Iredell County Historic Photographs
Heritage Quest Ditigal Sanborn Maps America's Historical Newspapers

Max Tharpe Photography Collection Exhibit

Max Tharpe
See the Tharpe Collection on Flickr

Max Bailey Tharpe was the second son of James Edward Tharpe Sr. and Jamie Bailey Tharpe of 420 West Front Street in Statesville, North Carolina. Max graduated from Mitchell Community College in 1940 and then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps serving for 40 months. After leaving the military Max studied photography at the Art Institute of Chicago completing his studies in February of 1947. Returning to his hometown of Statesville Max began a life-long career as both a newspaper and commercial photographer. He worked as the photographer for the Statesville Landmark and later the Statesville Record and Landmark newspapers while selling his photographs to magazines around the country.

Max Tharpe and the German Rolleiflex camera on which he took 99 percent of his photos became well known around Statesville. Max preferred to work as a freelance because, "I didn't like being told what to do." People in Statesville remember him as never being without his camera. His most popular photo was of 10-year old Ray Anderson of Wilkes County, North Carolina eating an apple. Entitled "Juicy-Fruit Smile," the photograph was used by the National Apple Institute on billboards and in publications around the country. Max became known nationwide for his cover portraits of teenagers and children. Pointing to his filing cabinet of photos and his darkroom Max once said, "This is the part of photography that I don't like. I like to get out and meet people and take pictures of them."

Many of Max's photos were used in religious publications and Max said later in life that "I just always wanted to please God with my photos and my life. That's always been my motto, and that's what I tried to do." Max's own personal favorite photo was of Brenda James, a high school student. Max said, "She looks as if there is not a camera within a mile." The photo was taken in 1958.

Brenda James

Max Tharpe's Favorite Photograph
Click for a larger version

When the Eastman Kodak Company planned a 300-picture exhibit at the White House Youth Conference twenty-one of the photographs used were by Max Tharpe. In 1952 Max was named North Carolina Photographer of the Year. He also won the Freedoms Foundation Award and the Southern Photographer of the Year award. His work appeared often in the State Magazine including several covers. Other publications included Chevrolet Magazine, North Carolina Education, Parade, Popular Mechanics, PTA Magazine, and Friend's Magazine.

In August of 2007 Max donated his photograph collection to Mitchell Community College. A Max Tharpe Photograph Exhibit was held at the Iredell Museums in Statesville running from November 2008. Eighty-eight year old Max Tharpe attended the opening of the exhibit and said of his photos, "I remember all of them, every one."

Upon his death at age 90 Max was brought back home and buried with military honors in 2010 at the Holly Springs Baptist Church in Harmony.

In 2010 many of the original negatives to Max Tharpe's photos were found in his mother's old home by its new owner. The owner donated them to the Iredell County Public Library in hopes that that could be preserved.

Mitchell Community College in 2010 received a grant to hire a professional archivist to make an assessment of the Max Tharpe photograph collection and to make a recommendation on how the photographs should be preserved and shared with the public. In 2010 Mitchell Community College received a grant to hire a professional archivist to make an assessment of the Max Tharpe photograph collection and to make a recommendation on how the photographs should be preserved and shared with the public.

On February 29, 2012 an agreement was signed between Mitchell Community College and the Iredell County Public Library placing Mitchell's photographs in the Iredell County Public Library on permanent 10011 Today over 3,000 photographs, 29,000 negatives, and 1,300 papers related to Max's correspondence with publishers are housed at the Iredell County Public Library as the Max Tharpe Photograph Collection.

An index keeps count of the number of negatives and photos and identities them by type, size, subject or name. The photographs and negatives in the Local History room are in an environmentally controlled area. The History Room has a separate heating and cooling system from the rest of the library and is kept at an average temperature of 71 degrees with a humidity of less than 50 percent 24 hours a day.

The Iredell County Public Library created a webpage to display its photograph collection on the popular online photo sharing site Flickr. The library made over 40,000 photograph images of the Stimson Collection available online in March of 2013. In February, 2014 an additional 30,000 images from the Max Tharpe Collection was uploaded for public viewing.