Volume 8, Number 2 - Winter 1983

A Visit with Cliff Edom
by Viola Hartman

Although he was neither born nor reared in the White River Valley, Cliff Edom is probably more aware of its history than many native sons. Furthermore, he has preserved that knowledge in a way best suited for its dissemination and enjoyment. It is a 256 page volume containing some 400 pictures entitled, "Twice Told Tales and A Photo Album of the Missouri Ozarks (with emphasis on Taney County) a copy of which has been presented to the White River Valley Historical Society by the Edoms.

"It is a co-authored book," he hastens to say, with Vi (Mrs. Edom) sharing in the many hours of hard work it took to put the book together. "I believe the pictures, the collection we have assembled is about the largest ever put together in this region.

"The book itself, is based or worked around a collection of pictures which go back through the years to the 1890’s and they, I think, give us the visual picture of this region."

Explaining how it came about Mr. Edom said, "Our interest began in 1950 when I brought a workshop to the Missouri Ozarks -- when they were moving the old town of Forsyth. The students, all professional people, came to do a week long study and recording of Forsyth moving from the bottom (at the lake front) to the new location on the hill. We were experimenting with a new type of study with photography. It was a pioneering effort to teach people to see and think--not merely to snap a shutter. It started with interviews, the townspeople themselves finding out how they felt and how they thought and an attempt to record those emotions, those feelings on film.

No record was kept of those interviews, he said. Each individual doing the interview wrote his own story and kept it. And, while it might be interesting to know if those stories were still in existence, it would be more interesting, he felt, to take the pictures to the files of the Taney county Republican and see what they put in the paper -- paralleling the photos with their verbal recordings. That, he added, was when the Freeland family published the paper and were the hosts for the project.

"That was our second workshop, but the first time in Forsyth. This year will be our 35th annual workshop, three of them in Forsyth. There’s no other place in the whole United States that we’ve had three meetings. Now I think that’s a very good point -- this is great country. "Most of the pictures have been loaned to me by alot of different people. I’ve copied them and made a collection. Some are made by people who haven’t studied photography or photojournalism and as far as I’m concerned the pictures are worth that much more because they haven't. It’s like someone just starting to write. If he’s interested in what he’s doing, I think he -- or she will tell an honest, forthright story. It may lack something -- some polish, and I think our book has some of the qualities of a primitive.


But I think that’s good for what the book is."

He talked of the photos and how many were a result of the workshop, then expanding to the collection decorating the walls of his "Little Gallery" in the heart of the town. The walls were covered with photos of a bygone day. From among them, the outstanding figure of Nat Kinney demanded comment and Edom’s reply was, "I didn’t spend much time on the Bald Knobbers but I didn’t see how I could do a book without mentioning him."

Very true. For anyone, native or visitor exposed to the hill country history soon aware of the impact that organization and its founder had on Taney County.

"But I’m not trying to do a history -- a definitive history," he said. "Vi and Cliff Edom who, after thirty years at the University of Missouri, working in Chicago, doing a lot of things decided we were going to get back to the grass roots. We’d lived in Aurora thirty five years ago and we thought that one day when we retired we’d go back. Then, as we grew older, and I think a little wiser, we realized you can’t go home again. So we didn’t go back to Aurora where we’d have been broken hearted and disappointed. We got into the beautiful hills and valleys with their sunsets and dogwood. We saw the things that you, as a foreigner saw. We learned and we were impressed by the same things you were.

"You know, natives like Elmo Ingenthron, Emmett Adams and Douglas Mahnkey see this area differently than you and I see it. But it’s hard to say just which of us appreciates it the most, each in a different way. But if I had the knowledge of any of them I would do a better job than I’m doing. But, on the other hand --.

He noted the murals on the walls of the buildings in the town square, done by students of the high school. "I think that was fine. It helped them to realize their roots -- and I think our pictures also help them. They’ll see things and ask about things that they never heard of, that never occurred to them. Not only the youngsters but the vast number of people who are coming in every month, every week, every day, almost, to retire. Where are they going to learn about the roots of this area? Only in the writing and the pictures. We have that history -- the visual images. Whether it’s something taken yesterday or fifty years ago, it is still the story and it’s quite a heritage.

"We had a reporter from the Tribune in here just yesterday and the first question she asked was, ‘Why are you doing this?’ Well, to me that was quite a question. It had never occurred to me. We didn’t have a reason -- we wanted to do it. That was reason enough. A critic might say, ‘Yeah, that old country hick.’ But," he smiled, "maybe that’s part of its charm."

Then this man who has spent over half a century photographing and teaching photography; retired professor of photojournalism at the School of Journalism, University of Missouri, Columbia; started the News


Pictures of the Year Competition in 1943 (now National Press Photographer’s Assn.); The Honorary College Photojournalism Society, Kappa Alpha Mu (1945); the University of Missouri Photo Workshop; written four books; received numerous honors, the most recent being from Photograph Adm., Inc., N.Y., the only award presented for Education in Photography -- a unanimous choice for the honor, said, "The book begins with the place mat history (found in most restaurants and tourist centers here) then gets into the Forsyth, Branson and Hollister.


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