Manns Harbor, 1937-39. Photo: Charles A. Farrell, courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
Over the last several years, I have written a series of photo essays focusing on Charles A. Farrell’s photographs of fishing communities on the North Carolina coast in the late 1930s and early 1940s.
This is the 10th and last essay that I am devoting to Farrell’s remarkable collection of photographs.
In this essay, I will showcase photographs that he took on Cedar Island, Wanchese, Manns Harbor and one or two other fishing villages that I have not previously featured in this series, as well as a few old favorites.
Fish house worker, herring and shad fishery, Terrapin Point in Bertie County, May 1941. Photo: Charles A. Ferrell, courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
But I mainly want to do something else, and it is something that maybe I should have done when I began this series. At that time, I suppose that I was afraid that it would distract from the people and places in his photographs.
But now I think it is time to explain why Charles Farrell never published his extraordinary photographs and why he and his photographs were forgotten for so many years.
Herring fisherman on the Chowan River near Colerain, circa 1937-39. Photo: Charles A. Farrell, courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
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That story goes back to the 1930s when Farrell, and often his wife Anne, began traveling the backroads of the North Carolina coast.
At that time, they lived in Greensboro, where they ran an art supply business, camera store and photography studio called The Art Shop. But whenever they could spare the time, they headed east to the coast.
One of the last great schooners to visit North Carolina waters, Currituck Sound 1937-39. Photo by Charles A. Farrell, courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
How Charles Farrell came to feel so akin to the state’s fishing communities has never been clear to me. His father was an itinerant tintype photographer who, after the Civil War, traveled from hamlet to hamlet, making portraits for people who had often never seen a camera before.
Herring roe canning room, Perry-Belch Co., Colerain, 1937-39. Photo: Charles A. Farrell, courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
I have wondered if Charles’ father used to visit the fishing villages that his son later grew so entranced by, and if his father’s stories later led Charles to visit those communities and fall under their spell. But of course, I don’t really know.
Brothers James Lewis Beasley Jr. and Ralph Beasley at play on Little Colington Island, 1938. They are playing a game the village children called “hoop and wire,” using an old coat hanger and a round gill net weight. Both boys grew up and became commercial fishermen. Photo: Charles A. Farrell, courtesy, State Archives of North Carolina
What I do know though is that Charles kept returning to those fishing communities again and again, as if he was searching for some lost part of himself by the sea.
Beginning in 1936 or 1937, he began documenting life and work in dozens of the …….