A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. I heard voices down the hall and followed them into the recording room, where I found Soul Council producer Kash talking with Tia Watlington, Jamla’s director of product management, and… by Dasan Ahanu | Nov, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. I first heard Wesley Johnson’s name in 2008 while speaking with Carlotta Fleming (née Samuels) about her vocal group, Odyssey 5. After recording their lone LP, First Time Around, for… by Jon Kirby | Nov, 2018

A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue.  I wanted to start with the wild weeds and the creaking wood on the front porch, walking up to Nina Simone’s childhood home in Tryon, North Carolina. I wanted to start… by Tiana Clark | Nov, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. Around the close of the 1950s, if you wanted to hear the beginnings of the funk music that James Brown would soon introduce to the world, you wouldn’t find much… by Sarah Bryan | Nov, 2018

A poem from the North Carolina Music Issue. It rises from dust, rakes in the populace, feeds them fried Twinkies, fried trees if they could put them on a stick and powder them in sugar. Bodies bunch up: the perfumed, the balmy, the whole… by C. L. White | Nov, 2018

A feature essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. Perverse? Yes. Blasphemous? Maybe. But not irreconcilable. To contemplate the meaning of Jodeci is to grasp at the intersection of religion and excess, of devotion and abandon, of agape and eros—a… by Lauren Du Graf | Nov, 2018

A Points South essay from the North Carolina Music Issue. Funk can be a sense of place, transmigratory memories filtered through the nose. For George Clinton, the smell of pig shit crosses state lines. “I remember feeding them pigs. I… by Dave Tompkins | Nov, 2018

Track 22 – “Somebody Else’s World” by Sun Ra & His Arkestra FEAT. June Tyson  Sun Ra—master jazz pianist, composer, visionary, and astral traveler—is why many jazz listeners entered the Space Age before there was a Space Age. And June Tyson gives vibrational… by Harmony Holiday | Nov, 2018

A Points South essay from our North Carolina Music Issue. “Reina de mis . . . Reina de mis . . .” And it struck me suddenly, as I stared down at my notebook at my messy handwriting, how without… by Lina María Ferreira Cabeza-Vanegas | Nov, 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

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.