What Happens When Strangers With Cameras Travel Inside Appalachia?


What happens when strangers with cameras go to Appalachia? It’s a complicated topic that many Appalachians have strong feelings about.

Hearing about recent clashes between outsider photographers and local people, it almost seems as if we’ve been through this before. This show looks at why a recent photo essay that was published in Vice magazine, called “Two Days in Appalachia”, is causing a lot of debate throughout Appalachia. We’ll also hear from artists and photographers who are hoping to cultivate more diversity and civilian artists.

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1967 Shooting in KY Left One Photographer Dead

"What is the difference between how people see their own place and how others represent it? Who does get to tell the community's story? And what are the storyteller's responsibilities?" – Elizabeth Barrett.

  Back in 1967, a man in eastern Kentucky killed a photographer. Documentary filmmaker Elizabeth Barrett, director of Stranger with a Camera, grew up near where the shooting happened. In her documentary, Barrett recounts how, during the War on Poverty, lots of photographers and TV news people came to this region to specifically document the poverty of the region. In today’s show, we’ll talk about some of the questions Barrett raised″>in her film. Who gets to tell our story? What is the right way to photograph a community? We’ll hear from some Appalachian photographers, writers, and social media experts, and we’ll talk with a person who has been on the other side of the camera.

Two Photographers Draw National Attention in McDowell County

Back in March, brother and sister photographers Jesse and Marisha Camp were traveling through McDowell County in southern West Virginia when they stopped at a gas station to take pictures. Upon returning to their vehicle, they discovered they were being blocked in by angry residents who believed the photographers were taking pictures of their kids. The police were called to break up the argument. What can explain a group of people reacting so negatively to a stranger taking a few pictures? We talked with Sabrina Shrader, native of McDowell County, to get an insider’s perspective.


Credit Malcolm Wilson
Layla Craft, Hair Stylist & Model, Jenkins, Kentucky

Reactions to Bruce Gilden’s “Two Days in Appalachia”

A recent photo essay by photographer Bruce Gilden has sparked a lot of conversation on social media. It’s a series of street photography called “Two Days in Appalachia”, published in Vice on July 8th. Many have said the way the photographs were taken, with a bright flash and black and white color, show the subjects in distorted and grotesque ways. While this is the style that Gilden does with all his photos, it has still struck a nerve with those who call Appalachia home. Bruce did not respond to our request for comment, but we talked with Stacy Kranitz, a photographer who met up with Bruce Gilden on his journey through southwestern Virginia and eastern Kentucky. Stacy Kranitz says the photo assignment did not go as she had planned. The two artists got into a yelling match when Gilden showed up late to a church service in Pikeville. Eventually, the two of them split up and did separate photo shoots. Kranitz called her photo essay “There Aint No Grave Gonna Hold My Body Down“, which takes its title from the song by Brother Claude Ely.

Looking at Appalachia

Roger May is a photographer who’s originally from Mingo County, West Virginia, but now resides in North Carolina. For over a year, Roger May has been curating an online photo project called Looking at Appalachia, which strives to open up more diversity in the ways Appalachians are viewed, and how Appalachians see themselves. Roger May decided to launch the Looking at Appalachia project last February, in time for the fiftieth anniversary of the War on Poverty. Since then, his project has collected hundreds of photographs from across Appalachia. Looking at Appalachia takes submissions from photographers, professional and amateurs alike.


Credit Rebecca Kiger
Rebecca Kiger. July 23, 2014. Valley Grove, Ohio County, West Virginia

Humans of Central Appalachia

A new Facebook page, inspired by the famous Humans of New York, called Humans of Central Appalachia, is a page where folks can scroll and find black and white photos of Appalachians and their stories told in their own words. The pictures are taken by the administrator Malcolm Wilson. Along with his wife, Malcolm does the project in his free time. He travels to places where he can interview several folks at one time like at festivals or weddings. Wilson encourages people to post their own content to their Facebook page. Our host Jessica Lilly had the chance to talk with him to find out more about the project.  


Credit Malcolm Wilson
Hailey Mullins, Age 8, attends Clintwood Elementary School; Clintwood, Virginia

What would you like to show the world about Appalachia?

We’ve already had some Twitter followers send us some photos via @InAppalachia #MyAppalachia. Check it out:

So what’s your view of Appalachia? Tweet your photo to @InAppaalchia, #MyAppalachia.

Music in today’s show was provided by Jake ScheppsHurray For The Riff Raff with “Blue Ridge Mountain” and James McMurtry with “Ain’t Got A Place” as heard on  Mountain Stage.

Subscribe to our Inside Appalachia podcasthere or on iTuneshere, or onSoundcloud here or onStitcher here.

We’d love to hear from you.   You can e-mail us at Find us on Twitter @InAppalachia or @JessicaYLilly.