A poem from the Fall 2018 issue. The girl born at the edge                   of a copper-colored river returns, prefers her wrists                          … by Sandy Longhorn | Sep, 2018

An installment in John T. Edge’s Points South column, Local Fare. Time at Helen’s raises questions, small and large. Other than great barbecue, and my respect and affection for the woman who owns the restaurant, what calls me to Brownsville?… by John T. Edge | Sep, 2018

Notes on the songs from our 20th Southern Music Issue Sampler featuring North Carolina. The profiles, eulogies, and essays herein boast of remarkable achievements of North Carolina’s musicians across eras and genres: from unassailable legends (High Point’s John Coltrane, Tryon’s… by Oxford American | Nov, 2018

Sarah Winchester and the legacy of living with guns  It’s difficult to understate how the repeating rifle revolutionized killing, of both animals and man, as it brought the world from the single-shot muzzle-loaded rifle to a gun that could hold multiple… by Sara A. Lewis | Sep, 2018

A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue. One morning in the summer of 1996, Damian Hart was standing naked on a pier in the Aegean Sea. The sun was bearing down on Mount Athos, one of several craggy peninsulas… by Nick Tabor | Sep, 2018

A poem from the Fall 2018 issue. None of this surprises you now, does it? I’m not sure I can know that, I responded to myself. Or I think I did. I should have.  A friend told me to embrace my disorientation here, to attend to… by Curtis Bauer | Sep, 2018

A Points South essay from the Fall 2018 issue. The dock at Mountain Lake is everything a dock should be—whitewashed clapboard, punctuated by an airy pavilion with a red roof—but if you jumped off it, all you’d hit is earth.… by Nell Boeschenstein | Sep, 2018

A Points South story from the Fall 2018 issue  In the evenings, after the day’s rain, my grandfather drove through Starke counting cars in the lots of other motels, doing the math and feeling like a winner. For guests visiting… by Scott Korb | Sep, 2018

A feature essay from the Fall 2018 issue. Prine radiates a sense of well-being, along with a sort of amused nonchalance toward potential disaster. This is a good thing, because the Coupe, as it turns out, has no passenger-side safety… by Tom Piazza | Oct, 2018

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.