January 04, 2012 Edition

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Barney Sellers

John Bland
Publisher

Walnut Ridge native Barney Sellers, who died Monday at his home in Southaven, Miss., photographed some of the most memorable people and moments in Memphis' history during his 36-year career with The Commercial Appeal. Besides his distinctive images of everyday life in Memphis and the Mid-South, Barney's career spanned the Elvis years, the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King's assassination.

Despite these big city experiences, Barney was always drawn back to his native rural Arkansas. He is probably best known for capturing barns and rural scenes, most of which I think were shot in Arkansas. He often photographed structures and scenes that he knew would fade from the landscape in a few short decades. His eye often focused on a singular element with close-ups of such objects as a wagon wheel, old-fashioned doorknob or a hand-operated pump.

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Through the years, he was generous to The TD by providing us with many of his feature photos, especially those that he knew would have local interest. I always liked the simple comments that he provided with the photos that explained the story that he saw in them.

He also gladly shared his photography tips. Some of our former TD staffers took his photography workshop that included early morning trips to scenic sites. His favorite lighting for outdoor photography was that of the early morning or late afternoon sun when the light falls from a low angle.

He regularly encouraged me, freely shared praise and sometimes constructive criticism concerning news, photography and editorial content in The TD. He always encouraged us to enter the Arkansas Press Association news and photo contests and was pleased when we did well.

In his retirement, Barney judged the first few years of our TD Summertime Photo Contest. He established contest categories and a format that we still use today.

Once, I asked Barney if he thought our Pentax 35-millimeter camera could be repaired at a reasonable cost. The camera had been a true "workhorse" for us over several years and had the dents and scuffs to show for it. After some weeks or months, Barney returned with the camera and strap, all of which he had spray-painted gold. For years, it has been a meaningful keepsake atop our desk at home.

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For about 20 years, Barney held a photography show called "Barney's Barns and Rural Scenes" in Black Rock each Memorial Day weekend. There, he and his wife, Betty Sue, displayed and sold many of his photographs. Barney probably could have sold more photographs in a bigger city, but he liked coming home, visiting with old friends, and he knew the event was good for the town.

Another gift to his native county is the painting of the Iron Mountain Depot in Walnut Ridge with a train rolling. When the depot was restored in the mid 1990s, Barney commissioned Cecil Savage to paint the scene from a photo that he took in 1948. Barney had a number of prints made, and many of them were purchased by present and former residents. A framed copy of the print is displayed in our lobby.

Barney was a true friend to us and his home county. His funeral is set for Friday at 3 p.m. at Twin Oaks Memorial Gardens and Funeral Home in Southaven, Miss., with the visitation starting at 1 p.m.

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