Cecelia Mason Published

You Can Help Paint a New Picture of Appalachia


Fifty years ago President Lyndon Johnson declared a War on Poverty, and photographs taken at the time continued to define what Appalachia looks like for decades afterwards. Now one Appalachian photographer is working to modernize this vision of the region.

Roger May started a new project called Looking at Appalachia: 50 Years After the War on Poverty and He’s asking photographers from across the region to submit photos.

“I thought a really good way to celebrate the 50th anniversary would be to crowd source a project whereby photographers working in these 13 Appalachian states could photograph what they know as Appalachia and use these photographs as sort of a visual archive,” May said.

May believes many people from outside Appalachia, and even those from the region, continue to define it through the photographs showing abject poverty that were taken 50 years ago.

“It was a very limited view of a very limited swath of Appalachia.”


Credit Katie Currid / Looking At Appalachia
Looking At Appalachia
March 8, 2014. Rachel Hartzler, 7, takes a minute in between sessions of playing tag behind the Sugar Tree Country Store during the Highland Maple Festival in McDowell, Highland County, Virginia. The families of the children were at the country store to sell maple ice cream and maple chicken as a part of the festival. Hartzler and her sister, who are Mennonite, say they have never cut their hair.

May doesn’t want to limit the input for this project so he decided to open it up to anyone willing to visually document the region. And he doesn’t necessarily want to intentionally avoid poverty and stereotypes.

“We have to be inclusive and to deny that those things exist doesn’t do anyone any good. We have to see that poverty does exist but there’s so much more to Appalachia than those poverty pictures from 50 years ago.”

May hopes the project will stimulate conversation among many, including photographers, scholars, sociologists and folklorists.

“And that is to sort of pull back and think about what it is to be from Appalachia. Visually has it changed, how has it changed?”


Credit Chris Jackson / Looking At Appalachia
Looking At Appalachia
February 22, 2014. Brandon Kline, of St. Albans, West Virginia, rides his bicycle across the Antietam Iron Works Bridge. Spanning Antietam Creek south of Sharpsburg, Maryland, in Washington County, the bridge was built in 1832.

May will curate the collection online and hopes to feature some of the best photos in an exhibit eventually that can travel across the region.

The guidelines for submitting photos are:


  • All work submitted must be the copyright of the photographer
  • Photographs must be made in calendar year 2014.
  • Photographs must be made in one of the 13 state’s counties the Appalachian Regional Commission defines as Appalachia.
  • Submissions are open through 31 December 2014.

May also says the submissions must:

  • As much information as possible about each photograph, but at minimum the date, city, county, and state
  • Be in .JPG format, sized at 1500 pixels wide, 72ppi.
  • File names must include your last name and the city and state where the photograph was made (example: maychattaorywv2.jpg)
  • He would also like submissions to include a link to photographers’ websites