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Roger May's Testify

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Like many teens growing up in rural pockets of America, I couldn't wait to leave Appalachia. Now that I'm older and a parent, I daydream about ways to return to the hills of my childhood. My wife says Appalachia is written in my DNA—how I talk about it, how I see it.

Since the War on Poverty of the 1960s, Appalachia has seen no shortage of photographers. Out of this, a visual vernacular of the region developed. It's become easy, cliché even, to make "those" kinds of photographs—trailers, barefoot children, etc. I'm keenly aware of this dynamic, and I want my work to depart from those stereotypes.

My book project, Testify, began as a statement against mountaintop removal coal mining—though that seemed too reductive for a place of such historical richness—and morphed into an exploration of my past and identity.

To see more of May's work, visit rogermayphotography.com.

Former miner James Abshire, who retired after being injured on the job. A mining company had approached him about buying his land; when I made this photograph in 2009, Abshire was struggling with what to do. - PHOTO BY ROGER MAY
  • Photo by Roger May
  • Former miner James Abshire, who retired after being injured on the job. A mining company had approached him about buying his land; when I made this photograph in 2009, Abshire was struggling with what to do.

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