Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Writer documents rural California, tries to bridge urban-rural divide in state

In March 2011, writer and photographer Lisa Hamilton received a Creative Work Fund grant to travel to the rural areas of California "to tell stories that would help bridge the cultural divide between the rural and urban parts of the state," Columbia Journalism Review reports. She wanted to talk about health issues facing rural residents, but as her road trip progressed, she found the need to tell a different story.

"Before I could start talking about peoples’ complicated relationships to, say, water, I had to first establish that there are all kinds of different people in the state who have all kinds of different relationships to water. And I needed to do it using the language of stories, not the language of issues," she told CJR. She said most urban Californians had very little knowledge about the rural areas of the state and she had to "introduce people to rural California."

Photo by Hamilton: Rancher-poet Linda Hussa
Hamilton told the stories of the people she met through a mix of writing and photography. "I was challenged to be a witness," she said. "I had to sit with that person and try to understand him or her, and get the person to trust me and let me in enough to photograph in a way that tells more of a story than that initial boring appearance can tell."

She created RealRural.org as a repository for the stories she collected, and explains on the blog that it's meant to start conversation between rural and urban California, two parts of that state "that are at best disconnected, and often at odds." She says most urban Californians think they know everything about rural residents, but she has "aimed to demonstrate that in fact this place and its people are far more diverse and dynamic than most of us from outside realize." (Read more)

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