Augusta University Theater Performances based on “Vanishing Georgia” Photographs

Augusta University students performing in Theatre AUG’s production “Moving Photographs: A Vanishing Georgia.” This performance is based on a photograph of dental students with corpse at Atlanta Dental College, Atlanta, Georgia, ca. 1908 (ric016)

“Moving Photographs: A Vanishing Georgia” is the result of a research and creative scholarship project I have been working on for quite some time now.  I was introduced to the Vanishing Georgia collection about ten years ago while teaching as a Lecturer in the Department of Communication Studies at the University of Georgia.  I dabbled in the archive for research purposes and taught a special topics course, titled Visual Culture, Rhetoric and Performance, in which students learned methods for analyzing and performing images from the Vanishing Georgia collection.

Augusta University students performing in Theatre AUG’s production “Moving Photographs: A Vanishing Georgia.” This performance is based on a photograph of two African American women hoeing cotton, Greene County, Georgia, between 1925 and 1950 (grn015).

In spring 2018, I was awarded a research grant by the Augusta University Pamplin College of Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences, where I currently am an Assistant Professor in the Department of Communication.  The grant enabled me to move the project toward a fully staged theater production, a dream I have had for a while now.  With the project, I was (and still am) interested in exploring the stories and memories evoked through the performance of the photographs, and how these glimpses of Georgia’s past impact culture and life in Georgia today.  Over the summer, I researched the archive and began writing the script.  I also created research and writing prompts for the student-performers so that we could collaborate in the script writing process.  The result of our labors is a performance that uses visual, communication, theater, and performance studies theories and methodologies to critically analyze, represent, and recreate the Vanishing Georgia collection–and specifically, a selection of photographs collected from the Augusta area.  Access to the photographs by means of the Digital Library of Georgia and the Georgia Archives has been pivotal to our process in both writing and staging our script.  We are looking forward to sharing our archival and photographic discoveries with our community.

– Melanie O’Meara, Assistant Professor, Department of Communication
Augusta University.

Theatre AUG’s production titled “Moving Photographs: A Vanishing Georgia” ran in Augusta University’s Maxwell Performing Arts Theatre March 21- March 24, 2019.  

The Vanishing Georgia Photographic Collection of almost 18,000 images is the result of a Georgia Archives project begun in the mid-1970s to locate and copy historically significant photographs held by individuals throughout Georgia. A National Endowment for the Humanities grant supported an expansion of the project from 1977-1979, and images continued to be added to the collection until 1996. Digitization of the photographs was a joint project of the Georgia Archives and the Digital Library of Georgia.


An Outreach Visit to Tattnall County Archives Was Enjoyed By All

Sheila McAlister, director of the Digital Library of Georgia, and Pharris Johnson, chair of the Tatnall County Archives’ Board of Trustees.

Five years ago, a group of us reorganized Tattnall County Archives and opened it to the public. During that time, we have focused on documents that are mostly governmental in nature, but as those get in order, we have slowly begun to fill other community wishes, including the need to archive photos of vanished and vanishing people, places, structures, townscapes, and landscapes.

About all I know of photography is whether a picture is color or black-and-white. Fortunately, our board chair has a motto that has saved me many times: when you don’t know, ask a pro.

A series of inquiries brought us to Sheila McAlister, the director of the Digital Library of Georgia. But she was headquartered in Athens, and we were four hours southeast, in Reidsville. No problem, she said. She’d drive down. Since part of her job was outreach, she wouldn’t charge us. Our biggest question proved how to feed her since she was vegan! Going out to the barbecue joint was not an option.

Sheila drove down on a sunny March day. Entire fields were the blood-red of sheep sorrel with lavender washes of toadflax bloom. Each tree in the bottomlands was a different shade of green. Dogwoods were wearing their wedding veils.

For three hours we sat with Sheila, firing questions at her and scribbling pages of notes. From the most basic question to the most complicated, Sheila patiently advised us on how to proceed. She praised us for wanting to plan ahead, not just jumping into the middle of a big project without first laying the groundwork. She didn’t mind that she had to start at the beginning. Soon we were deep into terms like “resolution” and “server space” and “metadata.” Sheila’s answers were comprehensive, and she always made sure to give us choices.

For lunch, we pulled out a Mediterranean platter of hummus, pita, olives and lots of sliced vegetables, perfect for Sheila.

Being a small, rural, volunteer-run repository, our resources in terms of finances and skills are limited. We do a good job with what we have, but sometimes we need a pro, and when we needed Sheila, she didn’t hesitate. She was incredibly generous with her knowledge and her time. And the minute she arrived back to her desk at the Digital Library of Georgia, she emailed us with links to tutorials, contacts at other repositories, and examples of documents.

Since we reorganized the Tattnall Archives, we have received the most surprising and wonderful assistance from all directions. This keeps us on our path and inspires us to make our repository into a valued community resource. Without Sheila helping us to set up a digital photo archive, we’d still be lost in the dark.

– Janisse Ray, Director, Tatnall County Archives