Ann Helms is not only one of our oldest contributors, she is also one of our dearest. Now, we don’t mean she’s old – far from it in fact! Instead, we mean that she was one of the very first photographers to have faith in us and donate one of her photos, way back in 2009. Over the years, that number has grown to 845 – and counting!
Buying her first camera at just 18 years old, Ann began her journey as a photographer by following her father, who was an architectural engineer, around the state. Together they visited his job sites, which included landmarks like schools and hospitals, with her task being to document each structure during its renovation.
Three decades later, she has now traversed nearly every corner of our state, supplying this website’s visitors with images of landmarks large and small, famous and obscure. Her contribution to documenting South Carolina’s history has been incredible, and we are deeply grateful for her generosity.
One of the things we love most about Ann is her love of small, out-of-the-way landmarks that many other photographers pass over in favor of the glitz and glamour of more popular sites. We share this love of South Carolina’s small towns and hidden landmarks, and we are so happy Ann is willing to share her pictures of these the forgotten gems with the rest of us!
Ann in Her Own Words
I am originally from Spartanburg and still visit my parents and brother there several times a month. I used to drive mostly the interstate, but now when time permits I prefer to take US 176, or SC 215, or US 76 from the Midlands to the Upstate and back. I have taken a lot of pictures along those routes. I also lived in the Charleston area for 15 years and still visit friends in the Lowcounty as often as I can. Berkeley, Colleton, Dorchester, and Charleston counties are some of my favorite places to shoot.
A love of history runs in my family. I like to see and study many of the same things that my father does. His career as an architectural engineer took him to jobs all over the country, but mostly here in South Carolina. He had a hand in the construction and/or renovation of schools and hospitals across the state during the 1960s and 1970s, and part of his job was to take pictures. He bought my first camera for me when I was 18.
We traveled a lot together in the 1980s, and history was a frequent topic of conversation. He has done extensive research on our family history and traveled to many courthouses and cemeteries to gather information. When I was packing some stuff from my Mother’s house last year, I found a treasure trove of family pictures. I discovered (and framed) some black-and-white pictures my Dad took with a Brownie camera two years before I was born that are nearly identical to some I took many years later. We both prefer taking pictures of buildings, the older the better.
When I moved to Charleston in the mid-1980s, I started looking for architectural history, starting with the churches. I was told “around here you can’t spit without hitting a church or throw a rock without hitting an old one.” In the Lowcountry that is very true. Around the magnificent churches are equally impressive homes and businesses, and in some places, remnants from the era of passenger train travel that are still impressive to see.
After I moved back to Columbia, I was able to travel from the Midlands and discovered much more history in big and small places. I’ve stood at the “Four Corners of Law” at Meeting and Broad Streets in Charleston, and at the window of a crumbling rural farmhouse with a sign over the fireplace that said “I ain’t dead yet.” There are some truly amazing things to see in South Carolina, and I’ve managed to stumble onto many while looking for something else. It’s just fun.
When I can, I try to venture further out to places I have not visited before, usually in search of train depots and sites on the National Historic Register. My dad is retired however his age no longer permits him to travel as he once did, but he is always asking what I’ve been out shooting. Whenever I get a compliment on a picture, particularly about its composition, I take a second to say, “Thanks, Dad.”