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.

Submission Guidelines
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 rogerdalemay@gmail.com.

Defining Appalachia
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 VirginiaAll 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)

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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.)


Rather than a list of the top ten photobooks published in 2013, I thought I’d share my favorite eleven (because, you know, not ten) photobook acquisitions of the year. Some were released this year and some have been out for a while, but are new to me. So with that, my list in no particular order:


Electric Tears and All Their Portent by Jim Mortram. Café Royal Books, 2013. Jim has a heart bigger than the English Isles and it rings true in his photographs. We can all learn a lot from him.


Twelve Nashville Waffle Houses by Tammy Mercure. TCB Press, 2013. Tammy is one of the most prolific photographers working in Appalachia and the southeast today. She’s a great person and hellabookmaker. I can’t wait to see what she has lined up for 2014.


Ping Pong ConversationsAlec Soth with Francesco Zanot. Contrasto, 2013. Less photobook and more conversation, this quickly became one of my favorite books of the year. I appreciate photographers who talk about their work (and I think it’s important to be able to talk about your own work) and Zanot creates a space for Soth to give us important background for many of his photographs (78 to be exact).


Iris Garden - stories by John Cage and photos by William Gedney. Little Brown Mushroom, 2013. It’s no secret that I’m a huge admirer of William Gedney’s photographs. Paired with writing by Cage and designed by Hans Seeger, I’ll never be able to reassemble this book the way it was put together (it’s not bound), but whatever. It’s just beautiful.


Slow Burn: A Photodocument of Centralia, Pennsylvania by Renée Jacobs. Penn State Press, 2010. I’ve wanted this book for a while now as I’ve been fascinated by the story of Centralia. When I went to Jacobs’ website to look for it, I couldn’t find it, but instead found some beautiful nudes. After some digging, I found a copy via the publisher. It’s the epitome of what I look for in a photobook about place: maps, smart layout, and a balance of photographs by the observer and text/interviews with people in the community.


Truck Stop by Marc F. Wise. University Press of Mississippi, 1995. Hat tip to Bryan Shutmaat for recommending this one. If you don’t own it, you should. I’m pretty sure an entire class could be based on this book.


Rough Road: The Kentucky Documentary Photographic Project (1975-1977) by Bill Burke, Bob Hower, and Ted Wathen. Quadrant Incorporated, 2011. Thanks to John Edwin Mason for bringing this fantastic project to my attention. I called Ted Wathen last week and ordered this amazing little book. I’m going to be chasing Bill Burke in 2014.


The Quiet Sickness: A Photographic Chronicle of Hazardous Work in America by Earl Dotter. American Industrial Hygiene Association, 1998. I’ll thank Rob Amberg for introducing me to Earl Dotter’s work. After I sat with this book for a while, I began to see Dotter’s work everywhere. Powerful and poetic.


APPALACHIA USA by Builder Levy. David R. Godine, 2013. I’ve admired Builder’s work for years now. He recently sent me his latest book, APPALACHIA USA, with a beautiful inscription. The miner pictured on the cover, Toby Moore, worked at the same mines (I believe) as my grandfather, Cecil May. I can’t recommend this book enough.


Mitakuye Oyasin by Aaron Huey. Radius Books, 2013. Beautifully printed, designed, and bound. Be prepared to have your eyes opened to a part of America few people like to talk about, much less see. I can’t thank Huey enough for guiding us there and reminding us that this country was founded at a tremendous cost, one that’s still being exacted.


Excerpts from Silver Meadows by Todd Hido. Nazraeli Press, 2013. Thanks to Susan Worsham for convincing me to get THE LAST available copy at LOOK3 earlier this year and for standing in line with me to get Hido to sign it.



I spent some time playing around with making a couple of books this weekend. I made this one as a Christmas present for my in-laws. I took a walk on a crisp winter morning on their property in Elgood, West Virginia and made a series of square photographs (using the Fuji X-Pro1′s in-camera setting). There’s something especially beautiful about walking their holler this time of year. I chose nine photographs to print (using Inkpress Media duo matte 80) along with a quote from one of my favorite writers, Breece D’J Pancake. This was my first attempt at binding a book and I can’t believe how much fun it was. It measures 5″ x 7″. I made a second one using 1/32″ birch plywood for the cover, not realizing it wasn’t really flexible enough to practically use as a book cover. I’ll chalk that one up to inexperience…





“I’m going to come back to West Virginia when this is over. There’s something ancient and deeply-rooted in my soul. I like to think that I have left my ghost up one of those hollows, and I’ll never really be able to leave for good until I find it. And I don’t want to look for it, because I might find it and have to leave.” – from a letter to his mother Helen Pancake that Breece wrote in Charlottesville, where he was studying writing.


This little book measures 2.5″ x 3.5″ and is based on a new series I’m working on called Miner Pride. It’s a crudely made book, printed on a color laser printer and I made the cover from an Ilford paper box top cut to size. I used double-sided tape to hold the pages together and a strip of masking tape to bind the covers. Such simple materials yielded an incredible amount of fun. That’s what it’s all about, right? (I also made a little video here.)





UPDATE: We have a winner!

Do you know a high school or college student who could use some freebies? I have 11 CF cards (from 4GB to 16GB), a SanDisk CF card reader, and a Think Tank Pixel Pocket Rocket card wallet that I’d like to give them. All the gear has been used, but well taken care of. I simply don’t need them anymore and I’d like to share them with someone who needs them. What’s the catch? There isn’t one.

The rules are simple:
1) Nominate a student who could use these by midnight EST on Tuesday, 10 December 2013. (Sorry, you can’t nominate yourself.)
2) Simply comment on this post and include the student’s name, school, and a couple of sentences about why you feel he or she should get these.
3) I’ll announce the winner here and via social media on Wednesday, 11 December 2013 by noon EST.



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