POVERTY & What people keep getting wrong about Appalachia

by Elizabeth Catte, The UK Guardian Newspaper, 2/6/18


Cora Hairston, in West Virginia, photographed by Roger May. Hairston’s father surrendered his body in both life and death to coal, writes Elisabeth Catte.
Photograph: Roger May

… I’d invite you to perform an image search for “Appalachian photography” through the search engine of your choice.

If your results are similar to mine, you’ll find an overabundance of stark black and white portraits – a stylistic choice often made by photographers to signal that we are of the past and lost to progress – and images of white people experiencing extreme poverty and suffering because of it.

My search engine helpfully prompts me to narrow results by adding “hillbilly”, “trailer” and “inbred” to my search terms. Every time I perform this search, I notice a new element of its grim ratio. Today, for example, I calculated there are three times more images of white people in coffins than living people of color in my search results.

The visual archive made for us is a mournful one, which stands in sharp contrast to the vivid images of youth captured by Kentucky-based photographer Meg Wilson. There is a stillness to images favored by the press, a photographic trick that confirms a narrative of our complacency and presents Appalachia as the dominion of the barely living. Wilson sets us in motion, in color, and full of life. I can see myself in her images and sense a connection to my place and history that does not occur when I gaze at those image results.

This sad tradition is enduring. Even long after the election, Appalachia continued to receive the morbid interest of the national press that, in its endless quest to discover how poor people swung an election, only succeeded in raising a question far more complex: why so many Americans needed it to be true when it wasn’t.

As I detail in my new book, the media enshrined communities with low voter turnout as the beating heart of Trump Country. There has also been a journalistic disappearance of nonwhite people in the region, seemingly to satisfy a narrative fetish about the white working class and their anxieties. And that’s before questioning why so many readers on both sides of the political aisle used a memoir (Hillbilly Elegy) written by a venture capitalist (JD Vance) to decode the political choices of the region’s poor.

Read more at … https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2018/feb/06/what-youre-getting-wrong-about-appalachia