Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Photographs of Life in the Rural South and Appalachia and the Carrot Cannon

 Appalachia is the area that stretches from the southern tier of New York State to northern Alabama, is most associated it with the southern part of the mountain range. The range is filled with the beauty of the Smoky Mountains, Shenandoah National Park and the Blue Ridge Parkway. It is also home to a good part of the 2,175-mile Appalachian Trail, stretching from Georgia to Maine.

It is an area unfortunately associated with a lifestyle viewed as backwards with its inhabitants prone to being uneducated and violent, poverty stricken, and practicing inbreeding. Other parts of the rural south although not part of Appalachia have also been portrayed in the same way. Many photographers have rejected these portrayals and are trying to bring a sense of importance to the rest of the country about the people who lived or live there. Two new books and a New York Times site bring the the people of the rural south and Appalachian peoples to us.

The first book is more of an architectural book but it explores how people lived in Appalachia. it is called The Work of Joe Webb: Appalachian Master of Rustic Architecture. "During the 1920s and 1930s, builder Joe Webb constructed nearly three dozen log homes in  the tiny Appalachian town of Highlands, North Carolina. The cabins were built without the aid of power tools–or architectural plans–and all of these exquisite structures are located within a five-mile radius.In The Work of Joe Webb, photographer Reuben Cox captures the atmosphere and ambiance of these important historic buildings. Using a large-format field camera, Cox has documented all of Webb’s extant cabins. Beautifully presented in tritone, his images explore the lush, rhododendron-filled settings of Webb’s constructions as well as the rich grain of their chestnut and pine posts and beams. Cox, a Highlands native, also includes an essay that places the work within a regional and historical context."

The next book with a focus on people of rural Kentucky is called Salt & Truth by Shelby Lee Adams. Shelby Lee Adams has been called the photographer of Appalachia but he turns his camera to rural Eastern Kentucky, a place where he was born and where his family has lived for generations. These photos taken over the last seven years, are black and white and document the extended families on their front porches and how these rural hollers have changed with time. His book documents an authentic time and place and shows the depth of a lifestyle that is disappearing. This is a look at a life that may not be rich with money but is rich in history and family values.

In another book by Adams called Appalachian Lives, his camera documents present-day Appalachia, a region that "progress" has placed under siege. This once poverty-stricken, mountain backwater has been invaded by four-lane interstates, cable television, Wal-Mart, and mobile homes. The people have largely abandoned log cabins and country stores and now shun overalls in favor of tee shirts that blaze advertising logos.

Adams photographed many of these faces several times during his career. Appalachian Lives depicts how time and the outside world have affected the people dear to him. The boys of Appalachian Portraits now have become the young men of Appalachian Lives. Old homesteads have changed hands. The elderly in earlier photographs have died, yet their features glow in the faces of descendants.

In the book’s introduction Vicki Goldberg says, "Adams looks at a difficult subject with an artist's eye. At their best, the complicated and ambiguous pictures in this book are an uncommon blend of humanity, reportage, and art, an Appalachia most of us thought we knew seen through eyes that tell us that maybe we didn't know it so well after all."

 His previous books, Appalachian Portraits and Appalachian Legacy (1998), established the grace, intelligence, and wit with which Adams depicts life, as well as the candor and straightforward honesty he evokes from his trusting subjects. (this book is on order in the Central Library's History and Science Division).

The last look at the peoples of Appalachia is from the New York Times blog called Lens. The title, Growing Up Poor in Appalachia, looks at a group of poor, aimless Appalachian teenagers coping with a tough economy. This is photographer's Ian Bates The project and this is the first installment of an exploration of his generation’s experiences growing up amid high unemployment and breathtaking technological change.

Bates became acquainted with these young people as he was driving around look for something interesting to photograph. He saw J.R. Harrison and Cameron Blosser blasting carrots across their front yard from their carrot cannon. "To the uninitiated, a carrot cannon involves taking a pressurized air tank, attaching a hose and a release lever, and inserting carrot pieces and blasting them across the yard. He stopped to talk to them
and asked if he could take some pictures. This was his entree into a small group of teenagers and young adults tied together by friendship, frequent unemployment and a general feeling of hopelessness. Though he is about the same age as his subjects, his focus is clear: to make intimate photo essays that speak of his generation’s uncertain place in a rapidly changing world."

Find these books in the Art Division. 

No comments:

Post a Comment