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H. Lee Waters Films

A guide to the digital collection.


The H. Lee Waters Digital Collection at Duke University Libraries presents the films photographer H. Lee Waters made between 1936 and 1942.  Waters, a resident of Lexington, North Carolina, would shoot scenes of common everyday life in the towns he visited:  children playing on the school playground, workers leaving the mill, shoppers on bustling downtown sidewalks.  He would have his film developed, make some trims to it, return to the town (having made arrangements with the local theater owner to project his film) and sell tickets to the show.  These "Movies of Local People" -- as Waters called them -- provided him with a good source of income at the time and, in the years since they came to the David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, have as a corpus of work grown in stature, acknowledged as a significant documentary achievement in their capturing of everyday life in North Carolina and the surrounding region during the Great Depression.  In its way, Waters' film collection is peerless, and much like two other collections at Duke's Rubenstein Library, the Hugh Mangum Photographs and Frank Clyde Brown Audio Recordings, stands to enliven any portrait drawn of North Carolina in the first half of the twentieth century.  Also included in the collection are the ledgers Waters used to log theater showings and ticket sales, the home movies he made with his family, and oral histories Rubenstein Library archivists created with his children, Tom Waters and Mary Waters Spaulding.


Poster for "Movies of Local People." H. Lee Waters Film Collection, David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library, Duke University.