This collection of eighty photographs focuses on present-day Appalachia, a region that "progress" has placed under siege.
This once poverty-stricken, mountain backwater has been invaded by four-lane interstates, cable television, Wal-Mart, and mobile homes. The people have largely abandoned log cabins and country stores and now shun overalls in favor of tee shirts that blaze advertising logos.
Over a period of twenty-five years Adams has traveled back to his home state of Kentucky with his cameras to document the lives of people there and to enrich and challenge outside perceptions of Appalachia.
His previous books--Appalachian Portraits (1993) and Appalachian Legacy (1998), both published by University Press of Mississippi--established the grace, intelligence, and wit with which Adams depicts life, as well as the candor and straightforward honesty he evokes from his trusting subjects.
Adams photographed many of these faces several times during his career. Appalachian Lives depicts how time and the outside world have affected the people dear to him. The boys of Appalachian Portraits now have become the young men of Appalachian Lives. Old homesteads have changed hands. The elderly in earlier photographs have died, yet their features glow in the faces of descendants.
In her introduction Vicki Goldberg says, "Adams looks at a difficult subject with an artist's eye. At their best, the complicated and ambiguous pictures in this book are an uncommon blend of humanity, reportage, and art, an Appalachia most of us thought we knew seen through eyes that tell us that maybe we didn't know it so well after all."
Just as his photographs portray the richness and complexity of Appalachians, Adams's accompanying text explains how he attains the level of trust that allows him to continue photographing these people. He tells why the region continues to fascinate him. His reflections give context to the images and a sense of the lives lived outside of the photographic frame. His honesty about his interaction with his subjects, their sometimes wary reactions to him, and his personal history in the region infuse the photographs with an intimacy that only an Appalachian insider such as Adams could achieve.
Shelby Lee Adams's photographs have been shown in single-artist exhibits in New York, New Orleans, and Dallas, among other cities. Find out more about Shelby Lee Adams at shelby-lee-adams.blogspot.com
Vicki Goldberg is the author of The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives and editor of Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present. She writes on photography for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, American Photo, and other publications.
About Shelby Lee AdamsSee more books from this Author
A native of eastern Kentucky, Smith who heads the photography program at Salem State College, here collects 50 black-and-white portraits that provide intimate glimpses of mountain people cut off from the modern mainstream.| Read Full Review of Appalachian Lives
As in Appalachian Portraits (1993) and Appalachian Legacy (1998)), here photographer Adams works more as a collaborator than a documentarian in rendering the "intense family environments"—isolated microcosms of farm, factory and self-employed kin—of eastern Kentucky.| Read Full Review of Appalachian Lives
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