Southern food photos on display in Chapel Hill

aweigl@newsobserver.comJuly 24, 2012 

  • View the photos Kate Medley’s photographs will be on display at UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South until Aug. 15. The exhibit is in the center’s hallways. The center is at 410 E. Franklin St., Chapel Hill. The collection can be viewed from 9 a.m.-5 p.m. weekdays.

Durham photographer Kate Medley’s work can often be seen while you shop at a Whole Foods store: Her portraits of farmers hang above the peaches or sweet potatoes they have grown.

On the way to those assignments for Whole Foods and others, Medley would often come upon scenes she felt compelled to document. Those images of a grocery cart full of cantaloupes in a minimart, handwritten roadside signs and an heirloom seed collection are on display until Aug. 15 at UNC’s Center for the Study of the American South in Chapel Hill.

“For a lot of these, I was on my way somewhere else,” she said. “It was a lot of slam on the brakes and turn around.”

Medley, 30, grew up in Jackson, Miss. She made her mother cry when she transferred to the University of Montana to study photojournalism. After a few years as a newspaper photographer, she returned to her native state to get a master’s degree at the University of Mississippi.

Her master’s project involved taking portraits of those opposed to the Civil Rights movement, including segregationist politicians, former Ku Klux Klan members and Edgar Ray Killen who helped orchestrate the murder of three civil rights workers in 1964.

“Following that,” Medley said, “food provided a bit of a respite.”

She persuaded Whole Foods to hire her. She’s done documentary work for the Southern Foodways Alliance, a nonprofit that celebrates Southern food traditions. Along the way, Medley felt drawn to certain scenes.

“I’m really interested in photographing the architecture of the rural South,” said Medley, whose photos show old weathered barns, cinder-block restaurants, warehouses and farmer workers. “I’m really attracted to that idea of isolating a seemingly pedestrian scene and finding the beauty in that.”

Weigl: 919-829-4848

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