‘Looking at Appalachia’ allows others to see region through Appalachian peoples’ lens

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Photo by Roger May, used with permission

This year marks the 50th anniversary of the War on Poverty, and the retrospectives about how far (or how little) Appalachia has come have been pouring out of national media outlets like the poverty pictures of 1964 Appalachia poured out into the national psyche. Some of these retrospectives have been very comprehensive, featuring the many complexities of the War on Poverty and the region. And some have not been so kind.

When President Johnson came to Inez, Ky., in 1964 and stood on the Fletcher family porch, he inadvertently provided the inception of the national “visual definition of Appalachia,” according to West Virginia photographer Roger May. The Appalachian people have had little say in how they rest of the country sees them and their region, he says.

May has started the website Looking at Appalachia to “explore the diversity of Appalachia and establish a visual counter point” to the often one-dimensional and one-sided images that have been mined from the region by national media since 1964. The site is a crowd-sourced photography archive of images from the 13-state Appalachian region as defined by the Appalachian Regional Commission. Images can be submitted by anyone, so long as they come from within the ARC’s defined Appalachian region, and were taken in 2014.

Looking at Appalachia is a unique project, and we know it will produce and collect some very interesting photographs of what Appalachia looks like through the lens of actual Appalachian people, an image archive that will be “defined by its people.”