Eudora Welty, Photographer

 

“Making pictures of people
in all sorts of situations,
I learned that every feeling
waits upon its gesture,
and I had to be prepared
to recognize this moment
when I saw it.

These were things
a story writer
needed to know.”

 

 

“The camera was a hand-held auxiliary
of wanting-to-know.”

 

 

“While I was very well positioned
for taking these pictures,
I was rather oddly equipped
for doing it.”

 

 

Eudora Welty in New York: Photographs of the Early 1930s

Now on view at the Museum of the City of New York, through Feb. 16, mcny.org, featuring the privations of the Depression and patterns in the New York City streetscape.

Smithsonian: Eudora Welty as Photographer

Art Review: Portraits Taken by the Writer as a Young Woman (in Hard Times)

Excerpts: One Writer’s Beginnings, Eudora Welty

 

 

While the Pulitzer-Prize-winning author, Eudora Welty, possessed observational skills with both words and images, it is her gift as a human being, a gracious and charming Southern woman, that she is most remembered for. In a wonderful tribute: “A Shrine to Southern Literature, Slightly Frayed.” NY Times, May 4, 2006, former anchorman, journalist and friend, Roger Mudd, tells of an evening he and his wife spent with Eudora and a friend as dinner guests at her home in Jackson, Mississippi, the house her father built in 1925, where she lived until her death in 2001.

“The evening E. J. and I came for supper, we learned that nothing gets started at 1119 Pinehurst without a sip or two or three of bourbon. It was Maker’s Mark and Eudora poured. With us was Charlotte Capers, Eudora’s best buddy and then the director of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History.

On the coffee table was a plate of sun-dried tomatoes and crackers. The conversation was rich, funny and very Southern. After another round of bourbon, Eudora excused herself to put dinner on. I asked if I could help. Charlotte, in that rumbly, throaty voice of hers, said: “Don’t go near the kitchen. It is strictly off limits.” Eudora felt that she and not her guests should be the host. But truth be told, her kitchen was not only too small for two but also in a state of permanent disarray.

So I stayed seated, sipping, munching and applying the sun-dried tomatoes to the crackers. Then from the kitchen came a sharp crash. Without missing a beat, Charlotte said, “Well, there goes dinner.” I went to the kitchen, despite Charlotte’s warning. On the floor lay our dinner — a shattered Pyrex baking dish and Eudora’s crab casserole. I grabbed a broom, a mop and a dustpan and cleaned up the best I could, as Eudora repeated embarrassed apologies.

We went ahead with dinner on the walnut dining room table, clear of books and manuscripts and set for four. The menu consisted of more bourbon, sun-dried tomatoes, crackers and a salvaged side of string beans. We laughed through the entire meal.

Two weeks later I received in the mail a recipe for “Eudora’s Crab Dish,” written in her spidery hand.

“Combine ingredients,” it read, “place in buttered Pyrex dish. Top with cracker crumbs & paprika. Bake at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes. Remove from oven, immediately invert dish and allow to reach kitchen floor. Test to see if thoroughly shattered. If Roger Mudd is dinner guest, he will quickly appear and take care of everything.”

The kitchen is now tidied up, of course, but in my mind there will always be Eudora’s casserole on the floor.”

 

 

About these ads

~ by eaesthete on 01/05/10.

13 Responses to “Eudora Welty, Photographer”

  1. What a great f****** story! No really. I worked for a radio station where Roger Mudd began his career, WRNL, Richmond, VA. I never met him, he was national news anchor by then, but had a great reverence for him and many thing southern (me being a CA girl and all). I did work with a lady who had worked with Roger. She’d been there about 30 yrs by the time I started in 1983. She said the nicest things about him. Anyway, never knew Eudora Welty was a photographer. The photos are wonderful.

    • California Girl,

      This post is so much richer due to your experiences and recollections. Thank you. In my career travels, I, too, had heard similar things about Roger Mudd and I feel this story, and his telling of it, bears that out.

  2. I had read this piece by Mudd before, which is terrific. I did not know she was a photographer either, but like her parallel with the writing.

  3. These are really lovely. Thanks for sharing this.

  4. I just recently picked up a compilation of Southern short stories, with some by Ms. Welty herself. Fascinating you’d have a post about her (fate perhaps?). Being from the Southern regions of America myself, I sometimes have had to grapple with my love/hate relationship for the place. One thing I will say of it, the sense of humor has few equals. Ms. Welty’s easy-going response to her culinary misfortune brought a smile to my face, recalling as I did so many friends’ and family members’ witty quips, jokes, and bon mots.

  5. Wonderful story. Lesson: good company and good drinks can save anything; that and never bake anything in a pyrex dish. Learned the last one personally. Roger Mudd not available for cleanup.

    One of my favorite Welty comments. After giving a lecture, a young woman said something like, “I’m thinking about becoming a writer. Should I?” The Welty resonse: “If you can do anything else, you should.”

  6. Oh she really is something, very touching… I feel the same way about Diane Arbus’s work.

  7. Now that’s a story and a fine memory to have; even if it’s not my own.

    (The Architect once performed a similar feat and all of us together salvaged a dinner with too much gin, wine and too few hors d’oeuvres… I’m sending him your post!)

  8. Miss Welty is one of those women-in complete awe and reverence to her writing, her life, her photographs- & by the grace of the South her turn of a phrase. In pride of place is one of her original photographs that came to me as only they can do in the South. Yes I am SOBO and proud of it,thanks to the Weltys, Spencers, Williams and the Faulkners-just down the road a piece. See my Welty post from 09 about her photos and the story. GT

    • LA,

      I had a feeling this might resonate with you. I will definitely take the time to check your archives for the post.
      You are blessed in your heritage and should own it with pride.

  9. Those images are incredible, like Steinbeck’s words come to life, and what a fabulous anecdote about dinner, It shows that mistakes can become the best stories, if she hadn’t dropped the dinner we would not be so charmed to be hearing this tale.

  10. As a teacher of high school English, where we only focus on Welty’s A Worn Path, I can’t wait to share the other side of her life as an incredibly talented photographer with my kids. The dinner story brought her spirit and personality to life. And also reminds me of so many of my artistic friends who know life is to be lived and enjoyed in the moment – even when dinner ends up on the floor! A lady after my own heart!

    • Suzanne,

      It’s post like yours that make this all worthwhile. I’m thrilled to know these small, and seemingly innocuous, connections can reverberate in a much more profoundly moving and influential way.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s