William Ferris: a photographic story of the South

William Ferris, 74, the indefatigable chronicler of Southern culture, has organized departments in three different universities devoted to studying the region, has exhaustively amassed information about the South as co-editor of the Encyclopedia of Southern Culture, and has published 10 books on the topic, but he still hasn’t run out of material.

A dedicated folklorist, Ferris used the tools of the trade — the camera, the tape recorder, sometimes film — to pursue his subject, beginning from the Christmas in 1954 when his parents gave him his first Brownie camera.

The photos in “The South in Color,” of his family, their farm, the hired workers, the region’s churches and blues clubs, its kudzu-choked rights of way and its folk art, show a region deeply divided by race, a place both harsh and beautiful.

Each of these photos tells a story, and, says Ferris, “the story is really the heart of what it means to be a human being. That’s one of the things Southerners are so good at. If you ask a question, rather than a list of facts for an answer you get a story.”

As part of the AJC Decatur Book Festival, Ferris will speak about his book at 3 p.m. Sept. 3 in the First Baptist Church of Decatur, joining George S. Hart and Sonny Seals in a presentation called “A Fresh Look at Where We’ve Been.”

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