On the north side of the King Coal Highway in Mingo County, West Virginia, I found this stretch road. I thought it odd that the road went from dirt and gravel to coal for about a hundred yards and back again to dirt and gravel. After several minutes of breathing in the air, listening to the birds rustle around me, I raised my camera. That’s when it occurred to me. I was standing in a place I wasn’t supposed to be in. I wasn’t trespassing, mind you, but rather I was standing on a reclaimed surface mine site in an area that had been blasted away to get at the coal underneath all except for that on which I now stood. I was photographing what was never intended to be seen, to be reveled in. I often think about ways in which photography has led me to places and people that I might not have otherwise encountered and places I might’ve never seen even in my home county.
There are so many known things in the world. How are they known? Are they known simply because we read about them, were taught about them in school? How many things that we truly know were learned by experience? The type of knowing and experience that you simply can’t escape, don’t want to escape. To truly know and experience place. To be from a place and of a place, to hold that place dear despite all its imperfections and shortcomings. I think I try to make pictures here because I need to make sense of this (mountaintop removal), to find some sort of order. The scale of the devastation is too large to comprehend sometimes. By slowing down and looking for any form of beauty or mystery, perhaps that makes it a little more bearable.
I keep coming back to the King Coal Highway knowing that I both appreciate it and despise it. I appreciate the views it provides, but despise the toll it has taken on the communities below. I despise the greed it represents. I resent all that was taken and will never be returned. Over and over again, I come back to walk and drive and look and think.
In the introduction to Paul Kwilecki’s testament to home, One Place, Tom Rankin describes a note in Kwilecki’s office from Richard Nelson’s The Island Within: “There may be more to learn by climbing the same mountain a hundred times than by climbing a hundred different mountains.”