North Carolina Digital News

H. Lee Waters, Monroe, North Carolina, 1941 [VT.72]


From the collections of the State Archives of North Carolina. Scenes of Monroe, North Carolina and vicinity in Union County. Filmed in 1941 by H. Lee Waters, this silent film includes both black and white and rare color footage. Call number: VT.72. Length: ca. 17 minutes.

H. Lee Waters (1902-1997) operated a photography studio on Main Street in Lexington, North Carolina, for more than 60 years. For most of that time, his work covered the standard range of commercial still photography-weddings, portraits, school groups-but during the lean years of the late Depression Waters hit the road with a 16mm camera and projector and created “Movies of Local People” eventually accumulating a body of work depicting at least 118 communities primarily in North Carolina but also including nineteen places in South Carolina, nine in Virginia, and one in Tennessee. Waters’ films reveal the comings and goings of everyday life on the streets of the towns he filmed-men, women, and children going in and out of stores, walking down the sidewalks, often smiling and waving at the camera but sometimes unaware of its presence. Often parades, festivities, and school children were featured. Waters developed a fluid and expressive style, and the films feature an often vivacious depiction of community life along with beautiful portraits and experimental special effects. His movies would be screened with feature films in the local theater for a modest fee, and they served as a marketing tool for the theater by enticing more people to come to the movies. These short silent films were a commercial and artistic success, and in the mill towns and the small cities of the Textile Belt, thousands of people saw themselves and their communities on the big screen. These films record ordinary and extraordinary people, businesses, and events at a pivotal time in small town southern America, and they often show individuals and places that would not have been documented on film in any other circumstance. Waters’ films provide the only extant visual documentation of commercial enterprises and events in many instances.
The Waters family maintains the copyright to the films made by H. Lee Waters (1902-1997). As public access has improved, we are pleased with the interest being shown in this unique collection and feel that the community building activities and educational purposes for which they are being used would be greatly appreciated by Mr. Waters.

The family takes seriously its obligation to protect the integrity of this large body of work and it is our wish that the original intended uses be respected. The films digitized by The State Archives of North Carolina should be exhibited or displayed in the form of videos and not screen captured as still photographs. The still image collection by H. Lee Waters is housed at the Davidson County Historical Museum (DCHM). The family’s agreement with DCHM states that there will be no duplicate collection of still photographs. We encourage groups wishing to identify individuals in the films to utilize other ways of viewing this material. We ask that people who have received permission to use the films refrain from sharing this material with third parties.

Any commercial requests should be directed to the State Archives of North Carolina, Office of Registrar for review. The family (Tom Waters and Mary Waters Spaulding) asks the State Archives of North Carolina to notify us of any commercial requests. Such requests would then need to be negotiated with the family.


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