Heritage of Hate


Klan Rally, Asheville, NC 1986


Klan Rally, Asheville, NC 1986

Klan Rally, Madison County, NC, 1976

Klan Rally, Madison County, NC, 1976


Heritage is tricky stuff. We all have it. Some of us honor a particular heritage, be it Southern or African-American, or anything else. Some of us honor nothing at all.  In my case I choose to pay homage to my mother’s Sicilian/Italian ancestry and culture.

One of the problems with heritage, I venture to say any heritage, is it comes with ugly stuff, incidents and histories we should despise and be nothing but ashamed of. And any objective reading of history would single out Anglo (white) culture as the absolute worst of the lot. We white folks have done our level best to abuse and exterminate every ethnicity and social group on the planet.

I love my Italian heritage. Rome has defined much of the world’s rich legacy of art, food, architecture, culture and much more. I, and many people I know, regularly celebrate some aspect of our shared birthright. We visit the old country. We know a few words of Italian. We cook the food and have recipes from our grandmother. We speak with our hands. And we honor our kin, even those that died fighting for the Axis powers in World War II.

But, I’ve stopped participating in Columbus Day celebrations. Yes, he is credited with discovering America and is ultimately responsible for bringing all of us to this country. But, the bottom line is, he is one of those ugly truths, a human stain that began the 500-year process of liquidating our Native societies. He was also a slaver.

I love the South’s pace, that slow meandering that serves to slow me down. I love the South’s music and literature, its landscape and stories, its food and its drink. I love the men and women, all of them, who have made it the place it is. I love the South’s heritage.

But I do not love, or respect, the part of the South’s heritage that promotes hate, a lack of tolerance, traitors, and reverence for stupidity and ignorance. Surely, by this time, we should understand the part of heritage that disrespects, dishonors, and promotes hatred should be thrown on the trash heap of history.  



Dad and Me


Dad and Me, Washington, DC, 1948

My Dad loved his Desotos.
I think this is his first one. 
I was his first child. A son.
I would've been a year old in this picture.
He would've been 30.
People called him "Bud." His name was Robert.
He was a good guy, a better than good father.
I couldn't have asked for more.
I know this from my face - secure, ecstatic, bright-eyed.
He has a concerned look.
Why? I wonder.


At Linda Hessman's


At Linda Creaseman's, with Farm Aid, Dodge City, Kansas 2015

Out walking while Charlie and Brooke do the interview with Linda.
In many ways these are my favorite times on these trips of ours.
The walks. Alone. Quiet. No thoughts of others. 
Some miles across an open field, pocked with prairie dog holes.
Moments without a schedule.
In a new place. One where I've never been.
Alert. Allowing life to come to me.


Appalachia Now

I'm pleased to have one of my photographs on the cover of this new Anthology of Appalachian short stories published by Bottom Dog Press. The photograph of Natassia Rae is one in a new series of portraits I'm doing of some of the young people who have come into our lives over the last few years. This is a dual honor for me - having my work associated with this wonderful group of authors and an exceptional small press, and, the opportunity to spend time with an amazing group of people far younger than I. 

Appalachia Now

Short Stories of Contemporary Appalachia

Editors: Larry Smith and Charles Dodd White

Just Out ~ June 2015

Authors: Darnell Arnoult, Rusty Barnes, Matt Brock, Taylor Brown, Chris Holbrook, David Joy, Marie Manilla, Charles Dodd White, Mesha Maren, Carrie Mullins, Chris Offutt, Mark Powell, Jon Sealy, Savannah Sipple, Jacinda Townsend,  Meredith Sue Willis

Appalachia Now is an essential and necessary collection of stories. For too many, the people of Appalachia are little more than stereotypes. Appalachia Now undoes that injustice by representing the real people of Appalachia today without forgetting that we can’t help but be shaped by our geography. Appalachia is as much a character here as are any of these diverse, complex, troubled characters. This collection is a delving—an invitation into a world often represented by pop culture, but seldom as authentically nor as skillfully as by the writers herein. ~Jeff Vande Zande

“The geologic entry to the Appalachian foothills… had a foreboding quality, a warning to travelers that the world beyond was very different.” So states Chris Offutt in his story, “Back Porch.” His and other stories collected in Appalachia Now serve to hammer the point home like a coal miner’s pick or a fist to the jaw.” ~Christina Lovin

178 pgs. $17 from us direct.

 *This book is a follow-up to the best selling Degrees of Elevation anthology published by Bottom Dog Press in 2010.

  • $17.00

Mermaids, in Marshall?


When I moved to Madison County in 1973, Marshall was a busy place. Three car dealerships, two grocery stores, two hardware stores, the Sunnyside and the Shadyside florists, the library, people lining the counter at Doc Niles's pharmacy waiting for coffee or biscuits and gravy, and an assortment of people attached to the courthouse - lawyers, deputies, criminals, families. Parades were held on Christmas, the 4th of July, and Memorial Day. The town was full and alive and rich with activity. I caught a Greyhound bus in front of the Old Rock Cafe and took it to Knoxville to meet a friend. It was a main route.

By 1983, the town was dying. Businesses were closing and buildings were boarded up. I had opened a studio downtown, Main Street Studios, on the third floor in what is now the Flow Art Gallery and eventually moved into the space. The town would empty by five o'clock, the quiet only punctuated by the regular arrivals of the Norfolk Southern train. As the 1980s passed into the 1990s, Marshall slowed even more, the town abandoned by county residents who now did their shopping, and hanging out, on the Bypass or in Weaverville. The solitary parade at Christmas was attended by fewer people every year. Marshall resembled small, rural Southern towns across the entire region, passed by in a societal rush to modernity.

New people began arriving in the 2000s with money, ideas, and energy. Buildings were purchased and renovated into apartments, offices and galleries. Music, art, weddings and parades brought people into town who hadn't been there for years, or ever. It appears Marshall has been reborn, albeit in ways many long-time residents wouldn't have predicted. Last Friday evening at the Mermaid Parade, there were more people in town than I've seen in many years. Businesses were making money, families were having fun, people visiting, music playing, it was silly and delightful and a precise definition of the word community.

I've heard some born-in-county folk and older newcomers say they just don't like what Marshall has become, what with all the tattoos and dreadlocks and beer. They wish it had stayed like it was and one can sense resentment among certain people. It's too bad, that attitude, and I hate to hear it. The reality is the town was near dead and little effort was being made to revive it. But that's not the point, what is regrettable is that people are missing the opportunity to participate in the rebirth of their town as a destination for something besides court. 







At the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute


One of the more moving visits from our recent trip, the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute with Carl Schinasi and Virginia Volker. Got to see an amazing exhibit of photographs by Spider Martin, one of the great documentarians of this period of time in our nation's history. The sculpture gallery in the top two photographs is haunting. Rosa Parks (below) is resolute. A good day.

From Lee's Levee


From the Levee in Lee Walker's Front Yard, Ninth Ward, New Orleans, LA 2015

Sometimes, when a photographer is lucky and standing in the right spot, when his timing, too, is spot on, he can produce an image that causes a viewer to look twice. It often has to do with framing and point-of-view, and how you transform a three-dimensional subject into a two-dimensional representation on paper or screen. It's part of the magic of photography - the ability to make someone ask, "What is going on here?" 

I love pictures that are based in fact, that are believable. I want to come away from a picture and assume what I've just looked at actually happened and has an identifiable reality. But I most like photographs that tell stories, ones that take that reality, that evidence, and give it a twist, a blur, a ghostly presence that encourages more stories, new perspectives, and perhaps different ways of seeing well-worn subjects. 

Click the photograph to enlarge, it needs to be big.


Hero - The Honorable John Lewis


Selma, Alabama 2015


Selma, Alabama 2015


One of America's truly sacred spaces and the man who showed us the way across this seemingly unbridgeable gulf. He continues to lead the way today. It was an honor to walk where he and the patriots with him had walked. It was far easier for me - no tear gas, no clubs, no attacking police - just heat and humidity and a town mostly empty of people. Still, the symbolism of this holy place was clear, as was the knowledge we still have much walking to do.


When a Place Reminds You


Highway 212, Olivia, Minnesota, 2015

This for my friend - tie and vest maker, country girl, part of the family - Olivia Shealy. As we drove through this small town in western Minnesota, I could only think of you. It's the Corn Capital after all and you're kind of corny. And I'm sure you grow corn in your garden. We all do. And I think I once saw you wear your hair in a fashion similar to the ear on the building. But I don't know. I think I just saw the name of the town and thought of you, and that was gift enough. 




Jamie Paul, in my studio, PawPaw, Madison County, NC 2013

It's a rare thing when a person enters your life who profoundly influences you toward new thinking and action. When that happens in one's later years, with the tendency to become fixed in our ways, it's even better. And when the person is young, more than half your age, that's the sweetest of all.

I'm not going to list the details. To do so would make this an extra long post and one of the things Jamie keeps hammering in my head is to keep these ramblings of mine short. The secret is in the edit. 

Thank you, Jamie.

Oh, yes, jamiepaulmusic.com


Jamie at Old Ground Farm, Big Pine, Madison County, NC, 2013


Walking near Granite Falls


Walking near Granite Falls, Minnesota, 2015

High overhead it's bright sun.
Flattening the already flattened landscape.
So subtle a rise just ahead. For an instant,
it's enough to cut off the distant horizon.
1/250th of a second worth. 
I'm more interested in the landscape than I used to be. 
For years it was always people. 
People doing this, people doing that.
But lately, it's the land that has caught my eye.
And held it.  


Finally. . .


Hwy 50 west of Dodge City, Kansas, 2015

Click on image to enlarge

. . .I can use that well-worn phrase about time and place with some degree of knowledge and certitude. Another trip for Farm Aid, this time to a place as different from my spot as any could possibly be. The openness of the sky is unsettling to one used to the mountain's embrace. The waving wheat, and fields ready for planting, stretching as far as my eye could see. The wind, steady and stiff, chilling on a not-so-cold morning walk. Enough talk of Dorothy to keep us glancing at the sky. Combined, on leaving, a sense of getting out of Dodge just in time. 


April 14


Benny with the Chickenpox, Big Pine, Madison County, NC 1983. 

I've published this photograph before on this blog, but it remains my favorite image of the ol' boy. Hanging in our bedroom. Yipes.

April 14, 1865 - certainly among the most horrific days in our nation's history - the day our greatest President, Abraham Lincoln, was assassinated. I have often wondered how different, i.e. better, our country might be had he lived out his second term.

April 14, 1980 - one of the best days in my life - the day my son, Benjamin Robert, was born. Child #1. 35 years old now and I like the man he has become. 


Pictures and Words


At the Democratic Party Fish Fry, Marshall, Madison County, NC 1990

This has long been one of my all-time favorite pictures. The way it moves. The moment in time. The gesture and posture. The audience. The framing. Loose and spontaneous. 

I will be leading a workshop at Doe Branch Ink, just off of Big Pine, in Madison County, NC, from June 14 to June 20. The workshop is open to anyone, but would be especially interesting for both writers and photographers. The setting is ideal - quiet and stunningly beautiful, with perfect hosts and good grub. You will sleep well and be stimulated to be creative.

People have asked what I plan to do, or teach at this workshop. My work is largely about place and man's response to particular spots in the world. It is also about time and how time affects those places and communities. I tell those stories about those subjects with pictures and words. I find myself consistently fascinated by the joining of the two mediums. How words can complement a photograph through an extended caption, or a poem, or with no words at all. And how an image can inform a story with documentary fact, or an individual point of view, or surreal renderings of reality. I think about this stuff a fair amount, as sick as that may sound.

My hope for the workshop is for a healthy ongoing discussion and that participants come away with new ideas, new work, and a new appreciation of time and place. 





Marshall Bypass, Madison County, NC 2015

For whatever you’re doing, for your creative juices, your geography’s got a hell of a lot to do with it. You really have to be in a good place, and then you have to be either on your way there or on your way from there.                                         Neil Young, 2012 interview with NY Times reporter David Carr

Returning home from trips, no matter the direction I’m driving from, there are particular spots along the highways where I sense the change. Something – the smell, the look, the taste in the air – signals “I am home.” I’m back where I can most be myself, my most creative self, my easiest self. Back to the place I know best, the place that knows me best.

It’s different when I leave. My longing is immediate and palpable for a place I’m already missing, even as the mountains recede in my rear-view mirror. But the expanse of the road ahead, new people and new places, they, too, have allure, especially when informed by my spot in the mountains and the knowledge I will soon return there.  




Land Such As That


Eastern North Carolina Farmland, 2015

Traveling in eastern North Carolina with Farm Aid, it's easy enough to notice the soil down here near Tarboro is unlike ours in the mountain west of the state. On North Carolina's coastal plain, the dirt is rich and deep and loamy, teeming with nutrients, both present-day and millennia old. It's not unusual to find bits of seashells or even maritime fossils from a time when the ocean covered the whole region. Fields are big and flat enough to lay a level to them. One farmer we visited asked me, “Do you have many rocks up your way?”

“Rocks,” I answered. “That’s what we grow best in the mountains. Rocks. You can plow a field in an hour or two and then spend half a day hauling rocks to the edge of it. Disc it the next day, get a little rain on it, and you’ve got a whole new crop, without adding any fertilizer.”

“I wouldn’t know what to do with land such as that,” he said.