Exhibition redefines Appalachia

maple fest
Photo by Virginia Currid

The question is what visually defines modern Appalachia. Is it the coal mines, the rural life of mountain towns, or thriving cities? The answer is found in a new photography exhibition coming to the Radford University Art Museum.

“Looking at Appalachia: A Fresh Approach” is on view at the university from March 24 to May 4. This ongoing exhibition travels throughout the Appalachian region and is on display at several museums, libraries and galleries.

“This new crowdsourced image archive will serve as a reference that is defined by its people as opposed to political legislation,” said project founder Roger May in his exhibition description.

The show redefines the visual identity of Appalachia, showing the current reality of the area rather than just conveying a stereotype of impoverished locations and subjects. President Lyndon Johnson’s 1964 “War on Poverty” is cited as the beginning of Appalachia’s reputation of being a downtrodden culture. This exhibition shows a more rounded modern image.

To help explore Appalachia’s real diversity, the exhibition reexamines the region 50 years after the “War on Poverty” began. It accepts current work from photographers that fits this theme. These images become the basis for the exhibit.

“One of the things that makes this project so special is that it's a collaborative effort not only between professional and amateur photographers, but also between those inside and outside of the region,” May said.

May, who is based in Raleigh, North Carolina, created and began organizing this endeavor in 2014. An advisory board made up of other photographers and writers help him in his efforts to support the project.

The first year the project received over 2000 submissions from New York to Mississippi. There were 297 photographs chosen for the online archive and 75 included in the print exhibition. Fifty-one professional and amateur photographers contributed these.

The New York Times, National Geographic’s “Proof: Picture Series” blog, Global Citizen, and the West Virginia Public Broadcasting have featured work from this exhibition.

“This exhibition will not only interest the general population of the Southwest Virginia, but it will also be especially relevant for students in both the Art and Appalachian Studies departments,” said Steve Arbury, Radford University Art Museum director.

The opening reception is at 5 p.m., March 24 and the work is on view March 24 to May 4 at the Radford University Art Museum at the Covington Center. Museum hours are weekdays from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and weekends from 12-4 p.m. Admission is free for both the reception and the exhibition. For more information, call 540-831-5754.

To learn more about the project, visit lookingatappalachia.org.


Mar 16, 2016