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

In the Spring of 1990 when preparing for making "The Hog Killing," I had two students documenting the event in video, with myself, the Napier and Riddle Families. I had purchased a hog for $150.00. Both families and I discussed and agreed beforehand on the making of the photograph in the authentic mountain traditional manner we were raised. It is important to my photography to work with participants and subjects who have lived and experienced the rituals personally. A knowledgeable insider can intuitively select and gain the corporation of the apporaite subjects. To be from an area is not enough, to have actually lived the life is more substantial and carries more weight in the process of making pictures. I photograph people who intimately know their culture and environments. This way false or naive facades are not projected by those portrayed - no one is acting a part, all are comfortable being themselves, understanding each others contribution, each in different ways.

 As prearranged, the meat after the photo was made was divided between the two families providing them with food for approximately three months. Everyone was agreeable with this arrangement, this also followed the traditional community ways of our forefathers and how they helped each other survive. The photograph and a video recording of the event was given to all participants. The book this photo was first published in 1993, was later distributed to all participants after publication, now this book is a rare collectable.

Further, criticism that has been written is the accusation that I coerced my subjects into making this photography by offering them the hog meat as food to begin with, written by those who know nothing about this culture or it’s people. 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 kill and eat squirrel he does so without sacrificing his pride. That [independence] character trait is in part what draws me to these people to photograph in the first place, respectfully.

 Looking at pictures, viewers often see what they are thinking or what they are themselves. We often experience what we are told or conditioned to think from our cultural backgrounds, projecting that onto other's. Never really experiencing a thought about what it might be like in another's world, living with different values.  

Shelby Lee Adams

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 Information: Steve


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


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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All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1978 - 2012 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.