A lot has changed in Fayetteville over the last 40 years. Then again, a lot of things are seemingly the same as they have always been.
The Fayetteville Farmers’ Market, for example, still sets up on the square every Saturday the way it did back in the 1970s. Locals show up to mingle and shop today like they did back then, though there are more of them, and they dress a little differently.
In addition to the farmers peddling their wares, you’ll still find musicians picking guitars, and signing next to open guitar cases, surrounded by bright-eyed music lovers tapping their toes. Some of the songs played these days may even be the same ones that were popular back then.
The names of the businesses have changed, but the storefronts lining the square are still filled with local shops, and community banks.
There are still politicians shaking hands and making promises.
We know this because of artists like photographer Art Meripol, who recently unearthed a set of nearly 40 photos he took one fall morning in October 1974 while he was a student at the University of Arkansas.
At the time, Meripol was a student of longtime Fayetteville photographer Andrew Kilgore, and though he was relatively new to the world of photography, his talent was evident even back then. He has since gone on to a successful career in photography, taking pictures for Southern Living and other national publications for over 25 years.
Recently, Meripol posted the set of photos he recently converted to digital to his Facebook page, and they’ve gone semi-viral locally since then.
We got in touch with him to see what else he remembered about them, and he was nice enough to answer some questions for us.
Tell us a bit about your time in Fayetteville. You grew up here, correct?
I grew up in several cities and states as my family moved around some. In my junior year of high school, my parents made career changes and moved to Fayetteville from Dallas. After a year they decided to move back. I stayed.
Fayetteville High School was my eighth school in 12 years. I didn’t want to change again. And after all the places we’d lived Fayetteville was the first that felt like home, felt completely comfortable to me. It really was love at first sight.
Registering at FHS, I signed up for the Yearbook class. As it turned out, it was a fateful thing. The Yearbook advisor, Ferrell Ervin, was a remarkable teacher who put a camera in my hand saying “you’re the photographer.” It was just what I’d wanted and I haven’t stopped since.
The photos you recently unearthed of a Saturday at the Fayetteville Farmers’ Market have already gone semi-viral in Fayetteville. How did you come across them?
After years of storing old negatives and slides in boxes and bins and moving them from town to town I decided to de-clutter a bit and digitize everything. The film was not in what one would call archival storage. In addition to the few negatives I have from my early shooting days in Fayetteville, I have bins and bins of slides from my nearly 25 years as Senior Travel Photographer at Southern Living Magazine. I bought a Nikon Coolscan film scanner and started scanning everything to an external hard drive. Unfortunately my old negatives needed a lot of work. They were scratched and dusty. Fortunately, good photo software has really made it easier. The Farmers’ Market photos are the oldest ones I had. I was surprised to find I’d dragged those around for so long and even more surprised to see that it wasn’t terrible work for a new 20-year-old photographer. I scanned and posted them in 2013 but just recently someone found and shared them, and word spread.
What do you remember about taking these?
I don’t remember it very well. I visited the market several weekends that fall of 1974. It’s strange to see my work and have it look like something from a bygone era. I don’t feel like I’m that old. But the photos really feel like a time long gone.
I do remember being a bit intimidated in approaching strangers to shoot. I think the ability to approach people you don’t know with a camera is a learned skill, and this was a great early lesson for me. Some of these people knew I was shooting while others were more candid, like street photography. I don’t know about others but starting out I was never sure whether something was a photograph or not. Looking back I think my instincts were pretty good in what I chose. They really do capture a place in time.
What was it like to study under Andrew Kilgore?
The whole shoot was for Andrew’s class. He taught through the Art Department and I was a journalism major so we really didn’t see things from the same perspective. Andrew’s work is as refined, subtle and sophisticated as any I’ve seen in my career. He’s a true master and a jewel for Arkansas. No praise would be too much. Sometimes you have to leave home to appreciate something. I am not sure if Arkansas truly appreciates Andrew. I hope so. But for Andrew’s class, I was too literal, too journalistic and that was not what his class was about. But being a journalism major who only wanted to be a news photographer, it was one of only three photo classes offered on campus. There was a basic class in Journalism and one in the Architecture program under the wonderful Martha Dellinger. I took both of those as well.
Andrew wanted me to pursue a more thoughtful, more deliberative and artful path. Shooting journalistic images wasn’t what the class was. By the end I think he liked what I’d done. After the class was over and my print portfolio had been graded, I took the prints to the market and laid them out on the grass and people there finally got to see what I’d been doing. I think they were underwhelmed. Or maybe people were more reticent then. But the passage of time has made them so much more of a record of a bygone era. I’m pretty excited and grateful for the attention they’re getting. I see where people sharing them on Facebook are finding relatives long gone and telling stories of growing up shopping on the square with parents.
Have you been to Fayetteville recently? What are your impressions of how it’s changed over the years?
I’ve been coming back to Fayetteville on-and-off for years. Besides a few great friends I like to visit, I also came back often shooting for Southern Living. I was the token Razorback on the staff. Not all but most of the staff were alums of Auburn or Alabama. I shot for the Travel department. Whenever a writer wanted to do a story in Arkansas, they turned to me as the “expert.” I was able to keep Arkansas stories coming in the magazine for years. Taking a writer to Arkansas for the first time and touring them around was always a kick. They’d have the usual stereotypes in their mind and I loved shattering that, seeing them fall in love with the state.
There probably aren’t many places in the South I haven’t been at least twice. I know every corner from Maryland to Miami to El Paso. I do have favorite places. Fayetteville today still stands at the top of the list. It’s a vibrant vital city with people who care about it’s future. They may or may not agree on how to get there, but they care about their city. That’s more unique than you might imagine. The only comparable city in the South might be Asheville, NC. I really would like to move back and hope my wife and I can return to live one day.
It looks like there may be at least one self portrait in the set. Is that you in the mirror?
Yep, that’s me. More hair and less belly. Photography keeps me in shape, but it’s been a long time since I was in that shape. That might be my first selfie.
Your photography seems to have taken you all over the world over the years. What have been some of your favorite shoots that you can remember?
People have always asked what my favorite shoots, photos and places are. Going out week-in and week-out averaging 150 nights a year on the road for almost 25 years, I got to see and experience so much. Looking back I realize the best thing about it was meeting and photographing people who were passionate about what they were doing. Southern Living only covered the best things in the South and I got to see that every week.
I do have favorite places to photograph for various reasons. Travel photography has to create a sense-of-place for readers to hold in their mind and to help them experience it even if only vicariously. Some places are so visual they make that easy, places like New Orleans or Charleston. Creating a sense-of-place, creating iconic images in out-of-the-way places was always a challenge and very rewarding when successful.
As I’m scanning, I find images that bring back lots of stories. I just scanned images from a story about various animal migrations across the South. I shot horseshoe crabs migration across the Chesapeake Bay, and the waterfowl migration across Arkansas’s White River basin (among others). I found some fun photos from the town of Tequila, Mexico I shot on Mexican Independence Day years ago.
I have some vague memories of touring the agave fields and doing shots with workers and then apparently I shot some parades. It was truly 25 years of adventures.
Working at Southern Living was incredible. The readers of the magazine had a real sense of ownership and that made the job fun. But best of all, I was surround by the deeply talented people the magazine hired. It was an energizing and inspiring place to be.
What have you been working on recently? What’s next?
I finally got off the road and left the magazine early in 2013. I loved it but it was time to stay home. I’m working freelance and loving it. I shoot for a number of local magazines and occasionally national ones when they have a need locally.
I try not to take on many shoots that require travel. I’m fortunate that my years at the magazine gave me contacts throughout the South. Two recent bigger projects were very different and both very fun. One was for the Alabama Tourism Department.
Last summer I photographed 88 barbecue joints across the state in 10 weeks for a book called Alabama Barbecue-Delicious Road Trips. The first printing has sold out and the second one is almost gone. But they’ll order a third printing (and yes it is on Amazon.) That was a tasty shoot. I didn’t eat all that much barbecue, but sure tasted a lot.
Another project was, to me, both a wonderfully creative challenge and a prestigious shoot. Several state and local governmental groups came together in an effort to have various civil rights sites in Alabama designated as World Heritage Sites by UNESCO, the cultural arm of the United Nations. I worked with an ad agency and their art director to photograph the book. The art director researched historic images from those sites and we recreated them EXACTLY as they are today. The book then overlaid the historic images with my modern ones. (Example to the right)
Only 30 copies were made and they were presented to UNESCO’s board in Paris last June. The book was praised but UNESCO suggested broadening the scope so earlier this spring I photographed additional sites.
I drove to Topeka, Kansas to photograph for the Brown V. Board of Education decision that struck down separate but equal. From there on to Little Rock and Central High. From there on to Memphis for the MLK assassination site at the Lorraine Motel, and then to Oxford Miss and Ole Miss and the James Meredith integration. From there I went to Atlanta and MLK’s Ebenezer Baptist Church at the King Center. Then on to the Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro, North Carolina, and finally to the Lincoln Memorial in DC. The new version of the book is at UNESCO this week. Wish us luck. The first version of the book won Silver at the National Advertising Federation ADDY awards last week.
More to my usual work week, I shot a portrait of an artist on Monday and then a picnic this morning for AAA magazine.
It’s a bit of everything as a freelancer.