MFA|EDA Photo & Video Panelists at NC Museum of History

Hidden Stories of Abandoned Places

Friday, September 4, 6:30-8:00 pm at the NC Museum of History

What can photos, archival documents, personal recollections, and video reveal about the people who once inhabited a place and the circumstances that caused them to leave it behind? What affects the decisions a photographer or filmmaker makes about how to document a place and where to focus the viewer’s gaze? How do personal relationships affect those decisions? In this discussion, five documentarians discuss their own journeys into places that were once filled with life but gradually became shadows and skeletons of that past vitality. Their photographs and films connect viewers to the lives that once filled these places, prompting imaginations and memories to fill the voids. But the documentary works also reflect the personal connections the photographers and filmmakers have to the sites they document. Each of the panelists has a unique story to tell about why and how they chose to document a particular place. Showing examples of their work, they will explore how their own connections to a place affected those choices and what they hope to convey to a viewer.

This program was inspired by the ongoing exhibition, Rural Revival: Photographs of Home and Preservation of Place at the North Carolina Museum of History, featuring the work of North Carolina-based photographer Scott Garlock, who will be a panelist for the discussion.

The program is being presented as part of the NC Museum of History’s programming for Raleigh’s First Fridays arts events.

Co-sponsored by the North Carolina Museum of History, Duke University Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University MFA|EDA Program, and the Durham County Library.

Panelists and topics:

Scott Garlock will share interior photos from an abandoned home he visited in eastern North Carolina in 2013. He’ll put together stories of the former residents with images of the things they left behind, and he’ll also prompt us to look closely not just at what was left behind, but at how the placement of those items adds to our understanding of the relationships among the people to whom they belonged.

Alex Harris will present photos he made in New Mexico years ago of an abandoned home that belonged to a man named Amadeo Sandoval. He’ll talk about how he met Amadeo, tell some of Amadeo’s story, and describe how he photographed the house shortly after Amadeo’s wife died and then again one year later.

Jon-Sesrie Goff will present clips from his documentary film exploring a plot of land in the low country of South Carolina that has been in his family for generations. Despite the fact that there is no longer a structure on the land, the place continues to have a strong hold on the family. But this story isn’t about just his story, but about broader historical trends of African-American families leaving and returning to the South.

Dan Smith will present photographs of abandoned buildings he encountered while en-route to make a  documentary about the violent death of a family member in eastern North Carolina. Smith will talk about how he came to understand the connections between the abandoned places and the documentary project.

Alina Taalman will present excerpts from her recent work “Quiet Title,” a documentary essay film exploring her family’s experiences living in a historic colonial house in rural Connecticut. Drawing from the public archive of maps and land records, and the personal archive of photographs, dreams and memories, the film attempts to uncover the history of the house, and the spirits it continues to shelter.

Moderator: Lou Brown, Forum for Scholars and Publics


About the panelists:


Scott Garlock is an abandoned genre photographer from Macon, NC.venturing where few photographers would dare to go, Scott specializes in old and abandoned images. His primary focus is long forgotten rural southern homesteads, their architecture, landscapes, artifacts and abandoned American Iron left behind. He also enjoys photographing beautiful wildlife and animals that he has been fortunate to have met along the way. As a naturalist and historian, Scott believes in the preservation of the structures, their contents and surrounding landscapes. Nothing is ever disturbed and always left as discovered.



Alex Harris is a founder of The Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) at Duke where he also launched DoubleTake Magazine. He is a Professor of the Practice of Public Policy and Documentary Studies at Duke. At CDS, he is the creative director of the Lewis Hine Documentary Fellows Program. Harris has photographed extensively in the American South, New Mexico, Alaska, and Cuba, and has published and exhibited widely about these places.  His work is represented in major collections including The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, The J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles, The High Museum of Art in Atlanta, and The North Carolina Museum of Art. His awards include a Guggenheim Fellowship in Photography, a Rockefeller Foundation Humanities Fellowship, and a Lyndhurst Prize. As a photographer and editor, Harris has published fifteen books including River of Traps a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in general non-fiction. His most recent book, Why We Are Here, a collaboration with evolutionary biologist E.O. Wilson, was published in 2012 by Liveright/Norton.



Filmmaker and educator, Jon-Sesrie Goff grew up in Connecticut and Upstate New York. He studied business, sociology, and theater at Morehouse College before receiving his BA from The New School. He has over a decade of production experience, working on a range of projects across genre including the recently released documentaries Evolution of a Criminal and Out in The Night. His work explores identity through the image of the community. He has spent the last two years as an adjunct professor at Villanova University and West Chester University of PA and is currently pursing his MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts at Duke University.



Dan Smith is a photographer and filmmaker from Durham, NC.A former-professional photographer and a political scientist, photography has been an intense passion since he was young. Born in and raised near Durham, Dan spent the better-part of a decade in Washington, D.C., as a national security policy analyst, before returning to his hometown, to marry and start a family, in 2006. From 2007 – 20014, he served as Assistant Director of Programs at the Duke University Center for International Studies. He is currently a Masters Candidate at the Duke University MFA program in Experimental and Documentary Arts. Predominantly self-taught, since 1992, he has photographed a broad range of subject-matter, ranging from professional and amateur athletics, landscapes, catalog products, architecture, professional motorsports, international aviation events, documentary subjects and the human figure.



Alina Taalman is an editor, filmmaker and cartographer holding a Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. She is interested in personal storytelling, spatial histories and visualizing change over time.



Margaret Lou Brown is Senior Research Scholar and Director of Program’s at Duke University’s Forum for Scholars and Publics. A cultural anthropologist, she has worked with universities for more than 15 years in teaching, interdisciplinary program development, and community engagement, and has collaborated on a variety of research projects in Madagascar, the United States, and Nepal. Lou was born and raised in eastern North Carolina and enjoys getting to know people and their stories wherever she goes.

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