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Capturing the truth, and nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth…

Posted on June 27, 2007
In category Politics

Let me first say this: it appears that the guy has his heart in the right place. I mean, I dunno, but I’ll give him the benefit of a doubt. That’s what we hillbilly hicks in Eastern Kentucky do, find something nice to say. And, you know, Shelby Lee Adams probably thinks that his photos are gutsy, breathtaking images of captured moments of poverty and ignorance. And I must say that I agree with him. Sort of.

Let’s consider for a moment the recent article in the Courier-Journal newspaper (link here) about Mr. Adams. He comes down from Boston during the summer to capture images of the poverty, incest, abuse, etc, etc, etc of the Appalachian country he lived in as a child. From reading this article, and reviewing the photo gallery on the same site, here are three direct quotes from Shelby Lee Adams:

“I choose not to ignore what I see as authentic.”

“I make intimate, personal, environmental portraits.”

“There’s a need to put everything out into the light, including incest, stereotypes, vicious abuse.”

Such noble and worthy quotes are these indeed! Why, Mr. Adams, as a photographer, does not ignore authenticity. I respect that greatly. And, to put everything out into the light. Oh my, yes! Based on these quotes, I would think it safe to assume the following:

Shelby Lee Adams takes pictures of Appalachian life in an all-encompassing fashion and captures the real way real people live.

Unfortunately, my assumption, based on his quotes, is dead wrong. Oh, sure, his pictures capture real people living real lives. It’s the all-encompassing part (the everything in his quote) that proves my assuption wrong.

How do I know this? Well, I was raised in Breathitt County, Kentucky. After graduating from an Eastern Kentucky college (Morehead State) my wife and I moved to Atlanta; it was graduate school for her and software development work for me. After nine years or so of the deep south, we decided to move back home. I now have lived in Breathitt County, Kentucky for last two years. Many of Mr. Adams photos are taken of real people living in Breathitt County.

I live 10 miles from Jackson, the county seat. I drive to my office in Jackson every morning to work. I own a software company (with actual employees, computers and everything) that does some pretty high-tech stuff. You know how many of those shanty houses and half-naked little boys running around with snakes wrapped around their shoulders I see every morning?

None.

Zero.

Nada.

Zilch.

By the way, see his pictures to see what I mean about the whole snake thing, etc. It’s really rather pitiful that he, for some reason, feels the need and desire to find the very things that perpetuate the stereotype of Appalachia and then grab his camera. I guess those college campuses in Jackson aren’t authentic. Maybe they are just facades that we put up every time an out-of-towner comes along, then put ‘em back up in the shed (where we keep our snakes and broken motorcycles) when they leave town. Damn, the secrets out!

I guess those Mercedes SLK’s and Harley Softtail’s zipping around aren’t authentic either. Folks canoing down the North Fork river by by house and peacefully fishing after work… I guess also aren’t authentic. When I read my kids a bedtime story and tell them that daddy loves them– well, those sorts of things just must not be authentic.

Either that, or Mr. Adams could give a damn about actually capturing everything.

Are there poverty problems in Appalachia? Hell yes. Is there incest? Yea, I guess there probably is some, I dunno. Probably is in New York, too. Maybe even Boston. Do little boys run around with snakes wrapped around their necks? Evidently. My boy doesn’t. Is there something just not right, perhaps even fallacious, about Mr. Adams’ work? It most certainly appears so.

It sickens me that, even at this point in history, so-called ‘learned’ people still want to come down and take pictures of the poor hillbillies living in run-down shacks. Folks, the whole Hatfield-McCoy thing was a long time ago. It’s also been many moons since the Blue Fugates.

Mr. Adams’ pictures are authentic. The people and things depicted in his photographs are part of the Eastern Kentucky culture, to be sure.

But, my goodness, what the hell is so wrong with the whole, un-sensationalized truth?