Photographs from the First State University

Edited byErica Eisdorfer

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196 pp., 8 x 11, 184 color and 16 b&w photographs

  • Hardcover ISBN: 978-0-8078-3035-2
    Published: March 2006

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Author Q&A

Copyright (c) 2006 by the University of North Carolina Press. All rights reserved.

A conversation with Erica Eisdorfer, editor of Carolina: Photographs From the First State University, on capturing the essence of the celebrated campus.

Q: What's the story behind Carolina's creation?
A: For all my years here [at the Bull's Head Bookshop], and I think that's now 26, customers have asked for a "book with pictures of the university." So there's always been that gap. A couple of years ago I went to the UNC Press with a plea: "please make one," I said. And they all looked at me and said, "why don't you do it?" And so that was the genesis of the thing.

Q: What image of UNC did you want to capture in this selection of photos?
A: I love the fact that UNC is "by the people, for the people." The state university is the noblest of ideas: a liberal education for all the people. So I knew I wanted to show Carolina in all its diverse gorgeousness: all the faces of all the nations of the world on this one campus. But also, as we all know, UNC is the oldest state university and with that comes a tremendous dignity. So I wanted to be sure that the book was respectful of the origins of the university and the years that this campus has under its belt. And also, I believe that this part of the country is truly lovely, aesthetically speaking. So I knew there had to be azaleas and dogwoods and the heartbreaking loveliness of spring.Oh yeah: and basketball. I figured basketball was important.

Q: In compiling this book, you must have been forced to make many tough decisions. How were the photographs selected?
A: The biggest challenge was obviously the fact that there was such largesse to choose from and I had to leave some pictures out. It has 200 pictures as it is, and that's a lot! I went into the project with a list: the famous landmarks, of course, but also the quiet little places that don't get as much celebrity. I wanted the pictures to be beautiful. I wanted to show a modern sensibility—that is, I knew that we needed a current look at UNC, but at the same time, as I sat in the photographic archives in the basement of Wilson Library and dug through all those boxes of antique photos, I knew we couldn't have a book without at least some of them.

Q: Who is Carolina's audience?
A: Carolina is for students who want to thank their parents for sending them here, and parents who want to be able to envision their kids as they work and play on this campus. It's for faculty who are going to Japan or Botswana and need a present to bring to their hosts. It's for parting gifts to retiring staff. It's for sports fans: this book is full of pictures that would warm the cockles of any fan's heart. It's for alumni, most of all, to remember the place they loved.

Q: Is there a story you wanted to tell through the selected pictures?
A: The pictures are arranged carefully. First, we assumed that there would be pictures that people wouldn't be able to wait for. The Old Well. Kenan Stadium. Other important landmarks. And then we launch into the college year. There's a picture of moving into a dorm room and one of textbook rush. Then we start studying—the library and autumn events and fall sports. And football! Then we tell the story of the brief wonderful snowstorms on campus and then, of course, there's basketball! And after winter comes spring in its glory. The whole thing culminates with graduation, as does the student's years on campus. So the book is arranged like a year at UNC.

Q: Do you think this book will be of interest to anyone who does not have a personal connection to the university?
A: As Doris Betts so eloquently writes in her wonderful foreword, people like her dad, who don't have a personal connection but who are nevertheless affected by the ambiance and the dignity and the grandeur of the place will find something to love in this book. They will bring it home and sit on the couch with their kids and leaf through its pages and they'll say, "This is what it's like to go to college." And then maybe their kids will say, "But not every university is like this one,is it?" And they will agree that no, Carolina stands alone.

Q: Digging through old photos, you must have found many secrets or little known facts about the university that do not appear in the book.Can you share one?
A: I didn't know the terrific story of Elisha Mitchell, after whom Mt. Mitchell is named. In 1857 he was climbing the mountain when he fell to his death. The North Carolina Collection has his pocketwatch; the story is that it stopped at the moment he died. But he didn't make it into the book so neither did his story. Too bad!

Q: There is a photograph of dancers from the South Asian student organization. How did you decide which organizations to mention in Carolina?
A: Well, that was often by what picture I found and how good it was. I got a lot of those student organization pictures from the Yack or from pictures that didn't make it into the Yack because of their own space limitations. It was all about what I thought made a good picture, just to look at. I loved that particular picture because of the motion in it.

Q: Carolina is full of UNC trivia. Where did you find all of this information?
A: Talk, talk, talkety, talk. I talked to the guys in photographic archives and I got one of the students who gives campus tours to come to give me a personal tour (of the pictures I'd collected) and to my co-workers at the Bull's Head, many of whom, of course, attendedCarolina, and I delved into different books with tidbits about the university, especially The First State University by William Powell, who knows everything.

Q: The mix of natural beauty and architectural beauty separates UNC from many other universities. Did this project reinforce for you the feeling that UNC really is unique?
A: Absolutely. One of the best things about this book is the multi-variety of the photographers: professionals, journalism students, art photographers, hobbyists. And they each found something else that was beautiful—and by that I mean striking in an aesthetically pleasing way—about UNC-Chapel Hill. Things I never would have thought of. Like the picture of the crane on a building top against a huge amazing sky. Or the wonderful gargoyles on Person Hall. Or the tie-dyed kid listening hard to the Pit Preacher, himself dressed in black. There's so much that's perfectly beautiful about Carolina and I love these pictures because they speak to the less obvious as much as to the sights that we're all used to sighing at.

Q: In Carolina you mention many people who have succeeded outside of UNC, such as Michael Jordan and Mia Hamm. How did you decide whose success stories to share?
A: This was hard. There were so many people who've contributed so much to this university over its years. We peppered the book with quotes about the university by people whose names you know and believe that in this way, we have paid homage to some of the greats. Mia Hamm and Michael Jordan are arguably this era's sports superstars and we had really good pictures of them, especially the picture of the MJ bus which is great. I wanted to make sure that Thomas Wolfe's face was in there, so I dragged a sweet camera-person over to the North Carolina Collection and she took a great photo of his framed portrait in the little room they have that's devoted to him. And there's a great picture of Roy and Dean, a portrait really, that alone is worth the price of the book.

Q: Carolina pays tribute to many of the famous athletes and coaches of the university's past and present. In compiling the photographs, quotations, and stories for Carolina, what did you discover about the relationship between athletics and academics at the university? How does one inform the other?
A: I think that Dean Smith said it most eloquently: "Athletics is to the university like the front porch is to a home. It is the most visible part, yet certainly not the most important." I love that he said that. It's one of the quotes in the book.

Q: What message does Carolina send to future Tar Heels?
A: You're lucky, future Tar Heels, to have this fine institution to look forward to. You'll enjoy an excellent liberal education in the midst of an active, engaged student body surrounded by the quintessentially lovely college campus.

Q: Do you have a favorite retreat, a quiet spot, on campus? You don't have to tell us where.
A: Yes, and I'm glad to tell you where. It's the Bull's Head Bookshop, ready to serve you since 1925.