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Photographer's Witness to History on Display in UNC Libraries

A young, unrecognized Elvis Presley being turned away from the Charlotte Coliseum. The ladies auxiliary of the Ku Klux Klan in hoods and robes. Children living in poverty.

These are just a few subjects of the photos of longtime Charlotte Observer photographer Don Sturkey now on exhibit in two UNC libraries.

“Carolina Faces: The Photography of Don Sturkey,” on display through May 31, features 39 of his photos in the N.C. Collection Gallery of Wilson Library and 14 in the entrance area of Davis Library.

Sturkey will give a free public lecture about his career and photographs at 5:45 p.m. March 22 in Wilson Library. A reception at 5 p.m. will precede the program. The talk and exhibits are free to the public.

As a photojournalist in North Carolina from 1952 to 1989, Sturkey was witness to history writ large and small. In 2005, he donated his archive of approximately 104,000 photographic negatives to the N.C. Collection, where they are preserved and available for consultation and use.

Sturkey, of Belmont, chose the images to be exhibited. “I chose photos that I really liked,” he said. “I never liked photos that were over-posed or over-manipulated. I always tried as much as possible to be a fly on the wall and to document things as they really are.”

He also sought out a good cross section of photos that captured the reality of life in the Carolinas, he said.

“Sturkey prided himself on capturing the emotion of the moment,” said Bob Anthony, curator of the N.C. Collection. “Looking at these photos is like being allowed a glimpse of the subject’s most inner self.”

Sturkey, a native of Lincolnton, Ga., attended Gardner-Webb College in Boiling Springs and discovered his calling while in the Navy during the Korean War.

His photojournalism career began with the Shelby Daily Star and the High Point Enterprise. In 1955, he joined The Charlotte Observer and was promoted to chief photographer in 1963, a position he held until he retired in 1989.

Sturkey won the National Press Photographers Association’s Newspaper Photographer of the Year award in 1961 and was Southern Photographer of the Year in 1962 and 1963. In 1991, he was inducted into the N.C. Journalism Hall of Fame, housed in and sponsored by UNC’s School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Sturkey wrote A Slice of Time: A Carolina’s Album 1950-90 (1990). He provided photographs for The Catawba River (1983) and Becoming Truly Free: 300 Years of Black History in the Carolinas (1985).


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