Our Town is Michael von Graffenried’s photographic portrait of New Bern, a small city in North Carolina with a population of 30,000, conspicuously composed of 55% white and 33% black citizens. It was here in 1710 that Christoph von Graffenried of Bern, Switzerland, first began building houses at the confluence of the Neuse and Trent rivers; the fledgling town took on the name of his home city.
Taken over a period of 15 years, Michael von Graffenried’s photos are neither overly formal compositions nor fleeting snapshots, but patient images of everyday life showing understanding and no judgment of his subjects: a black church congregation, young white girls at rifle practice; black men exchanging cash on the street, a white couple displaying their collection of firearms with the trophy of the hunt—a great stuffed bear—looking on; a black female stripper performing for a white man.
In June 2020, following the killing of George Floyd, the largest demonstration New Bern had ever seen took place, parallel to many Black Lives Matter protests throughout the country and marking the first time the issue of black-white race relations had been thus proclaimed in the city. Von Graffenried’s Our Town is a both a proud document of a community and an empathetic call for increased integration and understanding at a decisive moment in American history.
About the Author
Michael von Graffenried was born in Berne, Switzerland in 1957. He started as a photojournalist in 1978, traveling the world for numerous publications and works today on long term projects using different kinds of media frames, such as outdoor campaigns on public billboards or film.
His documentary film War without Images he produced together with Mohammed Soudani was first screened at the Locarno filmfestival in 2002. He has exhibited widely in Switzerland and France, as well as in New York, Algiers, Hong Kong, and Beirut. His photographs are in the permanent collections of the Swiss Foundation for Photography, Winterthur, Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris, and several other major European collections. His work appeared in many books, such as Sudan, a forgotten war (Benteli 1995), Naked in Paradise (Dewi Lewis 1996), Inside Algeria (Aperture 1998) and Cocainelove (Benteli 2005) or Eye on Africa (2009). Michael von Graffenried was given the title of Chevalier des Arts et Lettres of the French Légion d’Honneur in 2006 and the Dr. Erich Salomon Prize of the German Society of Photography 2010. He is the third Swiss to obtain this award after René Burri and Robert Frank.