When I moved to North Carolina in 1989, I didn’t know a soul, I didn’t have a job, and I didn’t have a place to live; I stayed at the YMCA on Hillsborough Street before finding a room in a boarding house near the NCSU campus and, eventually, an apartment. And, although I’d been a photographer for nearly 20 years, I had never exhibited any of my photographs. I was 36 years old and had been a pharmacy technician in a small-town New Jersey drugstore. I moved here, in fact, to be a photographer, and to live my new life as one.
Now, 22 years later, 15 of my photographs are in the permanent collection of the North Carolina Museum of Art. One of them—Reidsville, North Carolina, June 2003—is included in the exhibition Landscape Sublime: Contemporary Photography, which closes November 13.
I have met some very good souls along the way. One of them is Huston Paschal, a long-time associate curator (now retired) at the Museum. When I began exhibiting my photographs in 1990, Huston, unbeknownst to me, started following my progress. I was exhibiting everywhere I could (photographs I’d made on Ellis Island), including the just-opened Cup A Joe on Hillsborough Street in Raleigh and the Weems Gallery at Meredith College. When I began to photograph around the Tar Heel State, Huston quietly watched as my new work—and I—progressed.
On the eve of my 50th birthday in 2003, I received a fateful phone call: Linda Dougherty (the NCMA’s current curator of contemporary art) was on the line. Would I like to schedule a time to bring a selection of my work? She and Huston wanted to see it, with a purchase in mind. Well, happy birthday to me!
I am grateful to Linda and to the NCMA and, now, to Jen Dasal, assistant curator, for including my work in the current exhibition. But mostly I am grateful to Huston, who saw in my work, and in the work of other North Carolina artists she watched grow and mature over her years as curator, something worth paying attention to.
David Simonton is a photographer living in Raleigh, N.C. See his work in the exhibition Landscape Sublime: Contemporary Photography through November 13.
Image: David Simonton, Reidsville, North Carolina, June 2003, 2003, printed 2004, gelatin-silver print, 9 11/16 x 9 13/16 in., Purchased with funds from the William R. Roberson Jr. and Frances M. Roberson Endowed Fund for North Carolina Art, © 2004 David Simonton