According to the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), Appalachia “is a 205,000-square-mile region that follows the spine of the Appalachian Mountains from southern New York to northern Mississippi. It includes all of West Virginia and parts of twelve other states: Alabama, Georgia, Kentucky, Maryland, Mississippi, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia . . . The Region includes 420 counties . . . and is home to more than twenty-five million people.” I grew up in one of those 420 counties, Hamilton, in the city of Chattanooga, but I never thought of myself as Appalachian. My early vision of Appalachia was through the lens of Harry M. Caudill’s Night Comes to the Cumberlands and grainy television images of Lyndon Johnson’s “War on Poverty.” Of course, I also heard stories about “authentic” Appalachians: the independent, self-reliant, Scott-Irish who grew their own food, made their own furniture and clothes, and sat on the front porch to swap tall tales and sing folk tunes.
I gained a more realistic education about southern rural Appalachia as I worked my way through and between a couple of bachelor’s degrees. I was a form stripper at the TVA Sequoyah Nuclear plant construction site in Soddy-Daisy, Tennessee. I spent three years with the Tennessee DOT relocating families displaced by highway projects, many in rural counties. I labored ten months at the off-the-grid Buffalo Mountain Trout farm outside of Robbinsville, North Carolina. I was a nurse technician at Carter County Hospital in Elizabethton, Tennessee, where many patients came straight from the hills. Yes, I met a few characters who fit one of the negative or positive Appalachian stereotypes, but most folks were much more complex and interesting than the comic book version.
I moved back to Appalachia after twenty-plus years of traveling around the world as a nurse in the U.S. Air Force, and settled in Asheville, North Carolina with my wife and daughter. While nature photography is big around here, I am game for all genres of photography purely for the creativity and fun of the process.