I was able to spend a few days back home last weekend making photographs and visiting with friends and family. I left Raleigh after work Thursday and made it to my Aunt Rita’s house in Red Jacket, West Virginia around 1 a.m. Friday. After a few hours of sleep, I was up and out the door by 7 a.m., anxious to make pictures, when I saw this basketball goal, which I’ve seen hundreds of times. I wandered over to make a few frames. Given the morning fog, I knew there was a potential for nice images up higher on the King Coal Highway. From there, I wandered over to Williamson, backtracking through Matewan on WV Route 49 to US Route 52.
After breakfast at The Righteous Brew coffeehouse in downtown Williamson, I met up with Eric Mathis, my good friend and city commissioner with the Williamson Redevelopment Authority, to talk about Sustainable Williamson and make a few site visits in Mingo County. Later in the afternoon, I wandered in to Pecco’s Carry Out in Williamson, and did something I’d wanted to do for years – strike up a conversation with Mr. Pecco (below) and make some pictures of him. He told me a few stories about various floods, what it’s like to be in business at the young age of 91, and meeting John F. Kennedy. I made several digital pictures (SLR and iPhone 5) as well as two Fuji Instax 210 instant prints, leaving him with one along with my sincere thanks.
Saturday morning greeted me with more early morning fog, which provided a nice backdrop for the image below, made near Rawl, West Virginia on WV Route 49. From here, I headed back to Williamson to meet Jenny Hudson, director of the Mingo County Diabetes Coalition, at the Williamson Farmers Market. Brothers Doug and Jerry Dudley offered me a chair and a cup of coffee and we talked about farming, life, and how Appalachia is often (mis)represented in photographs. I bought some cantaloupe and tomato seedlings from Doug and he invited me to spend some time on his farm in Aflex, Kentucky, which I fully intend to take him up on. In fact, I told him later that day I wanted him to adopt me. He’s that kind of salt-of-the-earth guy. The real deal.
Later Saturday, I got a chance to photograph the reenactment of the Matewan Massacre, something else I’d wanted to photograph for years. If you’re not familiar with this part of West Virginia, and ultimately national, history, do yourself a favor and watch John Sayles’ 1987 film Matewan (Chris Cooper, James Earl Jones, Mary McDonnell). Eric Simon (below), of Williamson, West Virginia, played the role of Matewan Chief of Police Sid Hatfield. In Matewan, I met up with NPR-affiliate West Virginia Public Broadcasting’s Dave Mistich, who drove down from Charleston to talk with me about Testify and my Mingo County roots. The piece aired yesterday, 23 May 2013. You can read it here and listen here.
Sunday morning, I went to church with Rita at the Chattaroy Church of God. She hardly ever misses church and it was an opportunity for me to spend some time with one of my favorite people on the planet. We stayed after church a while for the spaghetti dinner hosted by the youth group, then it was back to Red Jacket to load up and head back to Raleigh.
Leaving home is always the hardest part, but on my way out of Mingo County, heading south on US Route 52, I made a few more pictures. I stumbled on this farm scene with a miner’s helmet on the fence post. You just can’t make this stuff up. Then, in Gilbert, I saw a father and daughter in the river as I drove by. I turned my truck around, knowing I wouldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t stop and make it. I hollered down to Jamie on his four-wheeler in the Guyandotte River and asked if I could make a few pictures. He obliged and actually thanked me for asking first. After a few digital captures, I made a single instant film picture and left it, along with my contact information, on the riverbank for them.
I also had the great fun of “taking over” the AARP Instagram feed for a couple of days while I was in Mingo County. You can see the iPhone images I shot here.
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- Looking at Appalachia | Susan May Tell
- Imagining Appalachia