For decades, Winter Park’s Rick Lang took the roads less-traveled, looking to put bits of transitioning Southern culture and landscape in front of his lenses and artist’s eye, perhaps to preserve the moments before they slipped away.
Now, with the launch, through Duke University, of an online archive of hundreds of Lang’s finished photographs and thousands of his images on negatives, researchers, scholars, photographers, and Southern culture buffs will have the late photographer’s work to help show the world the evolving Southern landscape of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.
In an arrangement between Lang’s home school, Crealdé School of Art in Winter Park, and the Durham, N.C., university, the collection of Lang’s black-and-white images of barbecue smokers, road signs, churches, barns, bridges, and Southern culture, with a particular emphasis on his home state of Florida, have been cataloged, archived, and made available.
Lang died in 2013 and donated his collection to Crealdé, where he had served as the director of photography for 18 years. Recognizing the collection needed a bigger, more-resourced platform, Crealdé Executive Director and Chief Executive Officer Peter Schreyer reached out to Duke.
On Tuesday, Crealdé announced the opening of the online, searchable archive of Rick Lang photography, available through Duke University Libraries.
“This collaboration with Duke University ensures the preservation of Rick’s work, which captures romantic images of Southern landscapes in transition at the turn of the 21st century,” Schreyer, Lang’s mentor, colleague, and friend, said in a news release issued by Crealdé.
“Rick’s work is exemplary of traditional documentary photography,” Lisa McCarty, curator of the Archives of Documentary Arts at Duke University Libraries, added. “I could see a connection between his work and other similar photographers in our collection, such as Paul Kwilecki and Tom Rankin.”
The effort was a labor of love for Schreyer, who also is a photographer, and others who knew Lang. Lang left his work largely uncataloged. Using proceeds from the sale of some of Lang’s work and a gift from his mother, Crealdé engaged the help of Jon Manchester, to whom Lang had been friend and mentor. The photographer and Crealdé senior faculty member dedicated more than 120 hours over 18 months to the detailed preparation.
Schreyer then traveled to Duke by Amtrak to deliver 229 large-format black-and-white photographs and approximately 3,000 negatives.
Lang was born in Santa Monica, California, and spent most of his life in Winter Park, taking photography in his senior year of high school, according to the news release. He then studied at Crealdé, where he was encouraged to pursue an art degree at Daytona College, which he earned with high honors. He later worked as a commercial photographer and taught at Valencia College, Daytona College and Crealdé, where he was promoted in 1995 to director of photography.
Lang curated numerous exhibitions and judged many competitions throughout Central Florida. And his photographs are included in various public and private collections.
His work was the result of exploration.
On his website, Lang wrote:
“The primary motivation in my work comes from the idea that my interests and passions drive my photography. My interest in history, culture and travel gives reason to my work. When I am out for a day of photography, I tend to drive around relying on the serendipity of the road to allow me to find my subjects.
“Having said that, I have to admit that I do have some idea of where I am going.
“Over the years, I have developed a sixth sense looking at a map and seeing where good locations may likely be. I still use a DeLorme Atlas and Gazetteer, as I find a GPS only tells you where the road is.
“When possible, I plan my day so that I travel west in the morning, east in the afternoon and I prefer to travel north rather than south. This is not a hard-fast rule, but it helps keep the sun to my back and allow me to see my subject with the light falling on it.
“I listen to the whims (one might refer to them as a muse) that sit on my shoulder and tell me that I should think about turning here or to turn back there. The key thing is not to think too much about where I go, as I just like to poke around.”