PBS’s Family Pictures USA Has a Treat in Store for A Chef’s Life Fans


Warren and Lillie will appear in the Family Pictures USA premiere episode at 9 p.m. EST/8 p.m. CT!

On August 12, “Family Pictures USA” premieres on PBS. The show travels the country to dig into family photo albums, revealing more than just quirky hairdos and baby pictures. Thomas Allen Harris, host, director, and executive producer, is a venerated filmmaker whose lens offers glimpses into the human condition. In “Family Pictures USA,” he pairs that instinct with a focus on history to tell the story of our country through our families. 

We caught up with Harris to learn more about the show, especially his very first episode, which is in North Carolina and features some of our favorite folks: biscuit boss Miss Lillie and farmer Warren Brothers.

“Family Pictures USA” premieres August 12 at 9 p.m./8 p.m. central on PBS. Visit familypicturesusa.com to check your local listings.

We’re excited about this show! It feels intimate and real. The website mentions: “Once you see America through family pictures, you will never see this country the same way again.” What sort of things will we learn about American families?
We’re in such a celebrity-driven culture. So to just see everyday people — that’s what both my show and Vivian Howard’s show do in different ways, mine through photographs and hers through food and farming. We witness how we have made this country. These small decisions that people make, they tend to document using photography, whether it’s moving from one place to another, or graduations, or just the pride in entrepreneurial type of work. 

You dedicate an entire episode to North Carolina. What stories did people tell?
So many people talked about farming — amazing stories of the ancestors’ farm. There’s also the way in which tobacco made its way to the farm, to the auction house, to Durham. How it really changed that crossroads, city around it. Usually when we think about history, when we teach and learn about history, it’s a certain group or class. In this particular case, we’re bringing people together across differences. Gender, urban, rural, age, to collect the story. 

So you did end up in Durham (where Markay Media is based). Were you following the tobacco trail?
Durham has a very particular history. We were interested in this new development. I live in New York and I have about eight different neighbors who moved down there. I was interested in what’s calling people there, how and why it’s being reinvented. And what does that mean for the places around Durham? Questioning this moment of change.

What was the most interesting thing you learned about our friend Warren Brothers?
He’s our first deep-dive character. What we’re doing with the show is looking at North Carolina and its momentum, the rural issues that go from tobacco and textiles to tech. In Warren’s story of his farm, we learn so much in the pictures that he and Jane shared with us of his ancestors. 

We see his grandfather and great grandparents who met in the wake of the Civil War. Warren has a photograph that commemorates this. It was interesting to see a working North Carolina farm over time, and the transition to organic farming. And when anyone sees all their photos laid out for the first time, we catch that moment of discovery. 

It was also great to meet Miss Lillie! She gave me a tutorial on washing collards in bulk. There was so much grace and welcoming from Warren, Jane, and Miss Lillie. Such amazing charm. It made me feel so much at home.

What was the inspiration behind this show?
There’s a social history in photographs that’s not often in history books. I’ve been making very personal films in my own family album for almost 30 years. Tens of thousands of images. It’s helping people see things, being present, looking at an image allows for our histories to be rediscovered. 

Do you ever up come with any surprises?
Yes. It’s never formulaic. They’re all different. It’s like thumbprints, we all have them. How many thumbprints can there be? 

I feel like it’s divinely inspired. I can never get enough of looking at people’s photos and witnessing their stories.

Photo courtesy of Family Pictures USA.