William Christenberry


After graduating with a Bachelor and MFA in painting from the University of Alabama, William Christenberry (American, 1936–2016) moved to New York City to begin a promising artistic career. In 1960, he came across a second edition of the 1941 book of black-and white photography Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans. The book depicts the experience of living among the dirt-poor farming families of Hale County during the Great Depression. Some of Evans' photographs made a deep impression on Christenberry, who had grown up close to Hale County. Shortly after beginning a professorship for painting at Corcoran College of Art and Design in Washington, DC, in 1968, Christenberry began making annual visits to Hale County during the summer to visit family and to take color photographs that initially served as reference for his paintings. Originally these were all made with a Kodak Brownie camera given to him as a child, but he later moved to a large format camera in order to capture more detail. Christenberry had befriended Walker Evans in the early 1960s, and it was Evans who encouraged him to take photography seriously. In the 1970s Christenberry’s photography was slowly recognized and he was a professor of painting until his retirement in 2009.