Mary Bayard Morgan was born to Mary Devereux Clarke and Rufus Morgan in New Bern, North Carolina in 1875. Her mother was an artist, her grandmother was a poet, and her father dabbled in the photography profession. Mr. Morgan died when his daughter was five, and with her mother’s guidance she pursued her artistic inclinations at the New Bern Collegiate Institute, the North Carolina State Normal and Industrial School (now the University of North Carolina at Greensboro), where she excelled at painting and drawing. After graduation, she moved to Arkansas to accept a teaching position at a school for the deaf, and within two years she was in Georgia teaching at another deaf school. While there, she met and married Charles Thomas Wootten, and within a few years was the mother of two sons.
In 1904, Ms. Wootten took up photography initially as a hobby, finding it more relaxing than either drawing or painting. She took most of her early pictures with a 4x5 camera she borrowed from a friend. However, after her failed marriage, the single mother invested in her own camera and turned professional as a financial necessity. She was clearly more of an artist than a technician, as Ms. Wootten would freely admit. Pictorialism suited her well, and though it was considered outdated by 1910, she continued to practice it unapologetically throughout her career. She offered her unique definition of photography in an insightful interview, in which she observed, “The camera is not a free agent as brush or pencil, but relentlessly records things as they are. So the artist must bring to her aid strong contrasts of light and shade, artistic grouping and rhythmic lines. To use a camera as a means of artistic expression, a certain quality of spirit must be brought to aid light and air.”
Ms. Wootten co-founded the Women’s Federation of the Photographers’ Association of America, and though she remained a Pictorialist throughout her career, she also understood and appreciated photography as a commercial entity. She did not believe art to be sacrificed at the expense of generating an income. Ms. Wootten was the first female photographer to take aerial photographs (from the Wright Brothers’ Model B plane), and designed the first Pepsi-Cola logo for its inventor, her neighbor Caleb Bradham. Although her photographs of North Carolina have been criticized for being overly romanticized, she would defend these charges as simply capturing fleeting moments in time. While she may have been uncomfortable in a darkroom setting, she was always at home in the rural countryside of the American South.
Bayard Wootten remained an active photographer until her retirement in 1954. Five years later, her 84-year life came full circle when she died in her hometown of New Bern on April 6, 1959. A retrospective of 21 inkjet prints of Ms. Wootten’s original photographs were exhibited at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Wilson Library from March 27 through November 4, 2018. Bayard Wootten amassed more than 1 million photographs during her prolific career, and many of these negatives and prints are stored year-round within the photographic archives of the North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
2018 Bayard Wootten (URL: http://www.rebekahjacobgallery.com/bayard-wootten).
2018 Bayard Wootten (1875-1959) (URL: http://galleryc.net/artists/bayard-wootten/#.W7PAqWhKiUk).
2017 Bayard Wootten: Light and Air (URL: https://carolinianuncg.com/2017/01/25/bayard-wootten-light-and-air).
2009 Beyond the Architect's Eye by Mary N. Woods (Philadelphia, PA: University of Pennsylvania Press), p. 96.
2007 Encyclopedia of Nineteenth-Century Photography, Vol. I (New York, NY: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group LLC), p. 1593.
2018 Iconic Photos of the South Made New Through Digitization (URL: https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2018/01/29/single-mother-pioneering-photographer-the-remarkable-life-of-bayard-wootten).
2018 “The Joy is in the Going”: Bayard Wootten Photographs North Carolina and the South (URL: https://library.unc.edu/2018/03/exhibit-wootten).
1998 Light and Air: The Photography of Bayard Wootten by Jerry W. Cotton (Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press).
2018 Single Mother, Pioneering Photographer: The Remarkable Life of Bayard Wootten by Rena Silverman (URL: https://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2018/01/29/single-mother-pioneering-photographer-the-remarkable-life-of-bayard-wootten).
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