Exhibit features town’s change

Sharing a common passion about a small town’s culture and identity, two men with different interests and backgrounds are once again documenting the evolution of Carrboro through words and pictures.

Dave Otto (left) and Richard Ellington (right), combine life experiences and photography to co-author a book on recent Carrboro history.
Dave Otto (left) and Richard Ellington (right) stand in front of the “Carrboro in Transition” exhibit. (Staff photo by Liz Tablazon)

Richard Ellington was born and raised in Carrboro and worked in information technology for 43 years. Dave Otto was born and raised in Massachusetts and worked as a research psychologist in environmental health for 35 years. The two co-authored “Carrboro: Images of America,” which was published in 2011 and told the history and early years of the town of Carrboro.

“Pairing up with Richard – I think we make a very nice team,” Otto says.

“We feed off each other’s talents,” Ellington says.

Today, they are working on a second edition that portrays the recent changes that have shifted the town’s identity. The book is scheduled to be published in February and will focus on events and changes from 1950 to today.

Ellington has a collection of photographic memorabilia that has grown through the decades. Otto, who pursued his hobby of photography after retirement, takes photographs of Carrboro’s places and people.

Some of the photographs that will be included in the book are currently on exhibit at WomanCraft on East Main Street. The exhibit, which Otto titled, “Carrboro in Transition,” displays portraits of residents who have made a significant impact or contribution to the town, and photographs of landmarks and historical sites. They include Cliff’s Meat Market owner Cliff Collins; Brother Peacemaker, who owns the Gates of Beauty Auto Body Shop; and the Fitch family of Fitch Lumber and Hardware, a business that has been passed down through four generations.

The families and businesses that have been around for decades characterize Carrboro, but as demographics change, the culture does too, Ellington says.

“There’s an enormous amount of change occurring in Carrboro right now. Some of it is very, very evident,” Otto says. “Carrboro used to pride itself in the old-fashioned look. You looked up and down the street 10 years ago, and nothing was more than two stories high. Carrboro is running out of buildable space. … Carrboro’s growing up.”

Otto and Ellington both say that arts and entertainment have transformed Carrboro. Ellington speaks of former mayor Eleanor Kinnaird’s influence in the change. Kinnaird, who was mayor from 1987 to 1995, wanted the town to have “after hours so Carrboro didn’t shut down at 5 p.m. and everybody go home.” Ellington says that the existence of concert venues, different events, celebrations and even the Farmer’s Market reflect Kinnaird’s hopes for the town.

Ellington says that the progress Carrboro has made comes residents’ requests; the change is about and by the people.

Otto sells photographs of places but finds that customers don’t usually purchase other people’s portraits. The photographs on display at his exhibit are mostly of people.

“I didn’t put this collection together to sell,” Otto says. “It was to tell a story.”

Otto says he wanted to capture moments that depicted individuals in their personal, natural environment.

“Often times when you’re taking pictures of people, you say, ‘I want you to pose for a portrait,’” he says. “I don’t want portraits. I despise portraits. I ask these people, ‘I want to take a picture of you doing the kind of work that you do. Just keep working on whatever you’re doing.’ … That’s what these pictures are. I think they’re far more interesting.”

“You get a sense of what these people do when they’re not posing for pictures,” Ellington says.

Otto and Ellington’s exhibit is surrounded by art created by local artisans. Dale Morgan is an artist who specializes in watercolor and painting animals and nature. Morgan works closely with Otto, as well as other artisans, getting to know their work so she can then tell others about it. Her craft is only part of the diversity of talents existing among Carrboro residents who make the place unique.

Ellington and Otto share the exhibit space with the very same people who make up the story that they tell through the book.

“That’s what we’re trying to do, is point out what makes up Carrboro,” Ellington says. “We’re trying to point out some of the little idiosyncrasies … nice things, good things about Carrboro. Carrboro likes to think of itself as slightly weird, and people are proud of that.”

“Carrboro in Transition” will be on display at WomanCraft until Sept. 18.

Author of the article

Liz is a staff writer for the Carrboro Commons. She is a student at UNC-Chapel Hill from Winston-Salem, North Carolina.