I spent 10 years photographing Appalachia

Carry Me Ohio: the place that taught me to see

The Road Home (as the winter snows melt), Mineral, Ohio. 2007.

More than a decade ago, I arrived broken hearted in the Appalachian region of southeast Ohio. I was fascinated by the haunting hills, the winding roads, and found myself photographing everything: the smokey bars, the strip mines and in the homes of these forgotten communities.

(L) In the kitchen, Chauncey, Ohio. 2006. (R) Skid-Mark, Chauncey, Ohio. 2006.
Moving In, Chauncey, Ohio. 2006.

There’s a place where two roads meet in Mineral, Ohio. At the intersection sits an old church connected to a food pantry. If you follow the wood-paneled walls to the front, above the pulpit hangs a sign that says, “Come Expecting.” I never come expecting much, but find that magic exists everywhere here. The rolling hills become your church; weed and whiskey are your sacrament, the savior is whatever/whomever can take you out of this broken place.

Jessie hunting, Vinton, Ohio. 2006.
(L) Strip Mine, Vinton, Ohio. 2008. (R) Duct Tape, Chauncey, Ohio. 2006.

From the 1820s to the 1960s, mining corporations stripped Appalachia of its resources. After taking all that they could, the companies left, leaving former boomtowns with little but their cultural identity. The worship song is some twangy country tune or “Oxycontin” by Lil Wyte. You pray for the past boom to return, with little thought of the busted present or the unknowable future. What future can be expected from a life here?

(L) Cut Here, Chauncey, Ohio. 2010. (R) Proof of the boom, Glouster, Ohio. 2008.
(L) When Little Man ran away, Chauncey, Ohio. 2010. (R) Identical cats in Dave’s barn, Guysville, Ohio. 2007.

When you think of Ohio, stereotypes of Appalachian poverty may spring to mind. For the past ten years, I have made pictures of the people of this region as they attempt to recover in the aftermath of extractive industry. What I have discovered transcends any stereotype — despite circumstances, these proud Americans persevere and cling to family, community, and land with an admirable tenacity.

Elvis the zebra, Cumberland, Ohio. 2008.

Eventually, I met a woman and fell in love. I started a family of my own and discovered a sense of family and belonging in Appalachia.

Melissa at the fridge shortly before Madelyn’s birth, Athens, Ohio. 2007.

I learned that this place is a microcosm of a story that plays out around our country and around the world, and unfortunately history repeats itself. Our collective memory favors the convenience of amnesia over acknowledging the damage that we continue to inflict upon ourselves. For me, photography is the antidote. This collection of images is my love song to Ohio.

Carry Me Ohio is the first of four books in a series called The Invisible Yoke, which ponders the weight of memory on the American collective consciousness, to be released by photographic essayist Matt Eich with publisher Sturm & Drang. This first volume is due out in October 2016. It was funded in part by grants from The Economic Hardship Reporting Project and the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography.

The project is on view as a solo exhibition at jdc Fine Art in San Diego, California from September 14 — November 4, 2016. An artist lecture and book signing will occur on Saturday, October 22, 2016 from 6PM–8PM and a lecture and book signing at Medium Festival of Photography from 11AM-12PM on Sunday, October 23, 2016.

My deepest thanks to the Sellers family, the Goins family, my professors and classmates at Ohio University and Hartford Art School, Kate Linthicum, Steve Scanlan, Reto Caduff, Lee Arcana, Mike and Deb Davis, Lorrie Saunders, Jennifer Decarlo, the Aevum and LUCEO collectives, and so many others for their support of this work over the years.

You can see more of the author’s work at: www.matteichphoto.com.