Over the weekend, CNN posted controversial photos from Appalachia. The collection opened with KKK members surrounding a burning cross. It went on to show snake handlers, religious fundamentalists, and shirtless men who looked strung out.
When these photos surfaced they quickly spread around our Hollow team, our backers and our friends; all of which were outraged to see another stereotypical view of our homestate.
However, there have been two really great articles following up with Stacy Kranitz, the photographer from the CNN feature on Appalachia. It seems that Stacy is also upset with the editors of CNN, who took her photos out of context:
"I think people are rightfully angry. I am disgusted to see the words ”the everyday lives of appalachian people” next to images of the KKK. That is a real insult to the region as is the reductive edit of my work and I understand why people are so offended by it.”
Roger MayAs an Appalachian first and a documentarian second, I call images like these “low hanging fruit.” They’re easy. Why? Because, as others have mentioned, this is how “they” see “us.” What’s much richer, and true, is the more difficult, long term work that shows humanity and sustained commitment to a person, place, subject, etc. But hey, that isn’t as sexy as snakes and burning crosses right? Capitalistic-driven media will always reach for the low hanging fruit first. It’s time we offer something substantially different. And this is one of many reasons why I’m supporting Hollow.
Mike Andrick As someone with a Masters in documentary photojournalism who did my thesis work in Southern West Virginia, I’m totally disappointed by these images. Not only do they lack heart and any understanding of the culture of Appalachia, but the images just aren’t any good. At least Ken Light took good photos that of people and places he didn’t have any compassion for.
Mike Andrick I do believe people not from Appalachia CAN come into the region and do good, important and compassionate work. It’s just rare. I just wish more of these photographers would document the region with a focus - one person, family, community, story. They all just shoot random sensational images.
Andrea Morales I like mike’s points. as a perpetual outsider (in my place of birth, where i grew up, where i live and work today and where i’ve done the documentary work i care about the most), the most important thing is crafting a perspective that is afforded to you by the generosity of people letting you in to their lives rather than a sideshow. its easy to get worked up about irresponsible portrayals by folks with the privilege to parachute in and out. i know you’re doing work you care a lot about and i do too, but i worry about the vilification of the outsider.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — It’s what documentary filmmakers do when they’re blown away by something. They get going on a documentary.
That was certainly the urge after Elaine McMillion encountered the barren storefronts of Welch, in McDowell County, which could be a poster child for the worst of depressed and devastated Third World Appalachia.
"I went to Welch last summer," said McMillion, who did some growing up in Logan and Elkview and now lives in Boston. "It’s just unbelievable. I never knew there were ghost towns like that in West Virginia. You always hear about that out West. It infuriated me and made me mad. And made me really sad."
A coal truck drives out of downtown Welch, W.Va., Wednesday, Feb. 9, 2011. Coal brought a large population to the McDowell County in the 1940′s. Now the population is shrinking and the county suffers from unemployment and poverty. (AP Photo/Jon C. Hancock)
SoLost is the original video series by The Oxford American that celebrates getting lost in the American South. SoLost is an off-kilter video journey through the side roads, backrooms, cellars and psyche of the modern South. With subjects prospected by master image-maker and Southern back-roads champ Dave Anderson, we delight in the tastes, sounds and myriad cultural delights of this our glorious landscape. Join us every month as we unveil a new episode of SoLost: artful, online video shorts that explore the complexity and vitality of the American South.
Because interactive documentaries are still new to the world of non-fiction expression there are many questions surrounding their form and meaning. These questions have come up in interviews about the project with several reporters and the community. I express to people that linear films are meant for passive consumption whereas interactive film encourages active participation and allow the user to determine the narrative. Additionally, we believe the design of “Hollow" as a participatory project should reflect its final design, as an interactive and immersive HTML5 website.
“Mass media systems may have enormous persuasive power, but people’s principal mode of engagement with mass media is basically receptive. Exposure to or reception of a message may or may not provoke action on the part of the receiver…in contrast, new media systems do not just deliver content; people must actively use them to do something, i.e., search, share, recommend, link, argue, and so on. Use is an action by definition, which may encourage new media users toward more involved social and cultural participation online and off. We might argue that it is a much shorter step from use/interaction to participation than from exposure/reception to participation.”
The goal of “Hollow” is to engage the McDowell County community in the creation of new images of “self” and “environment.” With this new identity we hope that the community will begin to work together toward common goals of improvement.
From the media world, folks who are active on Twitter or Facebook may have seen mentions around this week about a project called “Hollow: An Interactive Documentary,” which its developers describe as:
… A hybrid community participatory project and interactive documentary where content is created “for the community, by the community.” The project combines personal documentary video portraits, user-generated content, photography, soundscapes, interactive data and grassroots mapping on an HTML5 website designed to discuss the many stereotypes associated with the area, population loss and potential for the future. Members of the community will take part in the filmmaking process by creating 20 of the 50 short documentaries in efforts to build engagement and social trust and empower the community to work together for a better future.
They also say:
The project leaders of Hollow believe that the voices of West Virginia have not been heard. Over the years, media has portrayed the people of Appalachia as one-dimensional characters in issue-driven films about coal mining and drug abuse. Films about our homestate have not given residents a chance to speak but have instead used them to fit their categories of “hillbilly,” “poor Appalachian,” “ignorant coal miners,” or “environmentalist.” This community participatory project has great potential to become a place where the community can have a voice and share ideas for the future. We hope that this interactive model can encourage trust among the community and empower them to work together for change. Hollow’s documentary portraits and user-generated content will provide a multidimensional viewpoint, highlighting the ingenuity and spirit that keeps the community fighting.
The project team is currently trying to raise funding through Kickstarter. I’m curious what role coal’s past, present and future is going to play in this particular project, and I may write some more about it after I get to talk more with project leader Elaine McMillion.
Beckley, W.Va. on List of Best Small Towns (Smithsonian)
19. Beckley City, WV
Life in Beckley, like much of the Appalachian area, has always revolved around the coal industry. Take a tour of the coal seams under the city at the Exhibition Coal Mine, renovated in 2008 to give visitors a look into the life of a coal miner and the history of the region. There’s plenty of activity aboveground, too, most of it happening at Tamarack, West Virginia’s enormous arts center off the Beckley exit on the West Virginia Turnpike. Tamarack doubles as market and arts center: local artisans give demos and sell their textiles, jewelry and pottery, and the Tamarack theater hosts live music, theater, dance and lectures. Summer brings a full cultural schedule: Theater West Virginia can be found performing most nights at Beckley’s outdoor theater, and the Appalachian Festival takes over the town for three days of distinctly Appalachian arts, crafts, music and food. — AS
”Most of the thoughts an opinions of our state are formed by outside forces looking in. A project like this gives us the opportunity to do the exact opposite. To let people see West Virginia from the perspective of the people who live here. We can show the good and the bad. And the surprising thing for most people will probably be that the good is awfully good. And that the bad is much more real and nuanced than the clichés and stereotypes.”
I lived in Thorpe about 60 years ago! My grandparents lived there and raised two sons there; my father and my uncle. Both of them were educated in the county. My grandpa worked in the mines and grandma and grandpa kept boarders who also worked in the mines. And my mother worked in several of the areas Company Stores!
Some of my happiest memories are of Thorpe and the one and only time I rode on a motorcycle! I was about four and my father scooped me up off the porch and put me on the back of his motorcycle and we rode off to Welch. Grandma was yelling from the porch for him to bring me back. He kept going~(since he was a rebel!), and I remember looking into the shop windows in Welch and seeing our reflections in the windows as we passed by.
The whole area was booming and just beautiful back then. I remember going into this little restaurant there on the main street after shopping in the department stores with my grandma and my mother. The restaurant was located between two of the larger buildings and it was called “The Hole In The Wall.” They made the best chili dogs in the country! (notice I didn’t say county?) Whenever my grandma, mother or my uncle talked about Welch, that restaurant and the hot dogs they served always became THE topic of discussion. They had many happy memories of being in that little place.
Echoes is a series that features user-submitted stories from McDowell. Enjoy and check back for more here and on Twitter and Facebook. Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org NOTE: Images without captions are artistic representations of the story and not submitted by users.