William Christenberry

William Christenberry is known for his elegiac photographs made largely in Hale County, a small rural area in central Alabama. His images memorialize the South and speak without nostalgia of the passage of time and how the past is embedded in our experience of the present.

At the start of his career, Christenberry used a Kodak Brownie camera he’d been gifted as a child to photograph images as studies for the content of paintings. His first photographs were black and white portraits of ramshackled buildings, as here. Soon thereafter he began to use color film in an effort to capture a sense of the presence of the original structures within the surrounding landscape of rural Alabama. The Weatherspoon owns one of these later images as well.

Near Stewart Alabama illustrates Christenberry’s relationship with Walker Evans, an earlier American photographer who had visited Hale County, Alabama, on assignment for the Farm Service Administration and then again in 1936 for Fortune Magazine along with the writer James Agee, gathering material that formed the basis of their 1941 book Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. The book had a profound influence on Christenberry; in turn, when Evans met the younger artist in the early 1960s, he called Christenberry’s Brownie photographs “perfect little poems.”

William Christenberry, Near Stewart, Alabama, 1960 (detail, printed later). Gelatin silver print, Brownie negative, 4 1/4 x 6 1/2 in. Weatherspoon Art Museum. Purchased with funds from the Burlington Industries Endowment, 2020.7. © The Estate of William Christenberry / Hemphill Artworks LLC