Tharpe Photograph Collection

Max Bailey Tharpe (b. February 18, 1920; d. July 10, 2010) was the second son of James Edward Tharpe Sr. and Jamie Bailey Tharpe of 420 West Front St. in Statesville, N.C. Max graduated from Mitchell Community College in 1940 and then enlisted in the U.S. Army Air Corps serving for 40 months. After leaving the military Max studied photography at the Art Institute of Chicago completing his studies in February of 1947.

Returning to his hometown of Statesville Max began a life-long career as both a newspaper and commercial photographer. He worked as the photographer for the Statesville Landmark and later the Statesville Record and Landmark newspapers while selling his photographs to magazines and publications around the country. Max Tharpe and the German Rolleiflex camera on which he took 99 percent of his photos became well known around Statesville. Max preferred to work as a freelance because, “I didn’t like being told what to do.” People in Statesville remember him as never being without his camera. His most popular photo was of 10-year old Ray Anderson of Wilkes County, N.C. eating an apple. Entitled “Juicy-fruit Smile,” the photograph was used by the National Apple Institute on billboards and in publications around the country. Many of Max’s photos were used in religious publications and Max said later in life that “I just always wanted to please God with my photos and my life. That’s always been my motto, and that’s what I tried to do.” In 1952 Max Tharpe was named North Carolina Photographer of the Year. He also won the Freedoms Foundation Award and the Southern Photographer of the Year award. His work appeared often in the State Magazine including several covers. Other publications included Chevrolet Magazine, North Carolina Education, Parade, Popular Mechanics, PTA Magazine and Friend’s Magazine. Max retired in the late 60s to take care of his ailing mother and together they relocated to Ft. Lauderdale, FL. where he became the resident photographer at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church which he attended. Today over 3,000 photographs, 29,000 negatives, and 1,300 papers related to Max’s correspondence with publishers are housed at the Iredell County Public Library as the Max Tharpe Photograph Collection.