In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared an unconditional war on poverty in the United States, and nowhere was this war more photographed than Appalachia. A quick Google image search of “war on poverty” will yield several photographs of President Johnson on the porch of the Fletcher family home in Inez, Kentucky. Many of the War on Poverty photographs, whether intentional or not, became a visual definition of Appalachia. These images have often drawn from the poorest areas and people to gain support for the intended cause, but unjustly came to represent the entirety of the region while simultaneously perpetuating stereotypes.
In an attempt to explore the diversity of Appalachia and establish a visual counter point, the 75 prints in this exhibition collection look at Appalachia fifty years after the declaration of the War on Poverty.
In 2014, the Looking at Appalachia project received more than 2,000 submissions from a 420-county area from southern New York to northeast Mississippi. These submissions resulted in 297 photographs being selected for the online archive. Out of these, a selection of 75 images were chosen for a traveling exhibit, and were digitally printed, 11 in black-and-white, and 64 in color. They were taken by 51 photographers from a wide range of backgrounds and aesthetics, from a hobbyist retired coal miner to a young photojournalist working regularly for The New York Times. Subjects include portraits of people of all ages and backgrounds, rural landscapes, and farm and town life, with social events predominating. Sizes range from 14x23 to 16x20 inches; there are also several 3.25 x 4.25 inch prints.
The prints were first exhibited at the Spartanburg County Public Libraries Headquarters in Spartanburg, South Carolina, May 16-June 26, 2015, and traveled to approximately ten locations in 2015/2016.
Acquired by the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University.
The "Looking at Appalachia" project was launched in February 2014 and is directed by Roger May. The advisory board members are Rob Amberg, Pete Brook, John Edwin Mason, Joy Salyers, and Elaine McMillion Sheldon. The editorial board is comprised of Aaron Blum, Chris Fowler, Kate Fowler, Pat Jarrett, Megan King, Raymond Thompson, Jr., and Susan Worsham.
Roger May is an Appalachian American photographer currently living in Raleigh, North Carolina. He was born in the Tug River Valley, located on the West Virginia and Kentucky state line, in the heart of what is commonly known as Hatfield and McCoy country. He served in the Army for seven years. His photographs and essays have been published in National Geographic, The Oxford American, The Guardian, THE WEEK, The Bitter Southerner, Appalachian Heritage, and others.
The exhibit images are the work of 51 photographers. Please refer to the project’s website for links to individual photographer biographies. Featured artists: Dobree Adams, Rob Amberg, Elle Olivia Andersen, Nathan Armes, Mike Baker, Josh Birnbaum, Cordis Bishop, Aaron Blum, Brett Carlsen, Micah Cash, Matthew Conboy, Katie Currid, George Etheredge, Gloria Baker Feinstein, Wes Frazer, Amanda Greene, Justin Hamel, Mary Hamilton, Ashley Hoffman, Chris Jackson, Pat Jarrett, Rebecca Kiger, Megan King, John Edwin May, Roger May, Michael McCraw, Maddie McGarvey, Rachel Molenda, Andrea Morales, Pat Owens, Nic Persinger, Alan Pittman, Lauren Pond, Jared Ragland, Tamara Reynolds, Jake Reinhart, Dennis Savage, Joseph Oliver Shay, Michael Sherwin, Stephen Speranza, Melissa Stallard, Ryan Stone, Bob Tankersley, Kristian Thacker, Mark Trent, Pang Tubhirun, Dave Wharton, Meg Wilson, Sean Wysong, Rachel Yoke, and Joshua Yospyn.