A portrait of Appalachia - 1973 onward

Have you thought about crowd funding a book?

Post a link or prices - ‘expensive’ is relative.

Marty I sent a PM so contact me if it comes through or if you didn’t receive it post a message and we’ll try again. I’m still trying to figure the new site out.
Some of these photos have been etched in my memory from a previous life in rff. The KKK cross, the Mennonite kids, the moonshine man,... Thanks for sharing x-ray. I hope you find a way to put these together in book form.
Thank you @x-ray for sharing your work with us. Extraordinary imagery!

Wonderful that this record will be preserved for future generations.
The TN State Museum purchased a group of them and the East Tn Historical Association museum houses a large collection of around 250 11x14 Archival Gelatin Silver prints. They established a special collection and have 98 archival 11x14’s framed and crated that are loaned to other museums. The show toured museums for seven years but I’m not sure whether it’s still on the road.

Two weeks ago I proposed a second show so we’ll see. I’d like to do another 100 prints and see if we can get a grant to do a coffee table book. Just guessing I’d estimate $40-60K to do a run that makes it practical which would include design and prepress work. A friend got a grant and did I believe 10,000 books and it ran in the mid $30K range and that was fifteen or so years ago. We’ll see.

I guess I have over 100,000 film images shot over 70 years. I’ve willed the entire archive to the history centers special collection when I pass. No rush!!! But they’ll be properly cared for and I stipulated they not be used for commercial use, just educational use. (ref: Post 13)
What a thread... it's like a fly to another world!!

Thanks for sharing! So interesting, so human...
X-Ray, these are remarkable images. I noticed a consistency of exposure between outdoor and indoor images, can you tell us a little about the technical aspects, like camera, your metering method, film used and flash? Thank you.
X-Ray, these are remarkable images. I noticed a consistency of exposure between outdoor and indoor images, can you tell us a little about the technical aspects, like camera, your metering method, film used and flash? Thank you.
Thanks Joe!

Without looking back and seeing what I posted I think everything was available light with two exceptions. The klansmen on horseback needed a tiny bit of fill light as did the two klansmen at the swastika burning. I don’t remember the strobe but it would have been something like a vivitar 283. Both times I was using a Leica M and it was so dark I barely could focus.

The secret to consistency is understanding light and shadows and how your meter responds and works and how film responds to light and processing. You have to detach your eye from your brain and ignore what your brain tells you you’re seeing and see what’s there in reality. Your brain tries to trick you.

The response film has to different types of light is different from your eye. Learn how your film responds to light and shadows and how your developer and different development times influence the end result.

Metering is critical. Meters think the universe is 18% reflectance. On average it is but individual situations may not be and elements like a light source in the photo will fool your meter.

Being consistent in what camera, film, developer and meter that you use will go a long way in the learning process. Pick you camera, film, developer and meter and stick with that system until you learn how to use it properly. Don’t jump around constantly because adding variables will only make learning more difficult.

Over my career I’ve used a lot of equipment but seem to always return to my roots. When I look back 55 years I realize that no piece of equipment ever made me or my images better. There are no magic bullets, it all comes down to the photographer.

For most of 55 years I’ve used Leica M cameras, Nikon F & F2’s with manual focus non AI or AI lenses, Rollei TLR, Rollei SL66’s and lenses (now Hasselblad due to digital limitations on the Rollei) and view cameras (Deardorff, Sinar Norma, Linhof and Canham) in 2x3 up to 11x14.

I’ve gone full circle with my Leica lenses. I started in 1968 with my first M2 and lenses of the time and “upgraded” as new lenses came out. When I got to the current crop of glass I realized I hated the look and sold them and went back to essentially the same kit I had in 1968. I like the images from those lenses better that anything I owned in later years especially the new ones. I carry an M2, M4-P and MP with 21mm f3.4 SA, 35 Summicron 8 element v1, 5cm rigid Summicron, 75 Summilux and 90 f2 Summicron from the 70’s.

My nikon kit is an F and F2 with a 7.5mm fisheye, 16 f3.5 fisheye, 20 3.5 UD, 24 2.8 non AI (2nd generation), 35 f2.8, 50 f1.4, 85 f1.8 1st generation, 105 f2.5 ( sonnar ). I have a 200 f 4 and 300 f4.5 also but rarely use those.

I use a Weston Master V, Weston Ranger 9, Pentax 1 degee digital meter and a couple of Minolta IV meters. When using my Leicas I use an MR-4 meter on the M4-P and M2 and internal meter in the MP.

The photos I posted were shot with a mix from Leica to Pentax 6x7, Rollei SL66, Hasselblad, Nikon, Canon and Rollei 3003’s.

Basically any camera made in the past 70 years or so will do an equally good job. It just comes down to sticking with one system and learning how to use it.
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I want to remind folks many of these images are 50 years old or so and most of Appalachia has moved into the 21st century. It’s hard to find great subjects like this now. The kids once isolated in the “hollers” have gone onto college now and have broken the cycle. That’s not to say poverty doesn’t exist because it does but it exists everywhere.

I also want to emphasize how kind many of the folks are. When I photographed many of my subjects I was treated as royalty. Many of my subjects gave my homemade jelly, vegetables, fruit and eggs. I want to say I’ve made friends with some of the kindest people I’ve ever met. And just because they didn’t grow up wealthy doesn’t mean they’re not honorable and smart because they are smart, hard working and honest people. They were unfortunately born in the wrong place at the wrong time.

There are a few though that you don’t want to get too close to. There those violent drug dealing racist criminals that would just as soon kill a persons as to look at them. I think you can guess which ones and yes they are frightening and dead serious about their beliefs.

Here are a few more random shots I hope you enjoy.

For those interested, the first three images are digital captures with a 1Ds Canon and 85 1.2 that I owned. The rest are all film in various formats up to 8x10.


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Wonderful images and terrific story, x-ray.

My grandmother was from that part of the country and she kept a small place in the mountains north of Atlanta. One of the nicest memories I have was going up there in the summers. It seemed like just moments after we would arrive there'd be a knock at the door and it would be a husband and wife, carrying a wooden bushel or two of assorted vegetables from their garden. Lovely people.
My wife and I live less than 3 hours north of Dahlonega Ga. It’s not the distance that take time to get there it’s the curvy roads. We drive down several times a year and spend a few days just for a change of scenery. Beautiful country and a sweet little town. Amilacola state park is just 20 min from Dahlonega right in the heart of the mountains and has a great lodge to stay in.
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That's beautiful country. I made many a trip on those windy roads to Dahlonega, Gainesville and Blairsville when my grandmother was building a cabin near a little spot called Suches, Georgia. We'd have to go to those towns almost daily to get supplies.

When I was about eleven or twelve, her friends there told her about about a piece of property for sale -- 40 acres surrounded on three sides by national forest. It was a valley and the slopes of a couple of opposing mountains with the Appalachian trail running down one slope, arcoss the valley and up the opposite slope. The previous owners were an elderly couple living in a very simple one room shack with single board exterior walls covered on the inside with old yellowed scraps of newspaper. As part of the sale, they could live out their days there rent free. When they passed, I explored the cabin and being a city boy it was like nothing I'd ever seen or even imagined before. Deer would feed in the valley at sunrise and dusk. Hikers on the trail would often stop and ask to camp in the valley, which was always ok with us. 'Magical for a young kid just entering his teens.