Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Roger May -- Looking at Appalachia

Raleigh-based photographer Roger May (see image above) has been working for several years on a project to reconsider the photography of Appalachia.

To do this, he created the website Looking at Appalachia and invited photographers across the Appalachian region to join him in creating an archive of images that explores, in May's words, "the diversity of Appalachia" in the early decades of the 21st century."

May is concerned that Lyndon Johnson's sponsorship of what came to be called a War on Poverty brought lots of press attention to the mountainous regions of the eastern United States, as a result of which lots of photographs were taken of people and places in this area.

In May's view, this body of work has created a visual definition of Appalachia which perpetuates the image of this region of the USA as impoverished, its citizens poorly educated, inadequately housed, and, perhaps worst of all, annoyingly eccentric in dress, looks, attitudes, and behavior. 

May set out, fifty years after the declaration of the War on Poverty, to "establish a visual counter point" to the image of Appalachia created by photographers documenting the War on Poverty, a "reference that is defined by its people as opposed to political legislation."

To do this, May created an organizational structure and set up an Editorial Board and an Advisory Board, consisting of distinguished photographers and writers (full list here). 

He then invited submissions of work. The response he has received has been substantial, including images made by over a hundred photographers in the past year alone.

The current list of contributors is here, with links to their images. 
Participating photographers include well-known shooters like Shelby Lee Adams (see image second above), Rob Amberg (see image directly above), and Tamara Reynolds (see image below), as well as a host of folks whose work needs to be better known to all of us.

May's efforts have begun to attract wide-spread attention from public radio (interviews with WUNC's Frank Stasio here and with West Virginia Public Radio's Cecelia Mason, here) and, more recently, from National Geographic, here.

A selection of images from the archive is now available for installation and public exhibit. For details on arranging to host a show of this work, go here.

The first shows are now scheduled, with the very first opening of the Looking at Appalachia Exhibition coming up this month, on May 21st 2015, at the Spartanburg County Public Libraries Headquarters, 151 South Church Street, Spartanburg, South Carolina. 

This show will be up through June 26th, 2015. Sites already scheduled in 2016 include the Valade Gallery in the Shipman Library at Adrian College, in Adrian Michigan, up from January 2nd - February 7th,  2016 and Carnegie Hall, in Lewisburg, West Virginia up in May and June of 2016. 

To keep track of Looking at Appalachia's exhibition schedule, go here. 

May's efforts on behalf of photography in his native region are earning him well-deserved praise and thanksgiving. 

This is a truly noteworthy project, one well worth keeping up with. 

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