To people in Aynor during the 1930s he was known as “Uncle Bill” and the one-armed photographer lovingly chronicled family reunions, class photographs, funerals, hog killings, barn raisings and family portraits.
“But it is his informal, sometimes guerilla, photography that lends, the greatest insight into the people of the Aynor area in the 1930s,” wrote Stewart Pabst in the Vol. 18, No. 2 edition of the Independent Republic Quarterly.
Pabst was director of the Horry County Museum when it became curator of more than 1,200 negatives taken by William Van Auken Greene.
Greene was born in Minnesota in 1866. Little is known of his early life except that much of his early work was in the West Virginia coal mine country. According to his son, Greene was famous for the photographs he took of the feuding Hatfields and McCoys.
Greene arrived in the Aynor area at the age of 65. Ruth (Martin) Skipper recalled Greene’s arrival at her father’s farm in 1931.
Pabst wrote that Greene was a slightly disheveled old man with long, grey hair, his tripod tucked under his arm and his camera slung in a black satchel over his shoulder.
The Martins took Greene into their home and he repaid them with stories of his adventures traveling the countryside. After the children pestered Greene to tell them how he lost his arm, he replied with a smile, “Lost it? Goodness no. It was cut off!”
According to Pabst, Greene took up residence in Aynor in a small trailer that he called his “black house”, which served as a dark room.
Pabst wrote that Green traveled the back roads of the county finding a family working in a tobacco field, or two men returning from a fishing trip with a huge bass, or a woman carding cotton on her porch.
“This is Greene at his best,” wrote Pabst. “His photographs reach out and grasp the personalities of his subjects, preserving a sense of the dignity and pride of these people with a warmth and very “human” quality.
Many of Greene’s photographs have been used in history books including A Pictorial History of Aynor and others can be seen at the Horry County Museum.
Pabst wrote that Greene was a well-liked member of the community.
Only once were Greene’s intentions questioned, when, at the onset of World War II, some suspected him of being a German spy, a rather far-fetched idea for a man with one arm in the last years of his life.
The Independent Republic Quarterly can be read online
by visiting www.digitalcommons.coastal.edu