Monday, September 07, 2020

Mountain students' evocative photos from the 1970s have become a book and a documentary, on PBS this week

Russell Alemon wrote, "I'm lying on the back of my old horse." (Photo via KET)
This item has been updated with material from the documentary.

In 1975-81, a teacher in far southeastern Kentucky loaned a camera to her students, many of whom came from homes that didn't have a way to photographically document their accomplishments, daily lives and family gatherings. Now they're a book and a documentary.

Ruby Cornett: "I asked my sister to take a picture of me
on Easter morning." (Photo via KET)
"The photographs they snapped were simple, yet laced with deep meaning: the black and white selfie, the comical moment of lying on a horse’s back, and showing off an Easter Sunday dress," Liz Moomey reports for the Lexington Herald-Leader. "The photos were made into a book, Portraits and Dreams: Photographs and Stories By Children of The Appalachians. It’s now being republished and an Appalshop documentary about the project, Portraits and Dreams, will air at 10 p.m. Monday on KET," the state network, as part of PBS's "POV," or point of view, series. Check schedules for air dates and times on other PBS affiliates.

“Having a camera gives anyone power, but particularly children,” Ewald says in the two-minute trailer for the documentary. “It's really like the first time you fall in love,” Ewald told Moomey. “You have this intense experience. I had really fallen in love. I could see what they could do. I could see what photography could do.”

One of her students, Gary Crase, says he grew up “poorer than a church mouse” without running water in his home until he was 22. “This was a huge thing for someone to say ‘Here is your camera and here is your film’,” he said, “because we were poor. [Classmate] Johnny Wilder’s family was the same. They didn’t have two pennies to rub together.” In the documentary, both share some painful memories.

Moomey writes, "Without the camera, few moments of he and his family living in Letcher County would have been captured. The family didn’t have a camera, and relied on extended family to take photos and share them. Crase still looks at the pictures in his family photo album."

Crase, who Ewald says was her smartest student and is now a college science teacher, tells her in the documentary that "You made a mark on us" and asks her if they made a mark on her. Ewald, an internationally known photographer, replies with her line about falling in love and says, "I learned how to do everything I did with you guys."

No comments: