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At first glance, the tiny farming town of Corapeake appears insignificant, a place from the early 1900s that time suddenly abandoned. Beyond its modest periphery, however, awaits a cheery welcome, home-cooked food and some good stories.
That was what New York photographer Kendall Messick found in 1995 upon his first visit to Corapeake. In town with his best friend Brenda Parker Hunt to take pictures of her aging aunts and uncles, Messick at first saw nothing in Corapeake but acres of cotton and peanuts, with a post office as the only frequented business. On the edge of the Great Dismal Swamp, Corapeake is only fifteen miles from Suffolk, Virginia.
After Hunt's Aunt Sarah greeted them with a basket of freshly baked buttermilk biscuits and an infectious smile, Messick started to see why his friend preferred the comfort of her hometown to the excitement of the city.
"My grandfather was from western North Carolina," notes Messick. "The stories that Brenda's family told reminded me of my grandfather's stories. They reminded me of my family."
After several return visits to Corapeake capturing the townspeople's stories on tape and in photographs, Messick had an idea: what better way to keep the town alive than to present its stories in a documentary? Messick's inspiration culminated in the documentary, Corapeake.
Instead of hearing Corapeake's story through the voice of a single narrator, viewers learn about the town through the reminiscences of its elders, while powerful black and white photos tell a story of their own.
"The people were the most generous and gracious I had ever met," Messick says. "I didn't realize when I started Corapeake the profound way in which [they] would ultimately enrich my life."
In addition to Hunt and her Aunt Sarah, Corapeake introduces a company of other characters with such intriguing nicknames as Cag, Tootie, Taewee, Sissy, and Sunboy, who tell tales that range from feel-good funny to poignantly sublime. Black and white still images mixed with narration and video over a John Hammond musical score sustain the memory of a place slowly fading as its people pass on. Corapeake inspires recollections of times gone by and invites you to relive a little piece of a place out of time.
Viewers can purchase a copy of Corapeake by calling 1-877-290-5820.
Click here for more information about the Corapeake project.