BY SALLY DESKINS, EXHIBITS AND PROGRAMS COORDINATOR, WVU LIBRARIES
Looking at Appalachia is an exhibit of crowd-sourced and juried photographs from amateur and professional photographers who capture Appalachia. Founding curator Roger May initiated the project in 2013 to help counter stereotypes of the region initially brought on by Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty over fifty years ago. Looking at Appalachia is intended to create a visual counterpoint to these iconic images of poverty while celebrating the diversity of the region. The national press has written positively about the project, including articles in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and National Geographic.
The first Looking at Appalachia exhibit, on view at the WVU Downtown Campus Library, June 2016-August 2017, included 73 images selected by May and his jury, from around Appalachia. Most of the reception was very positive and celebratory, though there was a bit of controversy over one particular image showing a Confederate flag; some also questioned the diversity of representation.
The new smaller, more concentrated exhibit that opened September 22, Looking at Appalachia: Curated Images from 2014-2016, includes just 40 images from 2014-16.
It can’t possibly represent everyone or defy all stereotypes. From my perspective, coming from outside of Appalachia, there are plenty of images throughout the project emulating what people from outside might imagine as the “South”–rough roads, hills, tough looking children–there is no one depicted in a tuxedo or upscale atmospheres, drowning in riches to oppose the stereotype of poverty, not that it’s necessary.
What is exhibited are richly colorful and diverse, strong people and places. There is definitely an Appalachian aesthetic to them all, something perhaps undefined as yet. But what does that mean and how does it counter other Appalachian representation in photographs and film, outside Appalachia? Is Appalachia challenging stereotypes? Is it diverse? Is it intersectional? What do these photos say about the people and places here? How can we build on this project and expand such definitions?
This is what we aim to discuss at Donuts & Diversity: Appalachian Representation in Photography, October 13, 10am-12pm, at the West Virginia University Downtown Campus Library Milano Room.
Four panelists will offer insight into their ideas around the topic, starting the conversation around the Looking at Appalachia exhibit.
Raymond Thompson, currently a Morgantown-based photographer and producer, is on the jurying committee of Looking at Appalachia. He also currently has an exhibit on view in the Downtown Campus Library Atrium, The Divide, presenting photographs documenting a van trip for families from urban Virginia to visit their relatives incarcerated in Appalachia. Thompson will begin the discussion by discussing his role in Looking at Appalachia and outlook on the project.
Other panelists include Cris Mayo, the Director of the LGBTQ Center at West Virginia University and a Professor in Women’s and Gender Studies; Cari Carpenter, the Interim Director of the Center for Women’s and Gender Studies at WVU and Associate Professor of English; and Jorge Castillo, Program Coordinator and Instructor for the LGBTQ Center.
Definitions of representation and intersectionality will be explored, and guests are invited to bring their own photographs of Appalachia to donate to the West Virginia and Regional History Center, located inside the WVU Downtown Campus Library.
Donuts and coffee will be provided.
- Event: Donuts & Diversity: Appalachian Representation in Photography panel discussion
- Location: WVU Downtown Campus Library Milano Room
- Date: October 13, 10am-12pm