We Are All Local


Ecko and Figs, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2012


Yesterday, February 20, was Ecko's twenty-sixth birthday. When we first met Ecko five years ago she was traveling the country with her pet white rat, Figs. Needless to say, Leslie and I were both intrigued and since that time she has become part of our family. Figs has moved onto a new location and Ecko is now a permanent part of our community. She has a  two-year old daughter and provides us with valuable time with Leslie's mother. You'll see her sometime.
Wish her a Happy Birthday. 


We Are All Local


Latino Farmworkers Hanging Tobacco, Upper Brush Creek, Madison County, NC 1993
click image to enlarge


It was 1984. Someone, I don't remember who, suggested I go over to this farm in Spillcorn to photograph some Mexican farmworkers picking tomatoes. That there were even Latinos in the county was news to me so I went. Spillcorn, back then, was about as remote as you could get in Madison County and the creek I followed was stereotypically Appalachian, littered with junked cars, appliances and all manner of plastic. I turned off the main road and forded the creek into a little holler, which opened to a beautiful, contained cove. At the lower end was a field of ripening tomatoes.

At the edge of the field was a lone woman, squatting over an open fire warming beans, meat and corn tortillas for the workers. There was a tape player blasting mariachi music to the hills. The men, six or eight of them, were picking the tomatoes into five gallon mud buckets, which they then transferred to shipping crates. 

I had picked tomatoes for my neighbor McKinley for a couple of summers and I knew what the men were dealing with. Hot, the tomatoes wet with dew and coated with chemical residue. You stayed stooped over, each bucker heavier than the last. It was work I was glad to no longer be doing.

Since that time I've had the good fortune to meet many Latino workers across our state who do jobs that are scorned by Americans - hanging sheetrock, building fence, cutting and hanging tobacco, picking the food we eat. My experience with these people as workers, neighbors, and photography subjects has been only positive.

The fear and hysteria surrounding this group of kind, hard-working, family-oriented people are totally misplaced. They are not our enemies. They are not here to harm us. Rather, if we are looking to place blame, or find a cause for our fear, we should look to the politicians and their supporters who seek to turn us against one another.

We often hear we are a nation of immigrants and with the exception of our Native American citizens, it's true. My family migrated from Italy and Germany, my wife's from the British Isles. All were seeking freedom from oppression or poverty in a place that promised a new life. And they found it here. We should let others find it, too.  




We Are All Local


Marshall Bypass, Madison County, NC, November, 2016


For much of the last two weeks, I’ve heard the phrase, It’s Not Who We Are,” used in response to the Executive Orders signed by the new president: The banning of Muslims, The border wall, Eliminating health care benefits for veterans and others, The gagging of government agencies, The refusal to separate from his businesses, The Nepotism, The ignoring of Federal Courts. The phrase rings true for me and for most people I choose to be around. These hideous actions are not who we are. I’m proud of that.

However, those of us who are not supportive of these edicts, and many more yet to come, do ourselves no favors when we ignore the reality that, This Is Exactly Who We Are. Not me, or us, per se, but millions of people around us, citizens of this country like you and me, are in complete agreement with these new principles and policies. And they are now in a position to bring many of these ideas to fruition. Many people simply wanted a change from the way things were and I can understand that. But for a significant number of the new President's advisors and supporters, the nationalism, authoritarianism, xenophobia, and bullying are exactly who they are and what they want. Those people scare me and I fear will take us to places none of us want to be.

Anyone paying attention understands our country has always been divided, which at various times in our history has erupted into civil disobedience, bitter dissension, and violence. Mostly, the antipathy has been kept under wraps. But, encouraged and emboldened by our present administration, the divisiveness is growing more intense and deep. The distrust, ridicule, anger and outright hate on both sides of any issue are far more extreme and unyielding than in the sixties and seventies. People are lining up in a way we've not witnessed since the 1860s. I fear for our present and future, things will get much worse .


I-26, Corridor of Change


I had the pleasure of spending last Thursday at Western Carolina University as a guest speaker in the Art Department. I especially enjoyed the time with students and photography instructor, Susan Martin, and Denise Drury Homewood, the director of the Bardo Fine and Performing Arts Center. 
While speaking with Susan in her office she asked if I was interested in taking some copies of a catalog the school had produced for my exhibit there in 1997 titled I-26, Corridor of Change. I had copies in my files, but gladly took a few more. I hadn't looked at it in many years and was struck by how early in the process of my documentation of I-26 that show and catalog were produced. Construction on the road continued for another six years, ending in 2003, and production of my book, The New Road, continued for another six years after that, published in 2009. 
It's always interesting, and sometimes infuriating, to read what others say about your work so it was a real treat to revisit Mike Smith's essay in the catalog, which I enjoyed reading again. Everyone needs to know Mike's photographs. They are a true gift to our region's traditions of art and documentation. His book, You Ain't From Around Here, is simply remarkable. Mike and I both worked with the same publisher for our books, George Thompson. At the time George was the founder and publisher at the Center for American Places in Staunton, Virginia. He now heads GFT Publishing. Here are links to Mike's and George's websites. http://www.mikesmithphotographs.com/
I understand and accept the risk of publishing a praiseworthy essay about oneself. But I think Mike addresses questions and issues that are relevant to the photo community and the community at large. While we make over 2 billion photographs a day worldwide, we largely don't understand the power and the language of photographs. Mike's essay helps with that. It's a good read. Mike also mentions the great Czechoslovakian photographer, Josef Koudelka, who has long been one of my favorite imagemakers, certainly instrumental for me. 
My book, The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress in Appalachia, is available for purchase on my website. http://robamberg.com/bookstore/the-new-road

Click on individual pages for larger photographs and sharper text.