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His artistic career began with the painting of large abstract-expressionist canvasses, but gradually he began to be drawn to material that spoke about the place of his childhood.
Although he was raised in Tuscaloosa, Christenberry spent his summers with extended family in rural Hale County.
After graduating from the University of Alabama and beginning a promising, if not immediately rewarding, artistic career in New York City, he came across the 1941 book, Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, in which James Agee describes in prose, and Walker Evans in photographs, the experience of living among the dirt-poor farming families of Hale County during the Great Depression.
Some of Evans's photographs made a deep impression on Christenberry.

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