Written by Gerald Boerner

    

    
Commentary:

JerryPhoto_thumb2_thumb_thumb_thumb_Today I want to share some thoughts about our blind spots and cultural stereotypes. Sometimes it takes an insider to understand and capture the real community that exists; one that outsiders do not or can not understand.

I think about my time in the Boy Scouts while growing up. I belonged to Boy Scout Troop 426 in Downey, California. I joined this troop with about a dozen or so guys that I had gone to school with, played baseball with during the summers, and been in the Cub Scout Pack at my elementary school. In short, these are guys that I had spent about a half dozen years during the prime of my life to that point. The camaraderie that we experienced would be hard to explain to an outsider. We each knew each other and our strengths and weaknesses. These came into play as we challenged the forces of nature, whether it be rain, desert, or mountains. When we were the first group to blaze the trail that later became one of the major scout hikes in the Los Angeles area, we worked together as a team. Outsiders did not understand, including our parents. Unfortunately, I don’t have any photographs of that experience, but those photographs could have helped to capture the moment.

I have tried to relate a story along a similar line to you below about a photographer, Shelby Lee Adams, who grew up in the Appalachian mountains and captured this special culture on film. I hope that you will enjoy this presentation and that it will open your eyes to a different view of these mountain people. I will come back to this work in a future post. Enjoy… GLB

These Introductory Comments are copyrighted:
Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

[ 1491 Words ]
    

    

Quotations Related to Appalachia:

[ http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/appalachian.html ]

    

“I’ve never set out consciously to write American music. I don’t know what that would be unless the obvious Appalachian folk references.”
— Carlisle Floyd

“Some people want to call me an Appalachian writer, even though I know some people use regional labels to belittle.”
— Robert Morgan

“Daddy was real gentle with kids. That’s why I expected so much out of marriage, figuring that all men should be steady and pleasant.”
— Loretta Lynn

 “I know there’s some kind of history to mountain music-like it came from Ireland or England or Scotland and we kept up the tradition.”
— Loretta Lynn

“We don’t intend to always keep this necessarily African oriented. Originally I had hoped to have African American Indian of this area, and the Appalachian of this area, but at the same time, just as we have the Haitian room, we will always have room for another exhibit.”
— Katherine Dunham

    

My Musings of the Day: Shelby Lee Adams in Appalachia…

    

    
Appalachia
is a term used to describe a cultural region in the eastern United States that stretches from the Southern Tier of New York state to northern Alabama, Mississippi, and Georgia…

Since its recognition as a distinctive region in the late 19th century, Appalachia has been a source of enduring myths and distortions regarding the isolation, temperament, and behavior of its inhabitants. Early 20th-century writers focused on sensationalistic aspects of the region’s culture, such as moonshining and clan feuding, and often portrayed the region’s inhabitants as uneducated and prone to impulsive acts of violence. Sociological studies in the 1960s and 1970s helped to re-examine and dispel these stereotypes, although popular media continue to perpetuate the image of Appalachia as a culturally backward region into the 21st century. (Wikipedia)
    

    
Stereotypes

The late 19th and early 20th centuries also saw the development of various regional stereotypes. Attempts by President Rutherford B. Hayes to enforce the whiskey tax in the late 1870s led to an explosion in violence between Appalachian "moonshiners" and federal "revenuers" that lasted through the Prohibition period in the 1920s. The breakdown of authority and law enforcement during the Civil War may have contributed to an increase in clan feuding, which by the 1880s was reported to be a problem across most of Kentucky’s Cumberland region as well as Carter County in Tennessee, Carroll County in Virginia, and Mingo and Logan counties in West Virginia. Regional writers from this period such as Mary Noailles Murfree and Horace Kephart liked to focus on such sensational aspects of mountain culture, leading readers outside the region to believe they were more widespread than in reality. In an 1899 article in The Atlantic, Berea president William G. Frost attempted to redefine the inhabitants of Appalachia as "noble mountaineers"—relics of the nation’s pioneer period whose isolation had left them unaffected by modern times.

    
Capturing the Real Appalachia — The Photography of Shelby Lee Adams

Shelby Lee Adams with View Camera_05In light of the cultural and physical isolation of the people of Appalachia, the outside world of the United States viewed the populations living in these mountains and their isolated valleys, or “hollows,” were generally portrayed in a poor light. Outsiders, especially photojournalists for the large eastern newspapers interested in sensational stories, would swarm into an area, take their photos like they did on the streets of New York or other large cities, and leave assuming that the images that they had captured were a true portrayal of these hill people. But, more often than not, they presented to the outside world a distorted view.

I became aware of a photographer that presents a very different view of these mountain people — Shelby Lee Adams. Adams grew up among these people and was concerned that they were being used in the distorted presentations by Johnson Administration workers trying to garner support for the “Great Society” programs being presented to Congress in the mid-1960s. But the photographic evidence did not do much to present the people and culture of the Appalachian mountains.

Shelby Lee Adams was fascinated with the photography of the Farm Security Administration during the Great Depression. He appreciated the studied portrayal of the peoples suffering from the dust bowl, crop failures, and the poverty of the farm workers. As a young boy, Adams was taught drawing and painting by his grandmother in these mountain hollows. He went to Cleveland to study art, but quickly turned to photography. He wanted to capture the people that he had grown up with in a fair manner that celebrated their special culture. Yes, they looked peculiar and had strange customs; they also had a rich cultural heritage celebrated in song, dance, and the behaviors that held their communities together in their harsh, isolated environment.

Adams made annual visits to his home area to capture their image on film. Most of his photography was done with a 4X5 View Camera in black and white. He compiled his photo books that presented this mountain culture in a positive, realistic light, not through the visual filter of the city photojournalists. He celebrated these people and their culture, HIS people and culture. He did not pay them for their images, he gave them polaroid images of themselves portrayed as they were. He did what a good anthropologist would have done — describe the culture as it was, with all of its warts and pimples. Adams loved these people and has stood by them as the outside culture has encroached upon their homes and culture.

We need more individuals who are willing to look at things as they are, not through a visual filter of as they should be. We need visual artists to capture their lives in photos and on canvas. We need their stories recorded in words to preserve them for posterity. We need their music to be recorded and preserved for future generations. Are they different? Yes. Do they sometimes appear “weird?” Yes. But this is them. This is who they are, how they live, and how they enjoy their lives.

It is time to celebrate the diversity that makes our country great. Let’s not homogenate them into a single, bland flavor that maybe does not stimulate the palette, but also does not taste sour at the same time. Different is BEAUTIFUL! Celebrate Beauty!

    
Photo of the Day:

    

The images of Shelby Lee Adams are copyrighted and could not be reproduced here. Please take the time to visit the PDN web site ( http://www.pdnonline.com/pdn/gallery/Shelby-Lee-Adams-An-4297.htm ) to view some of his photo work. So I share with you a photo submitted to ABC7.com by Ed Fink of Malibu for your viewing pleasure. Please enjoy this great sunrise!

_Malibu at Sundown in February

Malibu — Sunrise over the Beach. Photo by Ed Fink.

Copyright©2012 — Gerald Boerner — All Rights Reserved

    

References

    

Background information is from articles in my Prof. Boerner’s Exploration Blog at:

Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Paper or Digital Display of Photos…
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=9884

Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Fighting Creativity Blocks (Part 1)…
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=952

Prof. Boerner’s Explorations: Fighting Creativity Blocks (Part 1)
http://www.boerner.net/jboerner/?p=955

Brainy Quote: Appalachia Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/keywords/appalachian.html 

Brainy Quote: Loretta Lynn Quotes…
http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/l/loretta_lynn.html

Wikipedia: Appalachia…
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appalachia