The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project (1975–1977)
A Very Brief History
The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project was originally named The Kentucky Bicentennial Photographic Project. Ted Wathen conceived the idea to document the state of Kentucky during the Bicentennial period by photographing in each of Kentucky’s 120 counties. He contacted Bob Hower, a photographer he had known from Boston, who did large format documentary work. Hower agreed to work on the project, and together they solicited nationally for a third photographer. Bill Burke, a faculty member at School of the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, was selected to be the third member of the team.
In 1976, feeling that a “Bicentennial progress report” was necessary, the project staged a 150-print exhibition Kentucky Seen at the J.B. Speed Museum in Louisville, Kentucky. It was subsequently broken down into three shows, and toured the state under the auspices of the Kentucky Historical Society. That exhibit is in the permanent collection of the Kentucky Historical Society.
Team members continued photographing through 1976 and 1977. Feeling that the “Bicentennial” moniker had no meaning after 1976, the name was changed to The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project.
1979 saw the “completion” exhibit, The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project, at the International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House. The GEH briefly toured the exhibit. Other exhibits were held at Light Work in Syracuse New York, Nexus in Atlanta and Northern Kentucky University.
60 prints from the KDPP are in the collection of the Smithsonian American Museum of Art. They were exhibited at the Smithsonian in a show entitled Exposed and Developed and a catalogue of the same name.
Rough Road: The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project 1975–1977, a comprehensive revival of the KDPP, with accompanying catalogue, was exhibited at the Frazier History Museum in Louisville Kentucky during 2011–12. Rough Road is presently an exhibit available to tour.
Continuing the Project…
Forty years later, Ted and Bob decided to continue this project by making another documentary survey of Kentucky. This second iteration of The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project began in 2015 and is ongoing. You can see some of the in-progress work here. Those images you see below help give a sense of where we are going in the project, but there is much yet to be done. Will you help us by contributing?