Bayard Wooten in her military uniform at Camp Glenn.
Sometimes, tucked away in the hidden corners of North Carolina history, are nuggets of forgotten stories that are fascinating and need to be recalled.
Thanks to an excellent presentation on the life and work of Bayard Wooten at Roanoke Island Festival Park, a largely overlooked pioneer in photography and women rights.
Wooten chronicled life in North Carolina and surrounding states in the first third of the 20th century. But that is a poor description for the artistry of her images.
Born in 1875 in New Bern, she began taking photographs around 1905. Working with single exposure glass plates, Wooten’s images of life in the 1920s and 30s are timeless in their artistry.
A single mother who raised two boys, Wooten was a woman who seems to have rejected many of the restrictions of her day. Hoping to generate business for her fledgeling photography business, she offered to take picture of NC National Guard Soldiers at Camp Glenn beginning in 1909. At the time Camp Glenn was the training facility for the state’s National Guard.
Her pictures were so compelling that she was asked to be the official photographer for the state’s National Guard. The images she took of a decaying Camp Bragg after WWI, and the conditions the soldiers were experiencing, forced the state and federal government to invest in the facility that eventually became Fort Bragg.
In 1914 she did something almost no one else had done. Seated in the passenger’s seat of a Wright Flyer Model B she flew over New Bern and the Neuse River taking pictures. She was almost certainly the first woman photographer to do so.
Wooten photograph depicting life in rural North Carolina circa 1930.
She is perhaps best known, though for her photography of life in rural North Carolina, Alabama and Tennessee in the 1920s and 1930s. A remarkable collection of those image is now on display at Roanoke Island Festival Park.
There are, perhaps, three dozen photos in the exhibit, so it’s not very large. Nonetheless, this is one show that should be on the to do list.
The exhibit will be on display through May.