Sunday, February 18, 2007



Berthie viewing book Appalachian Portraits for the first time in 1993 with son Joe and Terry Riddle, a neighbor.


In the summer of 1992, I visited Berthie to ask her to sign a model release giving me permission to use her picture in my first book Appalachian Portraits. Even though for years she had enjoyed my photographs and had them displayed in her home, she told me that signing papers was not good, and that it must be a bad book I was doing. I learned from members of the community that she was illiterate and was probably afraid because she had once signed a crooked deed and lost some land to a mining company.

I returned with a local minister known to the family; he read my request, and she reluctantly signed. When the book came out, Berthie was still convinced it would be no good. As she opened the book and looked through it for the first time, I photographed her and her family. She laughed and studied each picture at length. She loved seeing her husband's pictures and talked about what a good time we all had when we made The Hog Killing. She told me she would keep this book for as long as she lived, together with the other good book she had, the Bible. She keeps personal photos and treasures locked in a trunk at the foot of her bed "so the boy's won't get 'em and go sell 'em, she said.

Published in LensWork Quarterly, Portland, #27, Jan. 2000



Jamie and Nay Bug,'08
Nay Bug is first cousin to the Napier's and now living in Beehive
with husband Jamie Adams.


Nay Bug and Jamie,'08


Shelby photographing Nay Bug and Jamie.
Photographer P. Paletti


Nay Bug, '09



Darrel and Arch,'07


The Napier's Living Room, '89



The Hog Killing, '90


The Film - Introduction 



               Now at age 68, I feel it important to write about some of my experiences making, The True Meaning of Pictures, a documentary production based on my life, culture and photography. Many students and faculty tell me they study and write about my work using this film as definitive. For that reason, and others to be mentioned I feel it necessary to explain some of my experiences.



           The film was selectively edited to reflect the filmmaker's point of view, though I was originally told the project would be a collaboration. It was constructed from a variety of sources that included my personal videos and still photography, the filmmaker's material made in Kentucky during their month’s stay, as well as interviews and scenic views which they did independently at varied locations. Additionally, the filmmakers licensed and used a famous Hollywood movie segment from the movie Deliverance.



            It was my commitment to give, share and try to broaden appreciation for my culture and my life’s work. My goal was to deepen empathy for my subjects, challenging outside assumptions and to provide an inside perspective that would help bring about more understanding for my people and my photography.  

      
          Several discrepancies occur. In the hog killing sequence, the ritual and the intent of the photograph is not explained. The series of photographs that the Childers family helped make were separated and used to convey different impressions than the family or I intended. The unique serpent handling section had an inappropriate introduction, when other more informative interviews were available. Throughout, the photographer’s black and white images submitted, many photographs were cropped and shown out of sequence. This film purports to represent my life’s work, but it is not; an explanation is necessary for the historic record.


Part I - The Hog Killing




           In the spring of 1990 when preparing for making "The Hog Killing" photo, I had invited two students to travel with me from Salem, Mass. to Kentucky to document the event with the Napier and Riddle families. I had previously purchased a hog for $150.00. Both families and I had discussed and agreed beforehand to making the photo  in the traditional manner which all participants had experienced. 


              It is important to work with subjects who have lived and practiced their cultures rituals personally. An experienced participant can intuitively contribute to a photo collaboration. They live their culture, not imitating or acting as a stereotype. To be from an area is not enough, to have actually lived the life is more substantial and carries more weight.


               I try and photograph with people who know themselves. Seeking out those living an authentic life is essential for my photography. This way false or naive facades are not projected, no one is acting a part. All are comfortable, genuine and understanding of each other.


             Some have written, who know little about this culture, its people or myself, stating that I coerced my subjects into making this photography by offering food. I make every effort to not compromise my subjects, but encourage their free will. If families receive some food and photographs for their efforts, that much the better. Giving copies of photographs and giving food on occasion is to me not “coercive”, but an exchange of gifts among Appalachian friends, this is not unusual. Of the thousands of photographs, I have made, there are only a few occasions in which I contributed something that was also in a photograph. My photographs of subjects holding photographs or books that I have given them, are an example, and I don’t understand the criticism of this practice. To me this is simply being caring and considerate. As I’ve stated in my books, some Appalachian people tell stories of being promised copies of pictures taken by photographers, but the pictures were never delivered.

            As prearranged, after the photo was made the meats were divided between the two families providing them with food for approximately three months. Everyone was agreeable with this arrangement, which also followed the traditional mountain community ways of our forefathers and how they helped each other survive. A copy of the photograph and a VCR video recording of the event were given to all participants later. The book this photo was first published in,  Appalachian Portraits [1993] The University Press of Mississippi was later also distributed to all participants. 


           The mountaineer takes great pride in his independence. If he ever feels he is being compromised, he will not have anything to do with you. If he has to hunt and eat squirrel or raccoon, he does so without sacrificing his pride. This independent character trait is what draws me to these people. That too is what I am photographing.



             To tell another’s story well, we need to be in tune, have a rapport, feel togetherness, put oneself in the shoes of another; to empathize. Those among us who are illiterate or living by their natural instincts do not hold a time frame to define their rituals, memories and myths, because they are always in flux, living without calendars or retirement plans. For them the photograph, The Hog Killing, in this case represents more, a fixed memory, what we call an archetype or a recurring pattern of behavior, infinitely connecting and affirming—we all really are here together in a sharing state. Dividing food with another is about establishing relationships and basically supporting others.This is universal        


The hog killing video was made to record a memorable cultural event with my Appalachian friends and to share and help instruct my students. I was then head of the photo program at Salem State College. I presented this video to students to illustrate how a formal group composition is put together emphasizing the strength of the triangular form, how to communicate with people encouraging them to relax and relate to each other, and technically to see how blending lighting illuminates the subjects, even in daylight. I felt this video segment worked on many levels and I repeatedly showed it while teaching at Salem, but always discussing with my students.



            Further, to record such events with the people who live this ritual is significant, because this custom is iconic in its presentation, historic and disappearing. This event in 1990 may have been one of the last opportunities to record a hog killing with authentic participants who have lived this kind of lifecycle. Since this video segment from my archive was not a finished or produced project, this part needed specific narration. 



I was disappointed the film maker did not allow the coordination I understood would occur. My ability to sequence, edit and participate in the decision-making was ignored in the end. I did not see the “final” version until it was ready to be released to the public. This was a breach of our understanding. I complained but to no avail-one message here is make sure to get control in a written agreement and don’t trust the promises of others or, alternatively, trust but still have an effective remedy for a breach of an important promise. 



James and Arch Napier viewing Polaroids with Shelby, 2005


           By the year 2001 I had resigned from my teaching position and I did not recall if the 1990 hog killing footage was even in my video library. When asked by the filmmakers to send all my video footage to them, I trusted them and submitted my materials. One-year went by without my seeing anything. The year before, the filmmakers and I had spent a month working in Kentucky on this project. I was led to believe then, that the new material we had made together was to encompass the basic film. I was wrong. Much of the video used for the film came from my older archives made during the 1980’s and 90’s and was unedited.




Truth
  
         Today we are suspicious of "Truth," because we recognize that what is called truth is often only a tool in the hands of those in power [the media], and is often determined by their beliefs and tailored to their requirements.
Lionel Corbett



Part ll - The Childers


         There was no collaboration in editing any segments of the film. I was simply mailed a copy of the final production a few days before the films premier in Toronto. When I asked for changes, I was denied. This was inconsistent with our agreement, and promises made to me.



         The Childers family lived nearby where I had grown up in Eastern Kentucky. The father’s name was Burley, he had served as an airplane mechanic during the Korean War. Hettie, his wife was the mother of eight children. The unique bond within this family was that they had three handicapped children that the rest of the family devoted themselves to caring for


                The three special children, Homer, Selina and James were mentally and physically impaired. I met them in 1976 and we became closely connected right away. The impaired children were so excited when I photographed them, I began letting them pose and take their own photographs. When doing so, I improvised moving the camera and lighting equipment as the children photographed themselves and their family guided by exposing and viewing Polaroids. It was our goal to share these sensitive photos witnessing the family's unity and manner of expressing themselves together.


          I felt this family's exceptional openness to being photographed worthy of a distinct introduction and explanation. Unfortunately, the still images forming a triptych [submitted separately with text] were separated and used as title and menu slides, misrepresenting the Childers photos intent and using them out of context. The accompanying text submitted was nowhere to be found. All this was insulting and more importantly altered how viewers would experience our photographs. I was shipped a copy of the film only when completed. My request to change this was ignored.
       

              Our photographic approach sometimes used wide-angle lenses on a view camera providing a 3-foot cable release so the children could easily make pictures. The camera position was also usually set 3 feet off the floor sitting on a tripod. The children made 4x5 Polaroids together to immediately view and express themselves. I developed the Polaroids while they looked and made more pictures. The photographing was easy and playful, creating a unique collaboration.


          The mother felt some neighbors viewed her children in harsh discerning ways, some cruelly judging and mocking. She felt the more photos we made to show, the better for her children. We made pictures over the years, reflecting back both emotional and well though out images.




          Why do some distance themselves from others different from themselves? Psychologically more is going on than meets the eye. Is it fear, prejudice or something else that pulls some back? Do many experience photographs of the impaired with such intolerance?


             The special children’s photos if presented as submitted, would have affected the audience in a diversity of ways. From my experimenting as a college photo teacher, I had investigated with my students their varied responses. For some viewers compassionate feelings arose, building relatedness. For others a self-internalizing engagement might arise where the viewer reflects upon their ambivalent reactions, eventually opening some to experience new possibilities and understandings and to empathize with these children as their fellow human beings. Still others held onto more distancing responses.




             Can we visually and morally arouse and awaken society, by depicting different portrayals and representations of the world's dependent children? Can we illustrate and communicate their sensitivities, embracing their open innocence that is always reaching out to us? Can those that are impaired create uninhibited and meaningful representations themselves that we can respond to? Could such images give us pause to think more deeply about why we reject others different from ourselves? The Childers picture making evolved enthusiastically with unexpected results; they made pictures that looked primal and primitive. We felt their self-portraits and family photos were also representative of their visual perceptions and how they actually see the world. Somehow this is of value, distinct and raw as it may be for some to sympathetically experience.


            Much more work needs to be done beyond just documenting appearances or writing descriptions. Society needs to accept and integrate all parts of our humanity, not rejecting any. One of my ideas submitted was to have someone read Jungian alchemical metaphors [as an example] while the photographs would be shown. Jung’s writings and others can arouse an audience to think more freely, hopefully engaging and embracing all humanity. It is essential to think of these special ones as full of life. Working with their photographs more creatively and psychologically with emotional sensitivity would lead to a broader understanding. Yet, the photographs were placed in the film in ways that were inappropriate and inconsistent with their intent, and again I was not given the opportunity to provide input in a collaborative process that we had agreed upon for the film.


               The parents and I felt these images revealed primal feelings and emotions, amazed that the children exposed these pictures themselves, acknowledging each other. Focusing the camera wasn't necessarily as critical when using wide-angle lenses. We often were just having a good time...as with any children. In fact, neighbor children did come over to play and take pictures with us. Some of the pictures may at first look grim to the outsider, but when one becomes more engaged you can discover and see the love, happiness and contentment.


               The children were inspiring. With these photos we were hoping to open new territories of human expression and representation, tearing down old taboos, breaking down stagnant institutional and conservative visual boundaries... seeing differently. It is imperative that we recognize and acknowledge our own lack of connection extending over the centuries ignoring those impaired and handicapped.

               Much of society is prepositioned to overlook and dismiss those in need and those impaired. To really change society, we need to change within ourselves first, practice more patience and see another’s difficulties as our own. The filmmakers chose to separate and reformat the children's photos. This kind of modification reflects societies history of ignoring and complacency, creating banal and trivial title pictures, misrepresenting what the parents and I were so carefully trying to convey, a greater acceptance of those impaired. 


              The parents and I always encouraged the children's spontaneity; this brought forward their unique innocence and openness apparent in their pictures. My uncle, "Doc Adams" was the Childers family physician, defender and friend. We often talked about how the three children might see and view the world. The Childers were neighbors to many of my relatives as I was growing up. Though I did not meet them until I was 26 years old, we knew each other for more than 25 years before the film was made. We shared our lives together and community relationships which paved the way for making this family's uniquely spirited photos. A quote from the mother:



“God give me my children and

He give them to me for a reason. I don’t feel ashamed . . .
I’m proud of ‘em. I’m proud God let me keep my
Young’uns long as he has, because I know I can’t keep ‘em forever.”

—Hettie Childers
[Mother]



_______________________________________




It has always been my approach to see humanity openly,
more in a state of awe or wonder, accepting,
 Accepting without labeling or judging.

As an artist portraying our fragile mortality, 
acknowledging whatever humanity is before us,
without categorizing.
This has always been my pursuit. 




                Part of our objective with photographing the children is to create an "active awareness." We believe becoming familiar with these children’s photographs and others like them will assist viewers, in overcoming prejudgments and immediate distancing. With this family fully engaged, we were trying to face and involve society with some of the anxieties created against this more delicate part of humanity. 


                Many of those impaired in society want to help us overcome our distress in their presence. Maligned and denigrated, the Childers simply wanted acceptance. We strive together. With compassion, the Childers and I were and still are intent on finding reception in a world resisting. I have always said repeating stereotyping hearsay only stigmatizes people and cultures. The filmmaker publicly discussed local hearsay and rumors from Kentucky about the Childers, when I specifically ask her not to. 


               Familiarity leads to acceptance, overcoming discomfort by association, creating greater compassion and kindness. The Childers family had suffered and it has always been my commitment to try and help bring them some kind of positive voice and credibility; for Hettie [the mother], Homer, Selina and James and others like them. Photography and film can encompass complex issues without labeling, unfortunately we did not do enough here.



Part of my triptych used in film out of context.


           Is it not one’s socio-political status in life that grants one's rated visibility as something more important or less significant? In portraiture and human representation, faced with the inconsistency or incompleteness of a person’s form, some feel entitled to say dispassionately, that face is ugly and unimportant, especially when one comes from poverty. If given a chance, cannot any form of humanity be elevated, redeemed and transformed by a faithful artistic portrayal?



Part III - The Serpent Handling Religion  


                 Religion is always a difficult area to represent, as the impassioned parts are often invisible. The unique religious beliefs of the Holiness Serpent Handlers; their deep faith and rites are clearly visible, but symbolic and that needs explanation. Their rituals were seen but not clearly introduced. Why have an introductory segment of a man in work clothes, wearing a tee shirt with his potbelly sticking out showing his one disparaged eye? Why select this person’s film clip to introduce a serious religion to a new audience? There were several other more appropriate and introductory religious segments available. First impressions are important. This religion has often been misunderstood and denigrated by the media, this introduction is typical. Unfortunately, much was visually presented but not explained. See my blog,  People and AnimalsThe Holiness Religion section [in the mid-section of People and Animals blog], for examples and descriptions about this religion and it’s practicing members who I know well.




Part IV - The Film and Photographs


                My intent was to contribute to the documentary tradition by showing that long-term relationships make strong unions and these associations share and bear our human vulnerability. My years of building personal bonds and ties with my holler people made this film possible. It’s comforting to know my Kentucky people are generous and forgiving of my errors.  


                Martha Joseph, a subject of over 30 years speaks about my photography. “Pictures mean a whole lot, when you can see them and not the people; especially the ones gone. They bring back a lot of memories, but they help my feelin’s. They make me feel real good. Pictures brings back more life in my memory when I was growin’ up and they make me feel better. You photographed my Dad before he died. Mother really liked you 'fore she died; brothers Richmond and Charlie, they died. Your pictures remind me of my life, even before I knowed you. When our house burnet’ down last year and you give us another book with our pictures in it, Lord that’s the world of memories in that." —Martha Joseph.




                The Follow Up Field Visit: After the filming was completed, we returned again to KY to show each family their parts, a step I felt was respectful to the people. These follow-up visits secured model releases and  were important to maintaining good communications with our subjects. I've witnessed other photography projects done in Appalachia where the subjects felt manipulated. Our families were shown segments of video from their summer interviews, but most of these edits it turned out were not a part of the final presentation. 



               I found out a large part of The True Meaning of Pictures budget was used to secure usage rights for a Hollywood production film clip from the controversial movie Deliverance, which was edited to emphasize negative cultural associations.  After discovering this, other disappointments became apparent.


              After asking several times, I finally received a copy of the film only 3 days before my booked flight to Toronto to attend the premier. After first reviewing at home, I cancelled my plane tickets. I was told it was too late to change anything in the film. I then unfortunately received a call from my then friend Stephen Bulger who was also at that time my gallery rep. in Toronto, friend to both the filmmakers and me. He alone persuaded me to rebook my air tickets and attend the premier. The filmmakers paid for my new tickets, knowing some of my distress and disappointments. In conflict and ambivalence, I reluctantly attended the films premiere. Later ending my association and friendship with Stephen Bulger and the filmmakers.  


              I was told nothing could be changed, the time line was complete, and the budget was depleted. The filmmakers said, "After all it was only a documentary." The betrayal and shame I felt then was paralyzing. Today the film is still shown, and some academics, writers and critics refer to this film as authoritative. I do not agree.



           Having listed and shipped 150 exhibition still photographs to be considered in the production, including some rare vintage prints from the 1980's that were unique, but not used in the final production, this was a disappointment. The German photo papers made by Agfa then was the finest warm tone enlargement photo paper made and now no longer available. When the photos were returned, some were bearing irreplaceable damage and no insurance coverage was available. I was issued a check for $1,000.00 for replacement value of some prints.


           Thinking back, I enthusiastically provided all materials and interviews. I was told that the program would represent my black and white photography, as I intended. Yet, most photographs were cropped, the timing, zooming and panned effects were not to my liking. Even though the filmmakers and I had previously reviewed several still photographers' programs and how their photographs were presented and reproduced, I was never consulted or asked to approve how any of my photographs were represented.


                 This program for the most part overstates differences and sensationalizes without clear explanation. It creates controversy, where I was seeking acceptance for others. My motivation was to create a program that would respectfully see and yet challenge society's intolerance of others more diverse and faithfully record some of the authentic culture, now disappearing.  The film Jennifer had in her head and the one in my mind were two different projects.      


Shelby Lee Adams—March 2019





An Insiders Perspective - From 2007 interview, "Mountain Voices."

               "An outsider already has an idea of what they think about me before they meet me or hear me speak. They see your pictures different than I do to. You look at "The Hog Killing, '90," picture, that makes me think, my memories come back, I could feel the cold mornings from my childhood, in the dark and having the water on the fire boilin' before daylight, we killed the hog, the neighbors come over and what a time we had, we was scrappin', workin', it was an event, we made cracklin's, history, that's what it is. These pictures are life. That's fantastic; no one had to tell me that. That meat from your makin' that photo fed those families for three months, we know that, ain't no stagin' to that, that's good as we see it. You don't try and paint no picture that's untrue. There's a life that's goin', but I can still look at 'em and still recall it in your pictures. We have culture, that's what that picture is about and that means everything."

Hobert White, Eagle's Nest, KY



Additional Interview on Hog Killing:

 Steve
Huff Interview 2010.


_____
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____________
__________________________

"Garry Winogrand: All Things Are Photographable"

A new film completed in 2018, excellent representation of the photographer and the photographer's work.




________________________________________________________

The Napier Family



The Napier Family, '89


The Fly Swat, '92


The Napier's with Dog's, '88

Whilst part of what we perceive comes through our senses from the object before us, another part [and it may be the larger part] always comes out of our own minds.

William James


The Napier Brothers with Puppies, '92



“The More we neglect those on the periphery of society, the more we invite evil into our lives. The greater our neglect, the greater the chance for evil rebounding upon us.”

Cormac McCarthy
The Child of God


“The portraits that demonstrate the ‘affect’ of lives lived in a state of repression, oppression and trauma mirror through to the viewer identity of his own personal ‘affects,’ something many viewer's may unconsciously deny or not wish to acknowledge within themselves.”

Shelby Lee Adams

Jerry, '04



Joe at Mother's Funeral, '98


Mary, '89


Mary on Bed, '90


Berthie at Mary's [daughter] Funeral, '94


James at Sisters Funeral, '94

Jerry at Brother James Funeral, June '09


Examples of 4x5 Polaroids made to share with family before exposing film and for photographer to confirm technical concerns. 

James and I have been friends since the mid-1980's.
He is sorely missed by his family and many friends.
James was a man who would give you whatever he had, with a heart of gold.

James quote - "I Love This."


Jerry at Brother James Funeral, June '09


Last photo of James, October 2008

Last Photo Session with James, October, 2008
Photographer - Mia Baxter

Berthie, '88

"Had sixteen children in my family-you wouldn't believe that, would you! Eight dead and eight livin'! Lord, they drank and get out and get killed, and everything. You know, you can't put sense on 'em. But when they was small, they mind me good, till they got to be twenty-two or twenty-three. Now, Lord have mercy!"

Berthie Napier, Beehive, Kentucky '88


Berthie on Bed, '96


Berthie with Pipe & John, '92


Berthie being photographed 1987



Dan Napier's Funeral, '91


John and Arch '91


105 Degree's at The Napier's, '94

James, '03





All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1988-12 Shelby Lee Adams, legal action will be taken to represent the photographer, the work taken out of context, subjects and integrity of all photographic and written works, including additional photographers published and authors quoted. Permissions - send e mail request with project descriptions.


Essay

The Napier's Living Room, 1989 In the early '80's I was taken to visit the Napier family by a local preacher and friend Wayne Riddle from Leatherwood. I was advised not to drive my car, as the roads were rough. We loaded my equipment into the back of my friend's pickup truck and drove into the head of the holler called Beehive. Leaving the main road we're driving up a single lane dirt road that went through the creek three times with deep washed out gullies. Underbrush and tree limbs scrapped the sides of Wayne's truck as we drove. Suddenly, we were in an open valley populated with several small houses, smoke ambling out of the chimneys, chickens everywhere, a white mule in a barnyard and hound dogs came running and barking, their barks echoing through the valley before disappearing.

Getting out of the truck, this place felt like being taken back in time. Electric was minimally wired from a black 1/2 inch rubber coated cord that was propped up by wood planks with crooked nails on end. The well was hand dug, with a wooden box over it; a hemp rope and metal pulley were attached to draw crystal clear buckets of water. Each house appeared pieced together with wood scraps; cardboard and rusty tin roofing materials. The smoke smelled of fresh pinewood and cedar. This seemingly time warped community was more like visiting an early American pioneer life reenactment village, but it was not.

Meeting John and Berthie Napier was easy, they were friendly, John's laugh was fastidious and Berthie smiling, shy, pipe in mouth, head rag on, they were openly glad to have company. When my friend Wayne introduced me as a photographer, John told me about a photographer he remembered, who used to travel by horseback. When John saw my view camera and tripod he nodded, and said, "same thing". Berthie swept the dirt yard with a broom intermittently, shooing the chickens and diddles away, it seemed as a habit of housework. The Napier's sons wandered over to their parents home, one at a time, from their homes, and said hello, shook hands, stood around and talked.



Lewis Hine, Miner's family, Scott's Run, West Virginia, '36

When leaving after my first visit, my head was spinning. I had never met a family that lived in such a manner. Their world was of the pure old Appalachian spirit, I had only witnessed this as a child. They had somehow survived without adapting to modern ways. That summer, I had a few more visits but always relying on someone taking me by truck. I was in my mid thirties then and felt this family was one of the most important I'd met. I went back to Massachusetts and began researching four-wheel drive vehicles and by the summer of '88 I had purchased a new Nissan Pathfinder, if for no other reason than to visit the Napier's.

This family represented the true primitive spirit from which many mountain people came. They had not been photographed by the media or affected by modern ways, and they were open. Representing authentically the old mountain culture, I remembered from childhood. If any flaw existed it was the incongruity in time of the making of these photographs. Their life style appeared to be from a century ago, except for small details like the logos on caps reading "Camel Joe" or "Michael Jackson". My knowledge of the history of photography, the FSA period, the War On Poverty, childhood experiences and knowing Appalachian stereotypes would inform this work and hopefully help move it forward.



Walker Evans, A Miner's Home, West Virginia, 1935

One of the first Napier environments that interested me had a complex history, both personal and historically. The use of newsprint and cardboard as wallpaper on the inside of modest homes became iconic in the photographic work of Lewis Hines, long before the FSA depression era photographs were made. Later Walker Evans, Margaret Brooke White, Russell Lee and writers for example James Agee; all used this background to inform their work. Evans was the first to see and use this material in an aesthetic manner. This material influenced the sixties Andy Warhol generation and more contemporary work today for example, Zwelethu Mthethwa. Here it was in the Napier's living room in 1989. I had never personally seen this newspaper background in any home, in my adult life. Remembering as a child in the late '50's when I was in 2nd grade through 6th grade, I visited many homes with my mother while she was distributing annually my used school clothes to needy families in our community. Many country homes in the hollers of the '50's had this type of interior. We didn't think anything of it, it was a way of keeping the cold wind and weather out. No one could afford insulation or better building materials. Country stores gave away advertising posters and newspapers, we saw it as shelter. For some mountain people, this to just became a tradition. Every spring you redid the walls and ceilings with fresh newspaper.



Zwelethu Mthethwa, '99, Near Cape Town, South Africa

Part of the school year, I attended the Hot Spot Elementary School in the mountains and the rest of the school year I traveled with my father, attending school where ever his work took us. Some of my Kentucky classmates wore my older clothes to school. They let me know that they resented it, which I did not understand as a child. In my high school years, the newspaper background environment resurfaced, charged with new media underhanded covert activity. The '60's and early '70's was the time of the War on Poverty, the Vista workers and Peace Corps all came to Appalachia. When in art school at age 21 upon my first viewing the FSA photography, I strongly disliked it; it took some time for me to come to terms with this work.



Berthie with Pipe and John, '92


The FSA work had also impressed the world, so much so, that the outside media of the '60's and '70's, during the War on Poverty era came to Appalachia as photographers, journalist and film makers in search of the same. If the newspaper backgrounds could not be found, and they often could not, things were improving, compromised families were paid to paste and glue newsprint to their kitchen walls and homes for photographs and films to be made. This was the environment I grew up in and local people spoke up, they felt shamed. Folks said, "They come in here to help us, by makin' us look worse than we are, we don't like it". I grew up within a whirlwind of local gossip, rumors, stories and national media distortions. All for the benefit of the people.

In the summer of '89, I spoke with Berthie about photographing in her living room with the newsprint walls. To my surprise, she spoke proudly of them. Berthie told me, she learned "paperin" from her mother. She talked about the mixture of wheat paste and boiled water used in making the glue, how long it took for it to dry, etc. I made a Sunday 10:30 AM morning appointment with her and John to come and photograph in her living room, with whom ever wanted to be in the picture. I arrived that morning, Berthie greeted me on the porch, her hands were dirty, with dried paste and her forehead was sweaty. She said, "Now, I want you to know I've got a brand new living room; stayed up till 2:00 this mornin' repapering everything." I felt my heart sink to the floor, thinking she had taken out the newsprint and painted over everything. Entering the living room, she said, "I got to studyin', I didn't want you to come take pictures with my smoked up ceilings black from the winter coal fires, so I got the boys to help me repaper everything last night. It looks better clean don't you think?" "Sure doe's," I said, as I looked with relief. Dan and James, two son's came over with Tricky, a pet dog. I set up my camera and lights and we began making Polaroid's, we were exposing film by noon.



Napier's Living Room, '89

Photographing "The Napier's Living Room", 1989 was done to make "amens" somehow, to put to rest some personal dissatification and to contribute to this outsider/insider historical litany of images. For an artist, clarity is made into physical forms, in this case a photograph between conscious reality and unconcious feelings, hurts and needs. This photograph speaks with my interpretation to the meaning of authenticity; it is made with the subject's awareness, cooperation and enthusiam. That is important to all my portrait photographs. Further, this photographer has no specific assigned agenda, but many memories and thoughts of how it might have been done before, right or wrong. This is the problem where we all get caught; we view photographs and make them with our agendas, personal histories, stereotypes and biases. This subject has a history and it is a thorny one. It is my intention to make photographs like "The Napier's Living Room" with an open mind and open heart. Hopefully the viewer might see something here "a new" without preconceived ideas or bias, that to requires an open mind from the viewer.



Shelby with Napier Family, '90
Photographer Moldenhauer


What comes from the depths of one's efforts ? Does time, memory, long term relationships and multiple portrait sessions create more validity ? Do we see with different eyes ? Is this longevity multiplying perspectives and does this take us forward ?


Shelby Lee Adams



May 2007
Photo credits: Zwalethu Mthethwa, "Zwalethu Mthethwa", Marco Noire Editore Torino, '99, Italy

Lewis Hine, "America & Lewis Hine", Editor Walter Rosenblum, Aperture,
1977, NYC

Walker Evans, "Walker Evans, Photographs for the Farm Security Administration 1935-1938", De Capro Press, 1973, NYC







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