NASA astronaut Ronald McNair is the cover star of the 21st Annual Southern Music Issue & Sampler featuring South Carolina! by Oxford American | Nov, 2019

A graphic story from the Fall 2019 issue.  Like many cities, Little Rock is a place of ghosts. The dead hover and haunt, though their stories often go untold. This story is a work of fiction inspired by some of… by Van Jensen & Nate Powell | Sep, 2019

A Points South essay from the Fall 2019 issue This approach, of stitching different strands of colored yarn through canvas so many times that the individual strings join in a subtle and collective harmony, leads to an image made of… by William Browning | Sep, 2019

A selection of short stories in the Fall 2019 issue He had witnessed her appearance a few minutes earlier. Instantly he had known, from the way her pieces sifted together, that she was a ghost, though he had never seen… by Kevin Brockmeier | Sep, 2019

The pieces of Johnny Greene, an Omnivore essay from the Fall 2019 issue. Johnny used place as a recurrent theme, along with displacement. As a journalist, he was fascinated by communities, by groups of people and the environments which shaped… by James K. Williamson | Sep, 2019

 A Letter from the Editor, Fall 2019. As a nonprofit, independent publication, the OA exists in an undefined space between literary journal and glossy general-interest magazine. We can embrace the best of both traditions as we see fit: publishing multi-page… by Eliza Borné | Sep, 2019

A feature short story from the Fall 2019 issue. The godmother is like an ancestor who never really left. Someone who’s here even when they’re not. The godmother is what happens when somebody asks your name and you suddenly can’t… by Selena Anderson | Sep, 2019

A new episode of Points South is now playing!Subscribe today and never miss an episode. Episode Four features the OA editors discussing the upcoming South Carolina Music Issue and sharing their favorite stories and behind-the-scenes moments. Plus: A preview of the issue’s… by Sara A. Lewis | Nov, 2019

We would like to hear from you.  The magazine will begin publishing letters to the editor in the fall issue and going forward. If you would like to respond to a story published in the magazine, we welcome your letter. by Oxford American | Jun, 2019

Portraying Appalachia

Portraying Appalachia


The tragedy of Central Appalachia is that it is becoming more marginalized in American life just when the country needs more than ever what it has to offer.” 
—Henry M. Caudill,
Night Comes to the Cumberlands (1962)

 

 

In September 1967, the murder of a Canadian filmmaker in the mountains of eastern Kentucky brought national attention to the tension between insiders and outsiders in Appalachia. Hugh O’Connor was working on a film about life in America—commissioned by the U.S. Department of Commerce—and had just secured the evocative image of a coal miner, dusty and tired from work, seated on the front porch of his shack home, when the property owner, Hobart Ison, drove up and shot the stranger with the camera. The people of Appalachia, long depicted as the regional face of American poverty, were fed up with that stereotype. They were tired of the journalists who came to town in search of further evidence of it.

Any person who holds up a camera to Appalachia must contend with the long, contested history of representation and exploitation in the region. Appalachia is too big and too old a place to be neatly captured and defined, or accurately portrayed in a single photograph, or even a series.

In January, the Oxford American’s weekly online photography feature, Eyes on the South, curated by Jeff Rich, included a selection of images of Appalachia by Los Angeles–based photographer Stacy Kranitz. In her project As it Was Give(n) to me… Kranitz explicitly engaged the controversial legacy of Appalachian representation. In her artist’s statement, she wrote:

Representing place is a complicated series of negotiations. How can the photographer demystify stereotypes, represent culture, sum up experience, interpret memory and history? I create a fantasy world for myself. My perceptions and fantasies rival my desire to provide a realistic portrayal of where I am, especially because the idea of a “realistic portrayal” is a fantasy. My work is about the tension between these two desires. If in fact they are two. Maybe they are just one.

Reader response to the series was fervent and varied. On Facebook, commenters were angered by Kranitz's intentionally ambiguous blend of fantasy and realism. On Instagram, viewers praised exactly that. We thought the conversation deserved further, more rigorous consideration, so the OA asked several artists who have worked in the region to contribute short essays on the subject of Portraying Appalachia.

—The Editors

(Pictured: Forest Fire and I-24, Mill Creek, Whiteside, Tennessee, 2011, by Jeff Rich)


In looking at Appalachia—not just from the outside, but from within as well—we reveal more about ourselves as observers than the region objectively. The subjects show us shades of our own individuality. That’s not easy to unpack, or even admit to, but I think it is why some depictions of Appalachia make us uncomfortable.

One morning in February, I woke up to the tragic news of Jamie Coot’s death from a venomous snakebite. I’ve been documenting the Pentecostal Holiness community since 2011, and this was the second time I’ve witnessed the devastating impact of a pastor’s death on a congregation. These profound events have had an immeasurable impact on my understanding of ethical representation and my belief in the integrity of documentary practice.

For more than a century, Pittsburgh has existed in the shadow of its own industrial-age narrative. Like much of Appalachia, Pittsburgh is a place dogged by stereotypes and assumptions. In recent years, an increasing number of photographers have come to western Pennsylvania with the intent of documenting the aftermath of the steel industry’s collapse. Some offer a fresh take on the present, others reinforce the limited views of the past.

I believe that finding one’s place in the world is every individual’s most challenging question. It comes easy to some, but for many others finding that spot requires much groveling and hunting to get there. I have always fallen in with the groveling crowd.