Roberts [unknown].
BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, Peter and John were employees of mine. Peter claims that I taught him everything he knows about writing and photography, which is far from the truth. He was already a splendid writer when he came to work for me. I guess by watching me he did learn a little something about photography. John is now a playwright, and, in fact, I had a phone conversation with him yesterday. Both of them worked for me, and there were times when they would shoot stuff that they were involved in and I wasn't there, couldn't be there, whatever. Bruce Roberts lived in Charlotte at the time, and he—. When I first came here and hadn't really started accumulating stuff myself, I bought half a dozen pictures from Bruce and used them in the early days with some of the work we

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were doing at the Fund. He became a friend of mine. He shot several of the activities that we were involved with for other publications—I mean on assignment for other publications. I did not have connections with photographers who were doing that kind of work in other states. There wasn't any mechanism for making that connection.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Were you aware of people doing that sort of work?
BILLY E. BARNES:
I was. I'm not really good at remembering names. In fact, I'm lousy at remembering names. Images—I keep forever. My wife and I have lived in about eighteen places since we've been married. I could draw you a detailed floor plan of every place we lived, but I couldn't tell you what street we lived on. If you named the names, I would remember them. I was especially impressed with the work that the fellow did who shot the wonderful, horrible photographs of the march when Bull Connor got the fire trucks out and had them literally blowing these people down with high pressure hoses. Now, I did meet a guy named Flip Shulke, who was an important photographer during the civil rights era. I did meet him. Actually, I met him in Miami at the same time I had my disaster. In ensuing years, I met a few of them, but, for the most part, there wasn't—. Let's see. I knew a guy in Atlanta named Jay Levinson—I think his name was Jay Levinson—who did a lot of work for Time and Life. His wife was employed in the Time news bureau in Atlanta. He had done a lot of photography with Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement. And there was a guy named Bill Diehl who lived in Atlanta, and he had done a lot of that kind of documentary photography. He later became a novelist.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
What about Danny Lyon? Do you know that name at all?
BILLY E. BARNES:
I don't.

Page 38
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
He did photography of SNCC in the 1960s and made some forays into the art world. You had mentioned that you had had your work exhibited once at the Southern Studies gallery. Did you try to have your work exhibited other places or was this just not something you decided to pursue?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Having to do an exhibit to do an exhibit is largely an ego trip. I'm not opposed to ego trips, but they're just so damned expensive. I don't even want to think of what that exhibit that the folks in Durham did of my work cost. It's hard to get a large picture matted and framed with UV screening glass for less than seventy-five [to] a hundred dollars. You multiply that times fifty—you're talking about big money. I never had thought it was something I ought to be doing with my money. I don't know what I do with my money, but it's not that. I think I always felt if my pictures were worth displaying that somebody would come along and do it, and it wouldn't be something I would do.
My documentary photographs are not the kind of photographs that most people want to hang in their living rooms. You know, they want to hang happy scenes and stuff like that and colorful lighthouses and beach scenes and stuff. I have sold a few photographs to collectors, but mostly I have sold these documentary photographs to people who are giving them to people who are in the business of working with low-income people. For example, the guy who runs the Inter-Faith Council here in town is an old friend of mine. I was a volunteer at the Inter-Faith Council shelter for about nine years—well, the shelter and the kitchen—and got to know him, Chris Moran, when he was the shelter manager. Then he later went on to become the director of the whole Inter-Faith Council operation. He called me and said he wanted to buy a photograph to

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give a member of his staff who had been there a long time. She had been a real faithful worker in the trenches, and he wanted to give her something nice and something that was fitting for the kind of business they're in—working with low-income people. I took a group of pictures up there, and I said, "Any that you see that I've got more than one of, you're welcome to it. I'll hate to charge the I-F-C for anything anyway." I said, "If you want one of the ones that I've only got one of, I'll let you pay me what it will cost me to have a new print made. If it's a duplicate, you can have it." Well, he found one that was a duplicate and had it framed. I went up there and signed it. He had it framed and gave it to her at a luncheon that was on Halloween. I forgot to go. [Laughter] I told him I would try to go, but I forgot to.
But, I really enjoy doing things like that with the photographs more than I would having an exhibit. I don't know. There aren't a whole lot of places that want an exhibit like that. I would like to see this exhibit that is gathering dust in the vault in the North Carolina Collection—. I'd like to see it permanently mounted on the mezzanine of the social work building over on campus. I think it would be most appropriate, and I'd be happy to give them the exhibit. I've never approached them about it. I should and maybe I will someday. [Recorder is turned off and then back on.]
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
This is more of a delicate question. I was wondering what the emotional impact is of being a photographer of people in poverty. I mean I've done some reading and it can be very difficult to, you know, be a journalist and cover war and dismal conditions. How did you deal with that?

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BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, there are several things that may be behind that question—how did I deal with the notion of imposing myself on these people and how did I deal with the disturbing sight of the things I saw.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Right. Yeah, I had when I went to the Pulitzer Prize-winning photography exhibit, it was very difficult to see those different images. One of the people I went with, too, really couldn't talk about it afterward. But, yeah, those were the two things I was getting at. You don't have to answer it.
BILLY E. BARNES:
No, I don't mind answering if I can think of an answer—a true answer. It's been a long time, and, you know, I don't do that anymore. I don't deal with the same kind of photography. I guess I dealt with it by concentrating on the people and not the conditions as much as I could. I tried to sublimate the conditions to the background, the setting, the environment, and concentrate on the people and their beauty and their humanity, their strength. I don't recall ever having been in a situation where I was trying to make them look pitiful and without hope. I could always see pride there. Even when I was working at the shelter, I never saw anyone who didn't have some pride left and some hope left in the goodness of life and the possibilities of life. I think it was the same way when I was shooting these pictures. Many, many of them were dealing with dreadful circumstances and had very little reason for hope, but I always saw it there. To me, most of the time, it didn't seem to me like a dismal situation the way war would. Because it seemed to me that what I was doing was trying to participate in offering them hope. When you go and cover war and you see little kids with their legs blown off, you're not bringing much hope to the situation. You're just working as an observer. I wasn't working as an observer in the '60s. I was there for a purpose other than to be a voyeur.

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So, I had a different motivation. There's nothing wrong with being a journalist. I wished many times that I had concentrated more on straight journalism than on some of the more commercial aspects of photography like shooting pictures mostly for textbooks and magazines. But I don't think I—. I think I very seldom felt devastated. I think I felt more encouraged and uplifted by my contact with these people.
So, I wouldn't agree with the people you've read or the people you've been associated with who felt depressed by it. I usually felt invigorated by the spirit and the beauty I saw in these people. Like that little old lady in the rocking chair, Miss Mary. I don't know how you could visit somebody like that without coming away feeling like you've met somebody really special that you'll never forget even if you hadn't been there and photographed her to remind you of her. When these people over in Durham did that exhibit and I unearthed all these photographs and saw some of them for the first time in fifteen or twenty years, it was like visiting old friends. It was like a high school reunion. There they were. Half of them are probably dead by now. Maybe a third of them. The older people are dead by now. There they were. They really seemed to me like old friends. I feel like I know these people. I don't know their names, but I remember what they were like—how their voices sounded and so forth. I think that's why there was such a long silence when you asked me to describe whether I was depressed or disturbed by what I saw, because I concentrated more on the people and the spirit and less on their surroundings. It was just window dressing to me—[unknown] the environment.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Yeah, I noticed when looking through some of negatives of your photographs in the North Carolina Collection and that was one of the words that I thought described them—of how every photograph the person looked dignified and beautiful.

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BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah. Yeah. The kid with the washboard, you know. That family didn't have anything. That beautiful Indian girl with the washboard behind her and her feet crossed. You just couldn't want a more beautiful child than that. Her spirit. There was kind of a fearlessness, you know. She wasn't afraid of me. She was being herself, and she had as much pride as a kid that age could have at being herself. So, I couldn't come away from situations like that depressed. I felt it was great privilege to be in a position to make her acquaintance, because it's not something I could have when I was living in Atlanta walked off the street and made her acquaintance. I had the wherewithal in terms of an intermediary go to that home, go into that home, and talk with those people and shoot pictures of them and their children. It was just a great privilege to me. It was one of the most uplifting times of my whole life.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
The other question I had, which is not totally related, was that I read somewhere that you were a pioneer in stock photography.
BILLY E. BARNES:
I don't know who said that. I don't know about pioneer. I've been in stock photography about twenty-five years. Actually, I got interested in stock photography because of Bruce Roberts and mostly because of his wife, now his-ex-wife. Her name was Nancy Roberts, and she writes books that you'll probably come across sooner or later. She's written a series of books, probably ten or twelve. Her big thing is ghost stories of North Carolina. Some time in her library, if you'll type in her name, you'll see all these books. When they were married, she was Bruce's businessperson. She kept the books and she did the promotion and so forth. I remember I went out to their house for dinner one night when I was in Charlotte doing some work for the Fund. She said, you

Page 43
know, you really ought to get tuned into this world of stock photography. I didn't even know what she was talking about.
But, it was about that time that magazines and expecially book publishers began to catch on to the fact—. If they could find a stock agency that had pictures on the subject they were looking for to illustrate their book, it would be a whole lot less expensive. It would consume no time at all, because the picture is sitting right there waiting to be rented, as opposed to finding a photographer who lives in Charlotte and sending him or her out to shoot some pictures. The weather may or may not be good. They may or may not be able to find a person who does or can do or is in the right environment to give them the picture they want. It's a crapshoot when you hire usually an unknown quantity way down in Charlotte and the editor is in Chicago. It's even more expensive to send a known photographer from New York or Chicago down to Charlotte to shoot the picture. You're talking about an outlay of 8 or 900 dollars. At that time, you could go into a stock house and you could find just the right picture. You could use it for $150. So, it took a long time for that to sink in to the publishing world. It started about thirty years ago in earnest, and it's been building ever since and ever since and ever since to the point now that a textbook publisher almost never hires a freelance photographer to go shoot an assignment, because there's so many in the business of stock photography and photographs available. I would not call myself a pioneer in anything. I was certainly in North Carolina, except for Bruce, probably the only photographer who was trying to get a toehold during that time in stock photography. The work that I did for Time magazine helped to build this up. Other assignments that I had during that period helped to build this up.

Page 44
Eventually I got to the point where I had enough of an understanding of the stock photography business so that I could, because I always carried a camera, sense when I was seeing a situation that was sellable. So, I would stop and shoot it when I would go on trips with my wife when she was in politics. When she would have a meeting she needed to go to in San Antonio, I would go with her and rent a bicycle and go around town shooting pictures. A bicycle—you don't have to find a parking space, you just lock it to a stop sign. If you see a situation on a street that you think would make a good picture, by the time you get your car parked if you're in a city, you get there, and it's gone unless it's still life. I shoot very little inanimate objects. It's not my thing. So, eventually, I began to develop a sense of what editors are buying and what they're not and how the editors follow societal trends and so forth. So, I did a lot of research and traveled a lot of different stock photo agencies to sell my wares.
I guess I wouldn't use the word pioneer, but I've been in the business a long time and a significant amount of my income is devoted to stock photography. I have a lot of aspiring photographers come and want to have lunch with me. I always tell them that you can't get started too early in this business. If you're a freelance person, you don't have I-B-M providing a retirement fund for you. You are your retirement fund. If you have a body of work that is sellable stock photography, it will help to keep the heart warm in your old age. I would say never a month goes by that I don't sell the rights to a photograph that I shot at least twenty years ago.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Wow.
BILLY E. BARNES:
You learn to do things like: If possible you avoid having cars in the picture because automobiles change so rapidly that there's nothing that makes a picture look old

Page 45
like having a car in it. Another thing is hairstyles. If you got a photograph that the magazine wants to illustrate something that's not a historical subject and you got a picture with guy with sideburns down to here, forget it. They ain't buying. So, the photographs that I sell generally are photographs of the kind that you can't look at them and tell they're twenty years old. For some reason or other, I haven't figured out how to get to that tiny little sliver of the market that buys photographs because they're old except for the documentary photographs which I have in the last four, five years—. They have become not hot properties, but they have become a source of some income for me.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Is the market for the documentary photographs—have they been like historical books that have been written on the War on Poverty? What has been the market in recent years for them?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, I'll give you two examples that have materialized in the last six months. The UNC Institute of Government's monthly magazine decided to run a retrospective piece on the War on Poverty. Somehow, their graphics designer who is a freelance person over in Carrboro heard about me and my photographs and came over and took a look at them. She bought with their money about nine of them and ran them in a huge spread in I guess it's the current issue of the Institute of Government's magazine. CBS has commissioned a documentary on Terry Sanford and his involvement in social issues. I don't know how they found out about my photographs, but I got a call from a guy in Washington. That's where the documentary film producer is located. He said, "May I send a researcher I hired in North Carolina over to see what you got?" The researcher took, say, thirty or forty of my photographs and Xeroxed them and brought them back. Sooner or later, I will hear from them, and they'll buy maybe rights to five to

Page 46
ten of my photographs for use in that documentary film. So, those are two things that have materialized since mid-summer.
For some reason or other, there seems to be a growing interest in that stuff that happened back in the '60s. Then there was the whole exhibition thing which was an enormous surprise to me—that some people in their twenties would see those photographs and decide they wanted to do an exhibit of them. I was very, very pleased and very ego gratified. I was absolutely delighted to see those faces again. They had been in my files for years and some of them over at the North Carolina Collection. It was very gratifying to have people come in and look at those photographs after all those years. It was a wonderful experience.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Bruce Roberts—was he a freelance photographer?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah. In later years, he was the director of photography for Southern Living magazine. He did that until he went into semi-retirement some time ago. I think Bruce is living in Birmingham now, where I believe Southern Living is published. He called me a couple of years ago. We were both submitting photographs for a book on North Carolina, which was being done by someone in Birmingham. He called me to talk to me about something about that project. Bruce is a wonderful guy and terrific photographer. He's very thorough. Boy, he shoots a lot of pictures. He burns a lot of film. You can do that for a magazine story.
Bruce, his first big score—. He was a photographer for the Charlotte Observer. His first big national score was—. I don't know whether—. Well, you're new to North Carolina, but there was a legendary occurrence about 1963 in which the Lumbee Indians were being persecuted by the Klan.

Page 47
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Oh.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Are you aware?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
No, I'm not.
BILLY E. BARNES:
They had really been doing some crummy things to the Lumbees. They had a cross burning one night right there on a farm in the heart of what we call Lumbeeland—that is the Robeson County area where the Lumbees live. There were, I guess, a hundred Klansmen in their sheets around this burning cross singing and chanting and doing their [unknown]. Bruce was tipped off to the fact that the Lumbees were going to attack that night, and they did. I think they had shotguns. They surrounded that group of Klansmen. [Laughter] The Klansmen were scared to death. They all ran and jumped in their pick up trucks and took off. Lumbees were firing their shot guns in the air. Bruce got these wonderful, wonderful pictures of—. The one that was on the cover of Life was two of the Indians with a Klan flag wrapped around them. He shot a whole picture story. First, it ran in the Charlotte Observer, and then it ran in Life magazine. That was his first big step to big time photography.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
That reminds me of something from the other interview. You said that George Esser had you live with North Carolina Volunteers who were shot at? Were you there when they were shot at?
BILLY E. BARNES:
No, no.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Okay.
BILLY E. BARNES:
I never lived with that group. Did you read that somewhere or did I tell you that?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
You mentioned that. Did you mean—.

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BILLY E. BARNES:
Well, no. One of my staff members. Actually he was the guy who shot the film The First One Hundred.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Dick Schoener?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Yeah, Dick Schoener. I don't think I told you I was there.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
No, no.
BILLY E. BARNES:
One of my people was there.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Yeah.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Dick worked for me. He was one of the first people I hired. He was there in the cabin with them, and he called me one Sunday morning—real early. He said, "We're being shot at. What should I do?" [Laughter] I said, "Get out of the bed. Tell the kids to get under the damn bed and not show faces." I called George, and George called Jack Mansfield who was a minister who actually lived in Morehead City, which is not far from New Bern where this shooting occurred.
[END OF TAPE 2, SIDE A]

[TAPE 2, SIDE B]

[START OF TAPE 2, SIDE B]
BILLY E. BARNES:
I did not go down there to the scene, because it was really Jack's job to go down there and make sure the kids were not going bananas and to get them out of that situation and put them in a safer situation and kind of work that whole thing over. Now, I did live with—. We sent two groups of Volunteers—and I believe one of them was the New Bern group—down to build the house in the little community of Merrimon in Carteret County not too far from Beaufort. Now, that's the group I lived with. I think George Esser was so concerned about that shooting incident that he wanted me be there kind of on his behalf and stay with that group of people and try to make sure that things

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were safe and sane and so forth. The kids comported themselves so they didn't make any trouble. I did live with them for about three weeks while they were building that house, or maybe more—maybe a month. We lived in the basement of an Episcopal church for a while and then we moved to an Episcopal camp. It was a crummy camp, but it was in a beautiful location on the beach out at an island named Royal Isle. They lived in a kind of church retreat type [unknown] dormitories. That's when I lived with the group.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Who shot at the Volunteers? Did they know who it was?
BILLY E. BARNES:
I don't think so.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Okay.
BILLY E. BARNES:
New Bern was big Klan country at the time. I remember some of our staff members were down there one time in a racially mixed group. They went in a restaurant one time and had a meal and came back out, and there was a bumper sticker on their car that said, "The Klan is watching you." [Laughter] But, no, I don't think anyone was ever arrested. It was just a drive-by shooting. To tell you the truth, I don't know remember whether a projectile ever hit the cabin. They may have just been shooting in the air, wanting to scare people. Rednecks do that. They have six beers, and they want to go out and scare somebody. If there's a bunch of black kids living with white kids and they're mixed gender and race, that's reason enough to drive there and try to scare the liver out of them. So, you drive there and just make some noises and try to scare them. I don't know for sure whether they were shooting at the kids or even at the cabin, but it was—I've never been there—in a very remote area on the river where a friend of ours, who later came to work for the North Carolina Fund, had a cabin out there. He offered it to the kids—. Well, he thought if they lived out there it would be a lot less obvious and they

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wouldn't attract as much attention as if they lived in some hotel or church in town. But, it didn't work out that way. But, no one was hurt. In fact, no one was hurt all summer. Some kids were given a hard time.
I remember we had some who were supposed to be working in Loewenberg all summer, and they ended up down at Carteret County.
The reason we ended up in Carteret County was because there is a wonderful woman—she's still alive—her name is Georgie Hughes. She was the social services director in Carteret County. She knew what the Fund was trying to do. I think she was on the board of the community action agency down there. Somebody called her, maybe Jack Mansfield, and said, "Georgie, do you got anything these kids can do for the summer? We got to pull them out of these two communities where they're in danger. Can you help us find a place to live and can you think of something they can do?" She said, "Sure, we'll think of something." So, she was kind of our sponsor down there and was the reason we ended up down there building that house.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
To wrap things up, is there anything about photography or the North Carolina Fund that you'd like to add that I haven't covered or we haven't talked about? I know there's a lot more we could talk about [unknown]—.
BILLY E. BARNES:
Your questions have been so good and so thorough I don't know that I have anything I have reason to add. I think you've plumbed the depths of some things I've thought of like the irony of the most interesting thing in the world, namely people, being something you're not allowed to look at. You've raised a lot of things I've never thought about. It never occurred to me to ponder whether—to think about did I come away from contact with low-income people depressed. As I said, it was the other extreme. I almost always came away feeling educated and exhilarated.

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One of the most wonderful songs—. I don't know whether I ever told you this before. I'm something of a pickpocket musician. I play guitar and sing. I also have a little band that plays nursing homes for which I'm the vocalist. The best spiritual I've ever heard and one that I wrote some verses to and sing in churches all over the place is one that—. One time Peter Range and I were going down the street down in Robeson County and this place where every time it rains in the Piedmont it funnels into the Lumber River and floods this little neighborhood. I was never there when the neighborhood flooded but Peter was there one time and came back with pictures of people walking around in hip boots, kids riding in little homemade boats in the flooded area with the houses completely surrounded by water. But we were going down the street with tape recorders recording some of these statements that you see in this book. [Points to binder filled with interview transcripts for the Fund's radio series, "New Voices in Carolina."] Just talking to people we would run into. We weren't knocking on any doors. We were looking [unknown] these people. We spent a lot of time on their porches and in their yards and stuff. You know, air conditioning was out of the question for people during those days, low-income people especially. He came across this ancient black man, small in stature, sitting on his porch playing this old beat-up guitar. He was singing this song. The words to it were—. He didn't know anything but the chorus. He sang it over and over again. He would look out toward that the Lumbee River right in front of his house, and the song went:
Chilly river, so chilly and cool.
Chilly river, so chilly and cool.
Chilly river, so chilly and cool.

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Chills my body but thank God not my soul.
I kept that recording. Peter recorded him singing it and playing that guitar. I kept it for forever. I finally thought I got to write some verses for that song, so I wrote four verses for that song. You know, that man gave me a gift. I've never ran across that song in a book or anything.
I've got a picture—I don't think I showed it to you—of an outhouse on the side of a mountain with a television antenna on it. Did I tell you about that?
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
No.
BILLY E. BARNES:
I took of picture. I should have taken a picture of the man with it, but I would have had to direct him to do it. I got a picture of the man, but he's not in the same frame as the outhouse. It was about fifty yards up the mountain from where his house was. It should've been down the mountain, but maybe he didn't own that land. I said, "Why is that television antenna on the outhouse?" He said, "Because it gets the best reception up there." Well, ask a stupid question, you get an embarrassing answer. [Laughter] It was the highest point on the highest building on the highest place on his property. So, that's were he [unknown]. I guess I thought he was going to tell me that he had a little television set in there that he watched while he did his business. It didn't make him angry at all.
People said things to me that were so memorable and funny, you know. Funny things happened and sad things happened, and people told about their troubles and so forth. There was always that hope and beauty there of people trying to cope—just like middle-class people, just like you and I, just like anybody. They were trying to cope, and we were hoping we were offering some basis for that hope and helping the local people

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who were trying to offer them some hope—offer them opportunities, helping them bring opportunities to people who needed them. It was the best five years of my life in terms of any kind of work or any kind of effort in my adult life by far. I don't feel about it the same way a lot of people feel about having been in the armed service during the war, and everything is downhill from there because it's so unexciting. I don't feel that way about the North Carolina Fund experience. But I am glad I left that wonderful job I had in Atlanta and came to work for the North Carolina Fund. It was the opportunity of a lifetime to immerse yourself in a worthwhile cause.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
You're a religious person, correct?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Hm. Hm.
ELIZABETH GRITTER:
Did that influence at all your philosophy in terms of wanting to be involved?
BILLY E. BARNES:
Absolutely. Absolutely. When I was in my early- to mid-twenties, I thought my best to turn my back on religion, because I thought I was too smart to believe any of the crap. But, as I got up on toward 30, I had a really good experience in a Presbyterian church on the outskirts of Atlanta. I met some really inspiring Christian people. I was really in a very strong Christian environment. I realized that where I belonged was back in that kind of environment. So, I became active in that Presbyterian church down there. I think that experience definitely made me ready to be picked when John Ehle called me and said, "Will you come up and talk to us about this job?" I think that was preparing me to do this work.
I have kidded myself that there was anything great and noble about my doing that. I did it because it was something I thought would be challenging and worthwhile and make me feel better about myself and maybe do somebody else some good. So, I don't

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see it as five years of nobleness. I see it as five years of opportunity for me to get some experience in my chosen profession as a writer and photographer, learn about film and stuff, learn about some things about sociology, and meet a whole lot of wonderful people—both low-income people and people from Washington and the people I've worked with the at the Fund, many of them who are still my friends. The Lumbee people I worked with at the Fund—Ruth Woods. Later, I worked for her for a couple of years. I produced films and filmstrips and helped her produce books and stuff for use in the predominantly Indian schools.
So, that experience led to a whole lot of really challenging and interesting things that I did after the Fund closed, because people who had known me and my work through the Fund would call and say, "Would you come out and talk to our staff about public relations? Would you come and shoot some pictures for us? Will you help us with this book we're trying to publish?" In the '70s, I did [unknown] traveling. I remember I went to St. Louis and I went to Louisville as well as lots of places in the state. I did extensive work for the North Wilkesboro Community Action Agency, which was not one of the ones that had an affiliation with the Fund. There was this particular lady who was the project director who had seen some of my work. I went down there and talked to her at her request. We became friends. I did a whole lot of work for her, especially audiovisual work. She's still my friend today. The whole thing opened up a lot of new opportunity for and allowed me to come back to my home state and be with my mother some in her later years. She lived in Winston-Salem. I had a lot of family in Winston-Salem. They're all dead now, but it gave me a chance to spend twenty years with them and be close enough so that I could visit and be a part of the family in some way besides the

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Christmastime and Easter. So, the Fund experience was the start of new chapter at least geographically in my life. I wouldn't change that decision for anything.
END OF INTERVIEW