Appalachia, Poverty and Honesty

I’ll start with this: I’ve talked with the author, Roger May, of the piece I’m linking below about bringing the traveling exhibition Looking at Appalachia here to Athens and having him speak with my classes.

With that bit of disclosure, I’m recommending you go read his piece on Medium taking a look at how Vice handled two photo essays about Appalachia in their Photo Issue last month.

I find his criticism valid and I’ll confess to not really getting Bruce Gilden – his work is more about the shock of being photographed than letting me into his subject’s world. This comment by May really resonated with me:

There are photographers who want to be looked at and celebrated and there are photographers who want to see people and celebrate them through photography, in context, in a way that honors the people.

May did a segment with West Virginia Public Radio that is well worth 20 minutes of your day:

I understand that photography encompasses a very wide range – it’s one of the things I truly love about it. But whether it’s photography or banking, when you take advantage of someone for your own personal gain, leaving them with nothing … well, that’s not okay with me. Gilden’s images leave me with nothing, they feel stolen, they feel like he has used the subjects to say more about his brashness than their souls.

If they were paid models, so be it. But they weren’t, they were just living their lives when he made took those photos.

Mark E. Johnson

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