Photographer Roger May: Broadening the View of Appalachia

Map from Appalachian Regional Commission via Roger May.

Roger May's new collaboration with other photographers and writers Looking at Appalachia: 50 Years After the War on Poverty.  His definition for the project is the area funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission.  I might quibble with that, as it leaves out Roanoke and includes some areas that aren't exactly in our mountains and valleys.  As Rudy Abramson and my friend Jean Haskell write in their introduction to , the Encyclopedia of Appalachia,

At the beginning, as ever since, the federal map reflected the exigencies of congressional politics as much as economic need, geography, or culture. Many inhabitants of Pennsylvania and New York were surprised to learn that the government in Washington considered them Appalachians, and some were opposed to the very idea. Newly elected New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy, who had taken up a deep interest in the region during his brother’s 1960 presidential campaign, led the effort to make the southern tier counties of his adopted state part of the federal region. Similarly, Mississippi was included largely due to the influence of Representative Jamie Whitten, a powerful member of the House Appropriations Committee. On the other hand, a number of Virginia mountain counties that were Appalachian by any standard except political were left out because their representative, Richard H. Poff, was opposed to the 1965 bill.

But maybe Roger's geographical definition makes sense in that his reference point is the War on Poverty.  He writes in the overview,

In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared 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, this project will look at Appalachia fifty years after the declaration of the War on Poverty. Drawing from a diverse population of photographers [and now writers] within the region, this new crowdsourced image archive will serve as a reference that is defined by its people as opposed to political legislation. 
Then again, "as defined by its people" is hardly as defined by ARC funding.

I'm happy to report that Roger has now added a written component:  Notes on Appalachia, to include us writers of prose and poetry, as well as storytellers.

...[W]e’re looking for your notes, thoughts, stories, hopes, dreams, interviews, and more about your section of Appalachia. Due to the incredible generosity of the folks at Field Notes, we have 13 sets of their “County Fair” edition notebooks that we’re itching to get into your hands! Your narratives will provide a rich context to the visual representations of Appalachia that have been submitted to the project. Here's the scoop – one notebook will be mailed to a point of contact in each of the project’s 13 states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, and West Virginia. From there, that person will initiate sharing the memo book throughout the counties in their respective state. When it’s full, the memo books will be returned to Roger May...and new ones will be dispatched....The memo books will be scanned and shared on the project site... and will possibly be included in a print exhibition of the project photographs beginning next year. 

And for my fellow Virginians, here are the photograph from our state as of this evening:

Lauren Pound (of Athens, Ohio) Richlands, Tazewell County
Chris Jackson (of the Eastern Panhandle of WV), Covington, Alleghany County
Joseph Oliver Shay (location not listed) Buena Vista and Glasgow, Rockbridge County
Katie Currid (Staunton, VA) McDowell, Highland County
Jeremy M. Lange (Durham, NC) Patrick County
Pat Jarrett  (Shenandoah Valley of VA)  Lexington, Virginia

I know I'll be writing my state contact (Salvador Barajas) and I hope you will, too.  Here's the list of state contacts (or if one is not listed, consider filling the position.  If you have questions write Roger.  His email is also at that link.