In 1972, while hitchhiking across the United States, Robert Gumpert found himself on the side of the road in Cabin Creek, West Virginia waiting for a ride. During a shift change at the coal mine nearby, seeing a steady stream of miners convinced him that he needed to come back to photograph the area.
Back in Los Angeles in late 1973, his conversation with the National Lawyer’s Guild connected him to Charleston, West Virginia. While there, he learned of an ongoing strike in Harlan County, Kentucky at the Brookside and Highsplint mines. At the same time, Barbara Koppel was making what would later become the well-known, Academy Award-winning documentary Harlan County U.S.A.
Last month, Gumpert was kind enough to participate in a Skype discussion about his experience making pictures in Appalachia as well as share some of his work.
For three months, Gumpert worked and lived in Harlan County photographing the strikes and the impact on the families and communities like Coxton and Evarts. All of this was happening not long after the killing of Canadian filmmaker Hugh O’Connor in neighboring Letcher County, which served as the centerpiece of Elizabeth Barret’s Stranger With a Camera.
Though this was Gumpert’s first major project, he was aware of the power of pictures and how they can be used to perpetuate stereotypes. A few times, Gumpert mentioned that newspaper reporters passing through the area asked for specific types of pictures, which he knew would be used to support an expected narrative about Appalachia. He flatly refused. However, he didn’t refuse to show poverty and hard times, he insisted on not making it the center of the story.
Back in Los Angeles, Gumpert began processing his film, making contact sheets, and selecting images for print. Working with a friend, Rick Fichter, who was a film major at USC, the project was broken down into three parts: the strike, inside the mines, and a family. He printed a show for a local bookstore intending to hang the photographs of the underground mine at approximately 29”, the height of the mine he visited. Realizing that most people wouldn’t make the effort to view the photos in that manner, he opted to mark the length of the wall at 29” to serve as a visual marker for the viewers.
The work he did in Appalachia taught him a lot about exploitation. He sensed the bitterness and anger on the faces of the miners and families as day after day they watched absentee capitalism haul away their futures. This put a face on it for Gumpert. “I had my politics before I got to eastern Kentucky, but there was nothing like seeing it to bring it home for me.”
All photographs © Robert Gumpert, 1974 unless otherwise noted. All rights reserved.
1. Harlan County, Kentucky: Morning on the Highsplint picket line.
2. Screenshot of Skype conversation with Robert Gumpert, 10 July 2014. (Roger May)
3. Harlan County USA directed by Barbara Kopple. (Roger May)
4. Harlan County, Kentucky: Picket line at the Highsplint mine. The governor of Kentucky sent in the state police.
5. Harlan County, Kentucky: Basil Collins miner foreman and leader/manager of the scabs confronts picketers with a 45 in his right pocket.
6. Harlan County, Kentucky: UMWA on a 13-month strike at Brookside mines and on the pick line at Highsplint mine. A meeting of the Brookside women’s support group.
7. Harlan County, Kentucky: UMWA on a 13 month strike at Brookside mines and on the pick line at Highsplint mine. Women of the Brookside women’s support group talk with Harlan County sheriff Billy Williams at a roadblock.
8. Harlan County, Kentucky: On the pick line at Highsplint mine.
9. Harlan County, Kentucky: Coal miners meet before heading to the picket line. Many local, small businesses supported the UMWA, the miners, and the strike.
10. Harlan County; Kentucky: Picket line at the Highsplint mine. The Kentucky governor sent in the state police and they proceeded to keep the strikers from blocking the scabs from working.
11. Harlan County, Kentucky: Scabs and gun thugs led by Basil Collins confront strikers on the pick line at Highsplint mine.
12. Coxton, Kentucky kitchen.
13. Harlan County, Kentucky: Highsplint picketers move to another mine.
14. Harlan County, Kentucky: Funeral of Lawrence Jones, killed by a scab during a confrontation away from the picket line.
15. Harlan County, Kentucky: Funeral of Lawrence Jones, killed by a scab during a confrontation away from the picket line.
16. Harlan County, Kentucky: Funeral of Lawrence Jones, killed by a scab during a confrontation away from the picket line.
17. Harlan County, Kentucky: The wife and daughter of Lawrence Jones at his funeral. Mr. Jones was killed by a scab during a confrontation away from the picket line.
18. Retired miner at a Charleston, West Virginia rally for Harlan County, Kentucky strikers.
19. Charleston, West Virginia. Meeting of coal miners called by the United Mine Workers of America (UMWA).
20. Coal mining family at home just outside of Everts, Harlan County, Kentucky. After a 13-month strike, they won the right to have an election.
21. Harlan County, Kentucky: striking father Samson Blevins and his kids at home near Everts, Harlan County, Kentucky.
22. Coal mining family at home just outside of Everts, Harlan County, Kentucky. After a 13-month strike they won the right to have an election.
23. Harlan County, Kentucky: striking father Samson Blevins and child at home near Everts.
24. Coxton, Kentucky. Old miner with black lung and the breathing equipment he needs.
25. Harlan County, Kentucky: striking father Samson Blevins at home near Everts.
26. The Blevins family having a meal together at home. Samson Blevins, a coal truck driver, was on strike at the Highsplint mine.
27. Harlan County, Kentucky: Father and son in the Everts, Kentucky apartment above the Blevins family.
28. Harlan County, Kentucky: The Coxton, Kentucky home of a coal miner.
29. Harlan County, Kentucky: Family living upstairs from the Blevins, Everts, Kentucky.
30. 1974: Coal mining family at home just outside of Everts, Kentucky.
31. Harlan County, Kentucky: Coal mine, not on strike and not union, mining 29-inch coal seam.
32. Harlan County, Kentucky: Coal mine, not on strike and not union, mining 29-inch coal seam.
33. Brookside coal camp, early morning with the mine in the background. Harlan County, Kentucky.
34. Harlan County, Kentucky: Victory photo after the miners of the Highsplint mine voted to join the UMWA.
Every time, honeysuckle gets me. While driving Route 52 in Mingo County last month with the windows down in the low early evening light, I was overcome with a flood of childhood memories. There it was. Honeysuckle. It’s funny how smells can trigger such powerfully vivid memories. In an instant, in that moment, I knew more than I’ve ever know before that I was exactly where I was supposed to be doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing.
Like everyone else, I’ve had a pretty busy year and the summer, thus far, is no exception. It’s a good kind of busy, though so I won’t even attempt to make it sound like a complaint. I’ve learned over the years that nothing’s worse than actually trying to look busy. Dividing my time between my family, a full-time job, and my own self-assigned work and projects certainly keeps me busy, but never trying to look busy. I’m OK with that. (Below are some of my favorite Instagram pictures so far this year.)
Testify finally came together and shipped in the months of May and June. I am forever grateful to the many folks who, in a number of different ways, supported the work and the project. The book is sold out and as of now there are no plans for a second printing. Later this year, I’ll be exploring my options for possibly making a second edition.
One of my goals last year, was to have an image published in an issue of Oxford American in 2014. Well, I’m happy to say that I have an image in the summer issue (Issue 85) included in Catherine Venable Moore’s beautiful essay on Mary Lee Settle. I began collaborating with Catherine last fall when she contracted me to make photographs in the small town of Cedar Grove, West Virginia. It’s nice to finally see everything in print and I’m grateful to both Catherine and Oxford American.
The Looking at Appalachia project is developing nicely, however we’re still missing work from three states: Alabama, Kentucky, and South Carolina. If you’re located in any of these regions, plan on heading that way later this year, or know folks you think might be interested in contributing, please have them give me a holler!
I have some other exciting projects in progress right now including a couple of books covers, which I’ll share with you as soon as I can. Even though I’ve added a second digital camera to my bag, I’ve been intentional about shooting more film this summer. More on that later.
(Above photographs: Abandoned mine, Mingo County, West Virginia and Tug Fork riverbank, Mingo County, West Virginia.)
MACK recently released their third book with Dutch photographer Bertien van Manen. When I first heard the book’s title, Moonshine, my thoughts were flooded with images of the hillbilly stereotype. I thought about the title for a while, but spent more time exploring why my first thoughts were negative and what role that plays in my own understanding.
As an Appalachian, I am quick to react to any perceived negative stereotype. I spend a good deal of time thinking and writing about and making work in Appalachia. It’s also important for me to think about how to address these issues in ways that might further more of a conversation rather than shaking my fist. I feel that this in an important part in the evolution of the conversation about looking at Appalachia.
Rather than rant about the book or its title before literally ever seeing it, I decided to wait until I could spend some time with, read the photographer’s notes, take in the pictures, and try to sort out how I feel about the work and what that means to me as both an Appalachian and a photographer. Admittedly, the first paragraph is hard choke down:
“Moonshine is the illegally produced, homemade whisky, which has been distilled in the American Appalachians for centuries, by light of the moon. Tucked away at the back of every refrigerator in Kentucky, Tennessee or West Virginia, you might find two or three large apple-juice bottles filled to the brim with what looks like water. The clearer the liquid, the stronger the alcohol content. There’s nothing more hallucinating than Moonshine and reefers on a hot, sultry summer evening out on the porch, in the silence of the mountains, with only the zoom of the bug zapper or the twang of the hillbillies’ voices rising as they grow merry.”
See what I mean? For those of you seething at this point, I might point out the rather beautiful title I would’ve chosen for this body of work, in the very first sentence – by the light of the moon. But this is not my book and this not my work. This paragraph alone is filled with problematic language that recalls dozens of others images that perpetuate the visual Appalachian stereotype. Once can likely argue that this book offers no absence of them, however I am smitten by the power they hold for me. Yes, smitten. Guns, trailers, dogs, porches, knives, camouflage, and Jesus are found in these pages to be sure, but I also found family, beauty, grace, and childlike wonder. Wonder.
The first pass I made through the photographs, I wished I hadn’t read the introductory text. For me, there is a clear separation between what is written – the literal – and what is represented in the pictures – far more subjective. Pictures mean different things to different people. We all have our own imprinting and bring a host of learned looking filters to how we see the world and all that’s in it. I’m only writing about my own, which is all I’m qualified to do. For the span of time these photographs cover, I wanted more in the text. Instead, we are offered two pages with a few paragraphs noting the highlights of of each of van Manen’s trips. With that said, this is a photobook about Appalachia not a novel. In fact, it’s a photobook about a family in Appalachia, rather than about Appalachia. Despite the title, Moonshine is a fine photobook, beautifully printed, rich in the sort of access not often seen.
Not wanting to start and end this conversation in my head, I emailed Bertien van Manen and she graciously agreed to answer some questions about the work and her career.
Roger May: What connection led you to begin making work in Appalachia in 1985?
Bertien van Manen: Being raised in a coal-mining area in the south of Holland, I have a fascination for coal-mining and coal-miners. I went taking pictures in the coal mining area of west Yorkshire, in the UK, where I met Vic Allen, a professor in mining, who told me that he heard that in the Appalachian mountains women were working as coal-miners.
RM: Photographing people and the region of Appalachia can often yield unfair criticism, particularly in light of the flow of images that have been used to stereotype the region. Of course, this isn’t unique to Appalachia. People are stereotyped all over the world. How conscious were you of how the work might be interpreted and how much of that, if any, plays a role in how you make work?
BVM: I was very well aware of this, especially after I saw a photobook of a photographer of the region with the sort of images you probably have in mind. I was very much decided to avoid this way of working. At the time I was in close contact with the people of Appleshop in Whitesburg, who were very concerned.
RM: Can you talk about how the book’s title, Moonshine, came about? I’m sort of playing devil’s advocate here, but neither of your books made in parts of Russia – A Hundred Summers, a Hundred Winters and Let’s Sit Down Before We Go – were titled ‘Vodka.’
BVM: I never thought of that! It is true, of course. Moonshine was playing a role in people’s life, there was a lot of partying going on. On the contrary, in Russia people drink out of sadness. The title “moonshine” came quite natural to me, it sounds poetic and mysterious, referring to moonshine in general.
RM: When Ron Jude told me about Moonshine a couple of months ago, I was excited to learn that 1) your commitment to this body of work spanned nearly three decades (with visits in 1985, 1987, 1988, 1996, 2007, and 2013) and 2) the notion that MACK was publishing a book specifically about Appalachia. Quite frankly, at first I took issue with the title because of my own filters and imprinting, which is problematic in and of itself, and where the the title of the book took me visually. It wasn’t until I spent some time with the work that it really began resonating with me. I see my own life and family in many of these photographs.
BVM: That is very nice to hear!
RM: Historically, your photographs seem very much about meeting people where they are, even learning their language (as in Russia). There is an unguarded quality in your pictures, which often reveal quiet moments and domestic chaos, often in close proximity of one another, which families tend not to reveal to just anyone, especially those with a camera. Can you talk about your work process?
BVM: Yes, especially the rather closed off communities in the Appalachian mountains! I am lucky to have some social intelligence. I am curious and I like being with people. I always live with the people I photograph, working with small, amateur cameras, trying not to be there so much as a photographer but rather as a friend, who happens to take pictures. People do not see me as threatening and once there is trust, most people like the attention they get from being photographed.
RM: How it has changed over the years? Do you see your work as a collaboration with the people in your pictures?
BVM: I don’t think my way of working changed much over the years, for me it works well.
RM: Moonshine is your third book with MACK and your seventh solo book since 1994. How has the bookmaking process changed for you over time?
BVM: Making a book is like giving birth. It is sometimes painful but also a joy. All depends on the publisher. My current collaboration and relationship with Michael Mack is excellent.
RM: How do you work through the process of editing photographs you’ve produced for, in the case of Moonshine, nearly three decades?
BVM: I looked at all the contact-sheets and the artist and designer, Bas Geerts, did the same. Together we made the choice. I need a second eye to protect me from too much subjectivity as i know the people in the pictures so very well.
RM: You worked with Stephen Gill on your last book, Let’s Sit Down Before We Go. What was editing Moonshine like after that experience?
BVM: It went very well. Of course you have to trust the people you work with for one hundred percent.
RM: Can you talk about the importance of time as it relates to your photographs? One of the things I admire most about your work is its unhurried pace in terms of the span of time your projects take on. It would seem this requires a great deal of trust and vulnerability on both the people you’re photographing and you as the photographer.
BVM: I know this is a luxury. I received several grants to be able to work on this project, so I didn’t have to worry about being able to survive. I need time to be able to show what I am looking for. I know what I am looking for and I am a perfectionist. I go on as long as I think I am not ready yet and as long as I still like what I am doing. I like to go back to places. I love to see the same people back and to discover this feeling is réciproque (translated mutual). It gives me the suggestion of belonging somewhere, be it temporarily. People feel that and act accordingly. It is a beautiful and serious game.
RM: How has this shaped your growth as an artist and human being over the course of your career?
BVM: This way of living has become a part of me. I have learned to be tolerant and easy.
RM: How has the book been received amongst those in the book?
BVM: I went to bring the book to Mavis in Kentucky. I was concerned about her not being in there that much. Or her children. That didn’t seem to brother her that much. I had already written to her that it was not a family album. But the text was giving her difficulties, where I wrote about Junior shooting at her. “He can’t defend himself any more,” she said, which shows her deep-going solidarity.
Moonshine was printed in an edition of 3,000. In 2015 there will be an exhibition in New York with Yancey Richardson.
In 1964, President Lyndon Johnson declared unconditional war on poverty in the United States; and nowhere was this war more photographed than Appalachia. A quick Google image search of “war on poverty” will yield several photographs of President Johnson on the porch of the Fletcher family home in Inez, Kentucky.
Many of the War on Poverty photographs, whether intentional or not, became a visual definition of Appalachia. These images have often drawn from the poorest areas and people to gain support for the intended cause, but unjustly came to represent the entirety of the region while simultaneously perpetuating stereotypes.
In an attempt to explore the diversity of Appalachia and establish a visual counter point, this project will look at Appalachia fifty years after the declaration of the War on Poverty. Drawing from a diverse population of photographers within the region, this new crowdsourced image archive will serve as a reference that is defined by its people as opposed to political legislation.
This project is evolving and I value your input and feedback. Please stay tuned for updates.
Submissions are not limited by style, however:
1. All work submitted must be the copyright of the photographer.
2. Photographs must be made in calendar year 2014.
3. Photographs must be made in one of the 13 state’s regions the Appalachian Regional Commission defines as Appalachian (here).
4. Submissions are open through 31 December 2014.
Please provide as much information as possible about each photograph, but at minimum the date, city, county, and state. Submissions must 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). It is imperative that you follow these submission guidelines, otherwise the work will not be considered. Please include a link to your website.
Photographs will be indexed by the state in which they were made. You are not limited to submitting work about one state, however please be aware of the ARC map boundaries. To be clear, this project is not seeking poverty pictures. Will poverty be included? Yes. Poverty exists to be sure, however the purpose of this project extends far beyond that.
(Note: Please consider that by submitting images to this archive, you’re agreeing to the possibility of their inclusion in a group exhibit, catalog, book, etc. All photographers will be contacted to discuss details of any and all ideas for exhibition. All photographs remain the copyright of their creator.)
Email submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org.
For the purpose of this project, Appalachia (map) is defined by the list of counties in each of the following states:
Alabama: Bibb, Blount, Calhoun, Chambers, Cherokee, Chilton, Clay, Cleburne, Colbert, Coosa, Cullman, De Kalb, Elmore, Etowah, Fayette, Franklin, Hale, Jackson, Jefferson, Lamar, Lauderdale, Lawrence, Limestone, Macon, Madison, Marion, Marshall, Morgan, Pickens, Randolph, St. Clair, Shelby, Talladega, Tallapoosa, Tuscaloosa, Walker, and Winston.
Georgia: Banks, Barrow, Bartow, Carroll, Catoosa, Chattooga, Cherokee, Dade, Dawson, Douglas, Elbert, Fannin, Floyd, Forsyth, Franklin, Gilmer, Gordon, Gwinnett, Habersham, Hall, Haralson, Hart, Heard, Jackson, Lumpkin, Madison, Murray, Paulding, Pickens, Polk, Rabun, Stephens, Towns, Union, Walker, White, and Whitfield.
Kentucky: Adair, Bath, Bell, Boyd, Breathitt, Carter, Casey, Clark, Clay, Clinton, Cumberland, Edmonson, Elliott, Estill, Fleming, Floyd, Garrard, Green, Greenup, Harlan, Hart, Jackson, Johnson, Knott, Knox, Laurel, Lawrence, Lee, Leslie, Letcher, Lewis, Lincoln, McCreary, Madison, Magoffin, Martin, Menifee, Metcalfe, Monroe, Montgomery, Morgan, Nicholas, Owsley, Perry, Pike, Powell, Pulaski, Robertson, Rockcastle, Rowan, Russell, Wayne, Whitley, and Wolfe.
Maryland: Allegany, Garrett, and Washington.
Mississippi: Alcorn, Benton, Calhoun, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Clay, Itawamba, Kemper, Lee, Lowndes, Marshall, Monroe, Montgomery, Noxubee, Oktibbeha, Panola, Pontotoc, Prentiss, Tippah, Tishomingo, Union, Webster, Winston, and Yalobusha.
New York: Allegany, Broome, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Chemung, Chenango, Cortland, Delaware, Otsego, Schoharie, Schuyler, Steuben, Tioga, and Tompkins.
North Carolina: Alexander, Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Buncombe, Burke, Caldwell, Cherokee, Clay, Davie, Forsyth, Graham, Haywood, Henderson, Jackson, McDowell, Macon, Madison, Mitchell, Polk, Rutherford, Stokes, Surry, Swain, Transylvania, Watauga, Wilkes, Yadkin, and Yancey.
Ohio: Adams, Ashtabula, Athens, Belmont, Brown, Carroll, Clermont, Columbiana, Coshocton, Gallia, Guernsey, Harrison, Highland, Hocking, Holmes, Jackson, Jefferson, Lawrence, Mahoning, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Muskingum, Noble, Perry, Pike, Ross, Scioto, Trumbull, Tuscarawas, Vinton, and Washington.
Pennsylvania: Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Bedford, Blair, Bradford, Butler, Cambria, Cameron, Carbon, Centre, Clarion, Clearfield, Clinton, Columbia, Crawford, Elk, Erie, Fayette, Forest, Fulton, Greene, Huntingdon, Indiana, Jefferson, Juniata, Lackawanna, Lawrence, Luzerne, Lycoming, McKean, Mercer, Mifflin, Monroe, Montour, Northumberland, Perry, Pike, Potter, Schuylkill, Snyder, Somerset, Sullivan, Susquehanna, Tioga, Union, Venango, Warren, Washington, Wayne, Westmoreland, and Wyoming.
South Carolina: Anderson, Cherokee, Greenville, Oconee, Pickens, and Spartanburg.
Tennessee: Anderson, Bledsoe, Blount, Bradley, Campbell, Cannon, Carter, Claiborne, Clay, Cocke, Coffee, Cumberland, De Kalb, Fentress, Franklin, Grainger, Greene, Grundy, Hamblen, Hamilton, Hancock, Hawkins, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Knox, Lawrence, Lewis, Loudon, McMinn, Macon, Marion, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Overton, Pickett, Polk, Putnam, Rhea, Roane, Scott, Sequatchie, Sevier, Smith, Sullivan, Unicoi, Union, Van Buren, Warren, Washington, and White.
Virginia: Alleghany, Bath, Bland, Botetourt, Buchanan, Carroll, Craig, Dickenson, Floyd, Giles, Grayson, Henry, Highland, Lee, Montgomery, Patrick, Pulaski, Rockbridge, Russell, Scott, Smyth, Tazewell, Washington, Wise, and Wythe.
The following independent cities in Virginia are also within the Appalachian Region: Bristol, Buena Vista, Covington, Galax, Lexington, Martinsville, Norton, and Radford.
West Virginia: All counties: Barbour, Berkeley, Boone, Braxton, Brooke, Cabell, Calhoun, Clay, Doddridge, Fayette, Gilmer, Grant, Greenbrier, Hampshire, Hancock, Hardy, Harrison, Jackson, Jefferson, Kanawha, Lewis, Lincoln, Logan, Marion, Marshall, Mason, McDowell, Mercer, Mineral, Mingo, Monongalia, Monroe, Morgan, Nicholas, Ohio, Pendleton, Pleasants, Pocahontas, Preston, Putnam, Raleigh, Randolph, Ritchie, Roane, Summers, Taylor, Tucker, Tyler, Upshur, Wayne, Webster, Wetzel, Wirt, Wood, and Wyoming.
(Map source: Appalachian Regional Commission | www.arc.gov)
Recently, I was commissioned by The Guardian to photograph the aftermath of the chemical leak in Charleston, West Virginia. I should say up front that I’m not a spot news or breaking news photographer. I typically work with long from projects and the national media’s short attention span with disasters like this frustrates me, so I intentionally avoided running to West Virginia when the incident occurred. There were far more capable local photographers covering the leak on the ground, because local news, grand or not, is their regular beat. But The Guardian editor who pitched me was interested in the human element of this story and how that could be communicated powerfully through photographs.
I was completely unprepared for what I saw. The magnitude of this problem and the people affected by it was simply overwhelming. Clean water is something I always took for granted until then. To get a better understanding of what was happening and how water was (or wasn’t) being distributed, I turned to some friends who’d come together quickly after the leak was made public to form the West Virginia Clean Water Hub. Over the next couple of days, Joe Solomon and Nate May allowed me to go along with them to water distribution centers and routes, meeting folks on the ground directly impacted by this catastrophe.
The images I’m sharing here are most of what I submitted to the editor at The Guardian. I’m also including the caption information, as it was submitted, for context. I also pitched taking over their Instagram (@guardiannews – thank you, Katie Rogers) account while there, which they agreed to and provided another platform on which to share this important story. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do this work for The Guardian (thank you, Erin McCann) and for their commitment to a story that most other national outlets touched on only briefly before moving on to Justin Bieber’s arrest, the Grammys, and other important news stories (sarcasm intended). I’m also incredibly grateful for the folks (Kim McDonald, Keith Boucher, Candi Elswick, Andie and James Johnson, Benson Cline, Nancy Shepherd, Obi Henderson, and others) who allowed me into their lives and homes to share their stories, for the volunteers working behind the scenes to distribute water and supplies, and to the local media (Ken Ward Jr., Dave Boucher, Dave Mistich, Ashton Marra, and others) in Charleston, West Virginia who continue to doggedly pursue the truth for the people of West Virginia.
(Twelve of the following photographs appeared in The Guardian on 30 January 2014.)
1. Keith Boucher and Kim McDonald of Nitro, West Virginia, have been without clean drinking water for more than two weeks. The couple have a 14 month-old son, Wayne, and Kim is five months pregnant. Volunteers from the West Virginia Clean Water Hub delivered bottled water, diapers, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer to the family on Sunday, 26 January 2014. Freedom Industries, the company responsible for the chemical leak on the Elk River, reloacted chemicals from that site to their Nitro facility, which is just one mile from the Boucher-McDonald household.
2. Kim McDonald of Nitro, West Virginia, is five months pregnant. Here, shows a sonogram of her unborn daughter, Isabella Marie. McDonald is concerned about the potential harm to her daughter in the wake of the Freedom Industries chemical leak. Within days, Freedom Industries began moving chemicals to their secondary storage site in Nitro, just one mile from the McDonald-Boucher residence.
3. Keith Boucher of Nitro, West Virginia, stacks boxes in a back bedroom as he and his girlfriend, Kim McDonald, prepare to move. Frustrated and scared by the recent chemical leak, the two have decided to move outside of the nine-county radius affected.
4. Keith Boucher of Nitro, West Virginia, talks with volunteers from the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, who delivered bottled water, diapers, baby wipes, and hand sanitizer to the family on Sunday, 26 January 2014. Boucher and his girlfriend, Kim McDonald, have relied on social media and word of mouth to get information about the leak, as no local officials have been in touch with them or their neighbors.
5. Candi Elswick, of Nitro, West Virginia, holds her grandaughter Jaylianna, 2, as she tells volunteers from the West Virginia Clean Water Hub about her struggle to get clean, safe drinking water since the chemical leak was discovered in Charleston on 10 January 2014. “When you’re poor, you can’t afford bottled water,” she told the volunteers. Last week, she took Jaylianna to a relative’s house in Jackson County (about an hour away) to bathe and shower. She hasn’t been able to cook or flush the toilets because of the toxic smell of the water. More than 300,000 West Virginians, like Elswick, have been affected by this leak.
6. Neighbors Kim McDonald and Candi Elswick, console each other after voicing their fears about their children’s health in the aftermath of the Freedom Industries chemical leak. McDonald has a 14-month-old son and is five months pregnant. Elswick is the guardian of her two-year-old granddaughter, Jaylianna. More than 10,000 gallons of a variety of chemicals, mainly coal-cleaning agents, were discarded into the Elk River, which is part of the water source for several West Virginia counties including Kanawha, Boone, Clay, Jackson, Lincoln, Logan, Putnam, Roane, and Cabell.
7. The John E. Amos Power Plant towers over homes across the Kanawha River in the town of Poca, West Virginia. This coal-fired plant and countless other chemical manufacturing and storage facilities pepper towns up and down the Kanawha Valley along the river.
8. Andie Johnson, a third-grade elementary school teacher in Sissonville, West Virginia, explains how she and her husband, James, boiled snow so their youngest children Elie, 3, and Marlie, 2, could bathe in a plastic tub. Older sister, Torie, 15, has been showering with tap water and has noticed some skin irritation as a result. Several of the Johnson’s neighbors are pregnant and are concerned about the long-term impacts of the Freedom Industries chemical leak that has left more than 300,000 West Virginians without clean water.
9. Elie Johnson, 3, comforts her mother, Andie, as she talks about the fear of not knowing the long-term affects of the contaminated water. Johnson, a third-grade elementary school teacher in Sissonville, said she and her husband, James, boiled snow so their youngest children Elie (pictured), 3, and Marlie, 2, could bathe.
10. Benson Cline, of Mammoth, West Virginia, describes the events of the last two weeks dealing with the Freedom Industries chemical leak. Cline is no stranger to water issues in his community. Roughly ten years ago, a local coal mine contaminated his, and many of his neighbors, well water. He connected to city water, but now doesn’t trust it. After learning of the chemical leak, he reconnected his home to his well, which he says is safer than the alternative.
11. West Virginia Clean Water Hub volunteer, Nate May, and Mammoth, West Virginia resident, Benson Cline, carry donated water to the Mt. Lewis Baptist Church. The church, established in 1896, has served as a water distribution point for the Mammoth community.
12. Benson Cline lingers in the sanctuary of the Mt. Lewis Baptist Church after accepting a water drop off from the West Virginia Clean Water Hub. Established in 1896, the church has served as a water distribution point for the Mammoth community.
13. Mammoth, West Virginia resident, Benson Cline, talks with West Virginia Clean Water Hub volunteers in front of the Mt. Lewis Baptist Church. “ “I don’t trust the water company anymore and I don’t trust the government anymore. I feel like they let everybody down,” Cline said.
14. Fayetteville, West Virginia resident, Joe Solomon, of the West Virginia Clean Water Hub, works his social media connections on the road and well into the night, reaching out to people who need clean water in the nine-county area impacted by the chemical leak. Solomon believes this to be the largest ever volunteer water distribution project. The hub, created by volunteers on Facebook, has set up numerous water distribution centers often focusing on residents in rural areas without means to get to municipal drop offs.
15. An Alpha Natural Resources load-out facility in London, West Virginia. One of the chemicals leaked by Freedom Industries, MCHM, or 4-methylcyclohexane methanol, is used to clean coal before it is loaded on trains for distribution.
16. Coal-laden railcars roll through the upper Kanawha Valley along the icy Kanawha River, just west of the confluence of the New and Gauley Rivers at Glen Ferris, West Virginia.
17. Donated gallon water jugs await distribution in the basement of the Mt. Lewis Baptist Church in Mammoth, West Virginia. The church, established in 1896, has served as a water distribution point for the Mammoth community in the wake of the Freedom Industries chemical leak.
18. Freedom Industries, located on the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia, the site of a chemical leak authorities believe began on 9 January 2014. More than 10,000 gallons of coal cleaning agents were discharged into the Elk River affecting more than 300,000 customers in a nine-county area. Many are still without safe drinking water.
19. The state capitol in Charleston, West Virginia is located just three miles from Freedom Industries. Many West Virginians are angry with the way state and local governments have handled the fallout of the Freedom Industries leak. Shortly after the leak was detected and the extent of the damage became clearer, Freedom Industries filed for bankruptcy protection. Meanwhile, thousands of West Virginians remain unprotected and without safe drinking water.
20. West Virginia Governor Earl Ray Tomblin’s office at the capitol. Many West Virginians are frustrated with the governor’s handling of the chemical leak, but it came to a head when last week, the governor, when asked if the water was safe to drink, stated that it was a personal decision. “If you do not feel comfortable drinking of cooking with this water, then use bottled water. I’m not going to say absolutely, 100 percent that everything is safe,” said Tomblin. “But what I can say is if you do not feel comfortable, don’t use it.”
21. Dusk on the Kanawha River in the upper Kanawha River. Just miles downstream, the Elk River flows into the Kanawha, which serves as the water supply for more than 300,000 West Virginians. On 9 January 2014, authorities believe a leak began at the Freedom Industries facility in Charleston, resulting in more than 10,000 gallons of coal cleaning agents being discharged into the Elk River.
22. NO LITTERING. Ironically, this sign is located a quarter of a mile from Freedom Industries. The Elk River is in the background.
(Screen grab from The Guardian.)
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