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National Storytelling Festival photographer visits the Center

This is a guest post by Todd Harvey, acquisitions coordinator and folklife specialist at the American Folklife Center.

A crowd gathered under a large tent

Jenny Armstrong performs at the National Storytelling Festival, Jonesborough, TN, ca.1986. Photo by Tom Raymond

Fifteen years ago, a moving van carrying four tons of archival material documenting the National Storytelling Festival arrived at the Library of Congress in the largest single acquisition the American Folklife Center has yet undertaken. The National Storytelling Festival takes place every fall in the historic East Tennessee town of Jonesborough. Since 1973 storytellers from every region of the country and from many parts of the world have shared their tales and personal narratives to ever-growing crowds in tented stages spread throughout the town.

A few months ago AFC archivist Valda Morris and I welcomed Tom Raymond and his spouse Dr. Cynthia Reynolds to the American Folklife Center. Tom was the staff photographer for the festival from the 1980s until 2013. The International Storytelling Collection —as that mountain of material has been named—contains 30,000 of Tom’s photographs as well as 10,000 audio-visual materials and more than 300 linear feet of paper materials. In 2009, Tom donated his own large collection of 13,000 photos from the Festival. Valda’s meticulous finding aid may be found at this link [1]. These two bodies of work represent an enormous research opportunity for those wishing to understand visual representation of the storytelling revival, which was in large part fueled by the National Storytelling Festival.

Based in Jonesborough, Tom Raymond has taken assignments with most of the major news and print organizations in the United States. During his visit to the Library, he spun stories from a long career in professional photography. Tom documented, for example, the fateful 1970 football game between Marshall University and East Carolina University. Shooting on behalf of East Carolina, Tom worked from “the other side,” meaning he spent the afternoon shoulder to shoulder with the Marshall team, all of whom would perish in a plane crash that night, a tragedy memorialized by the film We Are Marshall (2006).

Sitting in the Folklife Reading room and reviewing his past Storytelling Festival photography seemed to delight Tom. Upon seeing a 1986 photograph of storyteller Jenny Armstrong, Tom noted that it was his first work with a Widelux F7 camera, which can generate a 140-degree panoramic image. The camera has a narrow lens slit, which at Tom’s 1/15-second setting took 2.7 seconds to rotate for full frame exposure. Jenny possesses an unfaltering mastery over the dynamic craft of live storytelling. On that crisp October afternoon in East Tennessee, her song precipitated an audience-wide “head over hands” clap. Tom Raymond clicked, and during the 2.7 seconds of rotation the crowd’s hands rose and their faces shifted from anticipatory to joyous.


  1. The permanent handle for the Finding Aid is: //hdl.loc.gov/loc.afc/eadafc.af013007

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