Created in 1989 through an endowment from the Lyndhurst Foundation, the Center for Documentary Studies (CDS) opened its doors as a support corporation of Duke University in January 1990, in a historic art deco office building in Durham, North Carolina. It was the first institution in the United States dedicated solely to the rich legacy and continuing practice of the documentary tradition in the American experience.
Behind the Veil: Documenting African American Life in the Jim Crow South and Literacy Through Photography were the signature projects in the early years, though CDS maintained an active and diverse curriculum of programs and initiatives throughout the early 1990s, including innovative coursework, several generous documentary awards, a migrant farmworker project, and a South Africa Initiative.
In the winter of 1994 CDS moved into the newly renovated and relocated Kreps-Satterfield House and dubbed it the Lyndhurst House. Work began the following year on a large three-story wing, known as the Bridges Building. These buildings currently house the main activities of CDS on the edge of Duke University’s campus.
More than a traditional educational center, CDS has a broad mission: to bridge university and off-campus communities and experiences through the pursuit of the documentary arts, with an emphasis on the role of individual artistic expression in advancing broader societal goals. That thrust has encouraged the growth of undergraduate and continuing education course offerings alongside numerous wide-ranging public arts endeavors.
CDS began publishing DoubleTake magazine in April 1995. The publication won great critical acclaim, but did not succeed financially and left CDS in 1999. With seed money from CDS, the DoubleTake Documentary Film Festival started in 1998. Now known as the Full Frame Documentary Film Festival, it continues today as a CDS program and is one of the premiere documentary gatherings in North America.
Other signature programs and projects over the years have included Indivisible: Stories of American Community, a national photography and audio initiative funded by The Pew Charitable Trusts; The Jazz Loft Project, based on photographs and tapes made by W. Eugene Smith in New York City; Face Up: Telling Stories of Community Life, a public mural project; the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, supporting writers and photographers in fieldwork projects; the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, for accomplished American and Canadian photographers who have not yet published a book; and Five Farms: Stories from American Farm Families, a national public radio and photography project.
At CDS, we continue to teach the documentary arts of photography, film/video, audio, narrative writing, and other creative media; to produce and promote documentary work; and to present the documentary arts to audiences at home and abroad.
Our classes emphasize fieldwork, collaborative partnerships, and a balance between individual artistic expression and broader societal goals. CDS offers instruction in the documentary arts along with an examination of documentary traditions, practices, and ethics through three main programs:
* Undergraduate classes in Documentary Studies (35-40 annually), taught at Duke University, are open to students enrolled at universities in the Triangle area; they may complete the Certificate in Documentary Studies if they choose.
* Continuing education courses (more than 70 annually), including summer institutes and weekend workshops, are offered to adults interested in learning to do their own documentary work. This open-admissions program attracts students from across the country, and includes the option of completing a Certificate in Documentary Arts.
* The Master of Fine Arts in Experimental and Documentary Arts program at Duke—a collaborative venture of CDS, the Arts of the Moving Image program, and the Department of Art, Art History & Visual Studies—brings together the documentary approach and experimental production in analog, digital, and computational media. This unique two-year program fosters collaborations across disciplines and media as it trains sophisticated, creative art practitioners.
Producing and Presenting
CDS produces, promotes, and presents the documentary arts in a wide variety of forms and forums. We offer opportunities for individual documentary project support through competitive awards, including the Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, the Documentary Essay Prize, the CDS/Honickman First Book Prize in Photography, the CDS Filmmaker Award, and the John Hope Franklin Student Documentary Awards.
CDS further encourages the effective presentation of documentary work through exhibitions in our four galleries and at other venues across the country and through CDS Books, a publishing program that includes photographic monographs and a new series in Documentary Arts and Culture.
Additionally, CDS supports the documentary arts with more than 50 events throughout the year, as well as ongoing programs and long-term projects, from the annual Full Frame Documentary Film Festival to nationally broadcast public radio series and oral history, photography, multimedia, and other projects.
The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University teaches, engages in, and presents documentary work grounded in collaborative partnerships and extended fieldwork that uses photography, film/video, audio, and narrative writing to capture and convey contemporary memory, life, and culture. CDS values documentary work that balances community goals with individual artistic expression. CDS promotes documentary work that cultivates progressive change by amplifying voices, advancing human dignity, engendering respect among individuals, breaking down barriers to understanding, and illuminating social injustices. CDS conducts its work for local, regional, national, and international audiences.