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Hendrix Professor’s Photographic Archives Featured in Major Exhibition

Works curated by Maxine Payne part of current show at Atlanta’s High Museum  

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CONWAY, Ark. (October 16, 2023) — Hendrix art professor and photographer Maxine Payne recently returned from the High Museum in Atlanta, Georgia, where she attended a special preview of A Long Arc: Photography and the American South since 1845, an exhibition and book featuring seven works of photography she has been curating for years. 

The exhibition, which opened September 13 and runs through January 14, 2024, is the first major survey of Southern photography in 25 years and “reveals the South’s critical impact on the evolution of the medium, posing timely questions about American culture and character.” Following its debut at the High, “A Long Arc” will travel to the Addison Gallery of American Art, Phillips Academy, Andover (February-July 2024) and the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts (September 2024-January 2025). (Read more about the exhibition below)

Payne’s curated works featured in the exhibition and book include six portraits of Evelyn Massengill made between 1937-41 and a 1946 portrait by Ellie Lee Weems of two sisters and their grumpy cat titled “Ethel Brown.”

The six portraits of Evelyn Massengill are now part of the museum’s permanent collection.  

In the spring, Payne curated an exhibit featuring the historic photographic archives of the late Southern photographer Ellie Lee Weems for Institute 193 in Lexington, Kentucky. Her collaborations with Institute 193 founder Phillip March Jones led to the 2015 Dust-to-Digital publication of Massengill family photographs in Making Pictures: Three for a Dime. The Massengill work includes a Hendrix connection too. Hendrix alum Dr. Richard McKelvey, class of 1964, is the husband of Sondra Massengill McKelvey. Their sons Erin McKelvey, class of 1994, and Bill McKelvey, class of 1996, are the grandsons of Evelyn Massengill.

“It is personally meaningful to have the Massengill family’s work and Ellie Lee Weems’ work showcased at the esteemed High Museum of American Art and published by Aperture. This inclusion ensures that the work becomes part of the documented history of photography, which is significant,” said Payne, adding that the archives, like many others, were stored in shoe boxes and attics for decades and their cultural impact was unknown. “This exhibition and publication contribute to the broader narrative of photography and make that narrative more whole.”

The experience of seeing the work of Massengill and Weems work on the same wall with photographers Walker Evans, Mike Disfarmer, and Peter Sekaer was “incredibly exciting,” Payne said. 

“These photographers have had a profound impact on my own work and have shaped my understanding of the power of photography in forming perceptions of the American South,” she said. “The exhibition as a whole is thorough, and its chronological arrangement prompts viewers to contemplate the role of photography in documenting the profound cultural shifts that have occurred in the South.”

The inclusion of this work in the exhibition and publication aligns with Payne’s teaching philosophy, which encourages students “to produce work that is a true reflection of their time and place.” 

“The Massengill family could have never foreseen their 'three for a dime' photographs becoming part of photography history,” explained Payne. “They were simply finding creative ways to make a living and have fun doing it. This approach to image-making, rooted in place and experience, emphasizes the creative journey over the pursuit of fame or transient relevance in the art world.” 

“It is also serendipitous that Disfarmer, who has been recognized since the 1970’s by the art world, photographed the same subjects, from the same rural communities as the Massengills,” she added. “I have a personal connection to these people and this place; it’s quite satisfying to have this tiny region of Arkansas represented this way.”

Despite being and educated man and a trained photographer, having attended the prestigious Tuskegee Institute and other commercial photography schools, Ellie Lee Weems’ contribution to representing the black experience and, more specifically, his community, remains largely underrepresented in the broader context of photographic history, Payne said.

“Like James Van Der Zee, Weems’ photographs depict successful and proud black individuals who are active members of vibrant communities. It is evident that Weems was dedicated to portraying his subjects in the most favorable light. He captured the beauty and success of his subjects in images they could take immense pride in,” she said. “This marked a stark contrast to the images emerging from the cameras of white photographers in the American South during this era. Weems’ commitment was to his community, not to promoting himself.” 

About the Exhibition 

The exhibition includes American Civil War-era photographs demonstrate how the practice of photography transformed across the nation and established visual codes for articulating national identity and expressing collective trauma. Photographs created for the Farm Security Administration in the 1930s to the 1950s demonstrate how that era defined a new kind of documentary aesthetic that dominated American photography for decades and included jarring and unsettling pictures exposing economic and racial disparities. The exhibition also features civil rights–era photographs, which galvanized the nation with raw depictions of violence and the struggle for justice, as well as contemporary photography that demonstrates how photographers working today continue to explore Southern history and themes to grasp American identity.   

About Maxine Payne 

Currently a professor in the Art Department at Hendrix College, Maxine Payne works to find ways to engage community in her work and speaks to the idea of place. She currently shares the Isabelle Peregrin Odyssey Professorship with author and Hendrix English and creative writing professor Dr. Tyrone Jaeger. Their collaborative project with Hendrix College students and alumni, called Audio Visual Arkansas, focuses on collecting digital stories about Arkansans and can be seen at   

She was awarded the 2013 National Museum of Women in the Arts, Arkansas Fellowship for her photographic work. Since 2004, she has photographed hundreds of Arkansas historic bridges for the Arkansas Highway and Transportation Department. 

She received her M.F.A. from the University of Iowa where she was also an Iowa Arts Fellow. She was selected a Fellow of the American Photography Institute at New York University, as well as a Fellow of the College Art Association. 

Her work can be seen at

About Hendrix College

Founded in 1876, Hendrix College is featured in Colleges That Change Lives: 40 Schools That Will Change the Way You Think About Colleges and celebrated among the country’s leading liberal arts colleges for academic quality, engaged learning opportunities and career preparation, vibrant campus life, and value. The Hendrix College Warriors compete in 21 NCAA Division III sports. Hendrix has been affiliated with the United Methodist Church since 1884. Learn more at   

  “… Through engagement that links the classroom with the world, and a commitment to diversity, inclusion, justice, and sustainable living, the Hendrix community inspires students to lead lives of accomplishment, integrity, service, and joy.” —Hendrix College Statement of Purpose