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Oral History Interview with Billy E. Barnes, November 6, 2003. Interview O-0038. Southern Oral History Program Collection (#4007).
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  • Abstract
    Billy E. Barnes became a photographer during the late 1950s, following a tour of duty in the Korean War and his return to college in North Carolina. Barnes begins the interview with a brief discussion of his initial interest in photography and his first job with McGraw-Hill Publishing Company in New York City and in Atlanta, Georgia. After working for McGraw-Hill for several years and establishing a reputation for himself as a documentary photographer, Barnes returned to North Carolina to work for the North Carolina Fund (1964-1968), an offshoot of Lyndon B. Johnson's War on Poverty. Barnes argues that as a photographer for the North Carolina Fund, he was able to lend a human face to the Fund's more impersonal collecting of statistics about the experiences of impoverished people in North Carolina. According to Barnes, his photographs documented the lives of impoverished people as part of a larger effort to debunk negative myths and stereotypes about welfare and poor people. He explains that he always strove to depict the strength, dignity, and pride of his subjects, and offers several anecdotes about some of his favorite photographs, which he explains told stories about the private, everyday lives of poor people. In addition, Barnes speaks at length about the widespread dissemination of his photographs in both local and national media, as well as its use by the Office of Economic Opportunity. Most of the interview focuses on Barnes's work with the North Carolina Fund, but he also discusses changing technologies for photography, the influence of other photographers, and his broader views on the principles of photography.
  • Using photography to humanize statistics about poverty
  • Debunking negative stereotypes of impoverished people through photography
  • "Invasion" of privacy and telling a story
  • Emphasizing pride, strength, and humanity in photography of the impoverished
  • Anecdotes regarding Klan opposition to social justice movements
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  • The Southern Oral History Program transcripts presented here on Documenting the American South undergo an editorial process to remove transcription errors. Texts may differ from the original transcripts held by the Southern Historical Collection.

    Funding from the Institute for Museum and Library Services supported the electronic publication of this title.