Faces of Durham


Tyler Watson
Digital Documentary Photography
December 2007

This semester I embarked on an exploration of areas of Durham I had never seen
before. Taking this class granted me the opportunity to capture the faces and places of the city that surround the all too familiar epicenter of Duke University, which until recently had dominated as the primary source of my experiences and education thus
far. This personal journey through the uncharted social landscapes, that have
forever stood in such close proximity, extended the boundaries of the familiar,
and was educational in a way that a typical classroom lecture could never quite
match. It was gaining personal experience and a greater understanding and eventually opinions, sentiments, and emotions, that became the pinnacle success and most enlightening reward of my documentary work. I essentially attempted to immerse myself in the every day doings of the local Durham inhabitants that lie beyond the walls of the Duke campus. As I drove around the city and suburbs of the larger Durham County, I came across sites, sounds, and people, that seemed to quench that innate insatiable thirst I had developed to discover the unfamiliar and unacquainted. Not so surprisingly, I found myself most drawn to the people, for the people are truly the heart and soul of any one place. The character of Durham is comprised
collectively through its indigenous individuals. Duke University is no doubt a melting pot for different cultures, ideas, backgrounds, races, etc and thus embodies a
stimulating and diverse community, however the collective character of Durham is more informed by those who have grown up and lived in the city of Durham, rather than just those who attend a University that resides in the city of Durham for maybe a half-decade. It is undeniable and incontrovertible, however, that as students, we too have assimilated into the collective societal ethos in numerous ways, but our role in the overall cast; comprised of the local denizens of Durham seems almost minute. To get a better idea of that which had for so long been so unfamiliar and alien,
I frequently travelled to and through many places previously unknown to me.

Though some photographs I took show a greater social landscape and a sense of transience within Durham, I mostly worked with portraiture and capturing faces. I do wish I had stepped back more frequently to snap the occasional long shot, or an establishing shot, a term dubbed by the film industry, that informs the viewer of the setting, but is the close-up that allows us to see a persons deepest and most genuine
emotions. The old, almost trite poetic aphorism , the eyes are the window to the soul, took on a whole new meaning for me. The raw-emotions and truths of people
are best captured up close. The twitches in the muscles of the cheeks, the glimmer in an eye, a smile, a half-smile, a frown, a look of apathy, all lend themselves to a
language all their own, but a language interpreted as validly as words. The close-up portrait intrigues and inspires a viewer to create a history and to extract an emotion from the person. This personal and psychological question lends itself to a more poetic interpretation of per-se a long shot.

Through my exploration I was challenged not only to build upon the photographic processes of a fledgling photographer, such as lighting, framing, printing, editing, and sequencing, but to also learn how to approach the subject of the photograph. In this way, the camera became somewhat of a double entendre, for as an apparatus, it served not only as the vehicle by which we could look into history and interpret people and places with the benefit of hindsight, but also the catalyst for developing a new type of relationship with foreign and disparate people, that more often than not, share many key qualities, morals, and characteristics. Having the opportunity to photograph my experience has incited a new almost anthropologically, artistic search for aesthetics found in the flesh form. As an artist I have always been drawn to painting, sketching,
scratching, etc the human face. Photography has opened a whole new realm of personal expression combined with a true endemic character and local zeitgeist.