Light and Air

The Photography of Bayard Wootten

By Jerry W. Cotten

with a new foreword by Stephen J. Fletcher

272 pp., 8 x 10, 138 color plates., 52 halftones, notes, bibl., index

  • Paperback ISBN: 978-1-4696-3248-3
    Published: October 2017
  • E-book EPUB ISBN: 978-1-4696-3405-0
    Published: August 2017
  • E-book PDF ISBN: 979-8-8908-6951-7
    Published: August 2017

Buy this Book

To purchase online via an independent bookstore, visit

Awards & distinctions

1998 Mary Ellen LoPresti Award, Art Libraries Society of North America, Southeast Chapter

A trailblazer for women photographers in the South, North Carolina's Bayard Wootten (1875-1959) overcame economic hardship, gender discrimination, and the obscurity of a small-town upbringing to become the state's most significant early female photographer. This advocate of equality for women combined an artistic vision of photography with determination and a love of adventure to forge a distinguished career spanning half a century.

Originally trained as an artist, Wootten worked in photography's pictorial tradition, emphasizing artistic effect in her images at a time when realistic and documentary photography increasingly dominated the medium. Traveling throughout North Carolina and surrounding states, she turned the artistry of her eye and lens on the people and places she encountered.

Having opened a studio in her hometown of New Bern in 1905, Wootten moved to Chapel Hill in 1928, where her clients included the University of North Carolina. Between 1932 and 1941, she also provided photographs for six books--including Cabins in the Laurel, Old Homes and Gardens of North Carolina, and Charleston: Azaleas and Old Bricks--lectured extensively, and exhibited her photographs as far away as New York and Massachusetts.

Light and Air features 190 illustrations, including 136 duotone reproductions of Wootten's photographs taken in North Carolina, South Carolina, Alabama, and Tennessee--many of which have never before been published. Though she was an accomplished landscape and architectural photographer, some of Wootten's most notable images were the portraits she crafted of black and white Americans in the lower reaches of society, working people whom other photographers often ignored. These images are perhaps her most enduring legacy.

About the Author

Jerry W. Cotten is photographic archivist at the North Carolina Collection, University of North Carolina Library at Chapel Hill.
For more information about Jerry W. Cotten, visit the Author Page.


"This book, with 136 duotones, recovers the images of a little known but highly accomplished regional artist."--Women's Art Journal

"A wonderful book. From its striking design and production quality to Jerry Cotton's insightful and informative essay, Light and Air honors an important southern woman photographer and hints at the ways in which local commercial photographic archives can provide richly textured portraits of their communities."--Journal of Southern History

"The 136 sepia-toned images in Light and Air introduce Wootten to a wider audience, transporting viewers to a mythical pre-industrial South unencumbered by debilitating poverty, illiteracy, or racism. . . . Cotten analyzes Wootten’s life and work with a scholar’s scrutiny and an artist’s eye. This handsome volume, as elegant and visually appealing as Wootten’s photographs, is a book to savor. A monograph on Wootten was long overdue, and Cotten has remedied that lack admirably."--North Carolina Historical Review

"These images are perhaps her most enduring legacy. This is a striking volume, in both content and design, and a major contribution to the rich and growing history of southern photography."--Georgia Historical Quarterly

"This absorbing biography of Wootten, North Carolina’s most significant early female photographer, should kindle interest in Wootten’s remarkable work."--The Picture Professional

"Light and Air is a beautiful volume, carefully produced. Well researched and illustrated, it is a document of an old way of life and a tribute to a pioneering woman photographer and her contemporaries."--Bloomsbury Review