Birmingham, AL 2015

This post contains language and thoughts some people will find offensive. I apologize for this as I've tried to be both tolerant and accepting in my blog posts and keep my bad language to a minimum. But the reality is, I'm tired. Tired of what, you might ask? For starters, I'm tired of stupidity and ignorance. I'm tired of racism. I'm tired of people not recognizing the basic humanity of ALL people. I'm tired of war. I'm tired of greed. I'm tired of drama. I'm tired of hearing how exceptional we are as a nation. And I'm tired of myself for not saying enough about any of it. 

This past weekend a friend from Durham spent the weekend with us in our apartment. Her son was a newly enrolled freshman at Mars Hill University and she was delivering him to the campus for the start of the rest of his life.

Upon arrival at his dormitory, they met his new roommate and the roommate’s parents who were from Charlotte and appeared to have money. Unpacking and getting settled in the new environment, our friend and her son were taken aback when the new roommate’s father scolded him that he was not allowed to hang his, yet-unfurled, confederate battle flag in the dorm room. Nothing further was said by anyone.

Later, as they lunched together in a Mars Hill restaurant, the roommate’s mother joked that the required Sickle Cell Anemia test was pointless for both boys. She remarked that if their son were at risk of having that disease, he might be eligible for more financial aid. Taken aback yet again, our friend and her son sat silent and dumbfounded by the  racist comment. At that point, the roommate looked to his parents and asked, “Should we tell them about the Canadians?” “Oh,” answered the mother, smiling, “Instead of saying African Americans we call them Canadians.”

Our friend was clearly baffled not only by the blatant intolerance and ignorance, but also by the other family’s assumption that because our friend and her son are white it was acceptable to share their racism in such an open manner. She was also upset with herself for not knowing what to say in response, hoping her silence would communicate her disapproval. 

My suggestion was this. "Next time it comes up, I said, you should affect your best southern drawl (she has roots in New Orleans) and say with syrupy sweetness: 'Why, Canadians, that is so smart and subtle. Who would possibly know what you’re actually saying or implying? We’re not so subtle or politically correct in our family. For example, when we encounter white racists and their code words, we simply call them what they are – Fuckin’ Crackers.”


Seldom Scene - Bonnie Chandler's Cookstove


Bonnie Chandler's Cookstove, Rice Cove 1976

My first years in Madison County, this was an universal and welcoming sight in most county homes. Still warm from morning biscuits and gravy, dinner and supper warming still. Pots with bubbling beans, both pinto and green; potatoes, creamy and rich with butter; applesauce; and water for coffee and washing. People who have eaten a meal prepared on a wood cookstove all utter the same thing: "It's the best eatin' I've ever had." Certain homes in Madison show this scene today, but not many, they are hard to find. Cooking on a wood stove is a lost art, one not taught in school, or by grandmothers anymore. There's smoke and ash to deal with, the time it takes for the stove to heat up. And keeping cookstove wood on hand is a chore most people shun, it's so much easier to just turn that knob and watch the eye get hot.


The Magazine


In addition to the new "Goin' On" tab that we just included in the "Me" section of my website, today we're introducing a "Magazine" tab located in the "Blog" section of the site. This magazine is dynamic in that it will change regularly. This first edition represents a mixture of my blog entries that contain the tag "Appalachia." 


Goin' On


As part of the ongoing website re-alignment, we've added a new folder titled "Goin' On" that is meant to give readers an idea of what is currently happening with my work - a news page of sorts. It's located in the "Me" tab, formerly the "About" tab, a title we deemed too lame. I will be regularly adding things to this page. Here is the link:

And a photograph to look at.

At the 4th of July Party, Anderson Branch, 1985

- from Walk Till the Dogs Get Mean, Ohio University Press, 2015.


More Scapes

This week we've added more photographs to the Scapes gallery and invite all of you to take a look. I've mentioned previously my renewed interest in landscape photography after spending the majority of my career photographing people and cultural situations. Not only did I not do many "rock and tree" images, but I would regularly downplay their relevance. I'm not sure what has changed in me, but something has, and I offer these examples of a growing involvement.

Cannon Beach, OR 2014

Cannon Beach, OR 2014

ShatterZone - Marshall, 1981


Marshall, Madison County, NC 1981

for Roger May

I've always wondered about billboards like the one above. Who are Linda and Eddie, and Edward and Tisha? We're invited into their lives, but to what end? We barely know them. What is the message here and what prompted it? What is the story? If it's truly a heartfelt tale of love and family, why is it voiced in such a public venue? And what of the postscript - is it more of an afterthought? And, ultimately, was the message successful? Did Linda keep the faith? Was she convinced of Eddie's love? Were Edward and Tisha left with a feeling of love from their father? Or were they all just words on a sign?


Adventures with Kate, Pt. 2


This past Monday I introduced a new gallery to my website titled Adventures with Kate, Pt.1. Here is Pt.2 of that same gallery. It includes more recent images, a mix of color and black and white, all showing something of my remarkable daughter. 

click on photo below to view full gallery:

Walking, PawPaw, 2013.

Walking, PawPaw, 2013.


Adventures with Kate, Pt.1


Jamie and I have been working on website additions and redesign the past few weeks. This new gallery is the first of our published efforts. There will be more changes in upcoming weeks so keep your eyeballs peeled. 

click on photo below to view full gallery:

On the Road, PawPaw, 1993.

On the Road, PawPaw, 1993.


Kelsey - A Year After the Wedding


Last August, I did a feature story on Kelsey Green that included an interview and photographs that ran for five consecutive Fridays in the Asheville Citizen-Times. The series was also published on my blog and all five parts can be found in the overview section of my blog, August 2014: One of the images was of Kelsey and Tommy's Wedding and is published here. This past Sunday the community had a baby shower for Kelsey, Tommy and their new baby, which is due in late August. 

Kelsey and Tommy's Wedding Day, Hot Springs, NC 2014.


Kelsey at the Baby Shower, Marshall, 2015.


A Response

Yesterday, I posted a link on my Facebook page to an article written by photographer Roger May that deals with a confrontation between a photographer and residents of a small community in West Virginia. At the time of the incident, I wrote a response that was not published. I've included it here.


The Four Elements

Rob Amberg

For the longest time I’ve thought of photography as a dialogue between four distinct, and often competing, elements - the photographer, his tools, the subject, and the viewer. I’ve also come to understand that omitting or favoring any of these elements is riskier than it might appear.

I bring this up because I’ve been reading with interest two recently published articles about photography. The first, in the April 19 edition of the New York Times Magazine, was written by the legendary photographer Sally Mann and deals with the complex relationship between viewers of her art, the subjects of that work, and the maker of it.

The second article was written by photographer Roger May for the April 21 online edition of Photo District News. May details an incident in West Virginia where two young photographers, a brother and sister, were surrounded and confronted by angry townspeople who accused them of photographing without permission, visual theft, so to speak.

The articles are long, but well worth the time. They speak to issues that will only become more relevant as imagery plays a more significant role in our lives. They are linked below.

As full disclosure, I’ve known and admired Sally Mann and her work for over thirty years. I’ve known Roger May for the last five years and serve on the advisory board for his Looking at Appalachia Project.

Photography is unique in the arts for its dependence on an external reality in the making of the image. Quite simply, we have to have some thing to photograph. For most of photography’s short lifespan, the public has been encouraged to accept photographs as truth, that there is no difference between these superficial representations on paper and reality itself. “Photographs don’t lie, they’re just like being there,” is the constant refrain.

Photographers will be the first to tell you that photographs do lie. Made in an instant, they offer a fleeting glimpse into a framed landscape of life with nothing of the feel, smell, or touch of the real thing. Decisions about point-of-view, cropping, timing, detail and so many other variables are all controlled by the photographer and subject to his whims, prejudices, and cultural DNA. But even with this subjective mix of ingredients, we still assume, to the point of belief, that what is pictured actually happened.

Sally Mann has been dealing with this disconnect since publication of her book Immediate Family in 1992, which included nude photographs of her three children in romanticized landscapes. While Mann’s sensual images are exquisite renderings, moments in time, she maintains they are nothing more. But she has weathered scores of comments and letters questioning her motherhood, her common sense, and even her children’s likeability. At one point she was told by a FBI agent to keep a loaded shotgun close at hand should a persistent stalker choose to act. Talk about suffering for your art.

Roger May’s story from West Virginia is almost predictable in its telling and it seems that everyone involved was victimized by cultural insensitivities. One can only feel badly and scared for the two photographers. In our country we are allowed to photograph in public venues and would assume we’d be able to do so without threat. But the residents of any community should be able to say no to invasion by camera and be free from representation by people unknown to them, with agendas they can only imagine.

There is a moment from years ago. I had an exhibit at the old Asheville Art Museum of my early work from the Sodom community. I was intent on Dellie, the protagonist of my book Sodom Laurel Album, seeing the show. The appointed day was cold, gray, and threatening snow and she clearly didn’t want to go. But we stopped to eat dinner in town and the sky cleared some. As we walked into the dark basement of the Civic Center and into the Art Museum, she gave a hard look at a metal sculpture of a dinosaur in the lobby. “What kind of a place is this?” She questioned. But she followed me to the gallery, and once there, her mood lightened. At home with neighbors and kin, she became more animated and freely interacted with the pictures. “Why, Marthie looks worried about something. Somethin’ has give her the headache.” Or, “Thar’s Junior at the High Rock. He tried to hide and scare John Rountree when they walked up there. He was always doing stuff like that.” For Dellie, the photographs were personal and real, a part of her personal past, and less about art or history. As we were leaving, she said, “Those pictures were real plain. I knew them every one. But I just don’t understand why a place such as this would want a picture of me hangin’ in it.”

Photographs are ambiguous creatures, full of factual information and imagined meaning. When I began my career in photography over 40 years ago, I was told of societies that believed the making of someone’s photograph was akin to the stealing of that person’s soul. I ignored that maxim and thought it nothing but the superstitious belief of unenlightened people. But I’ve come to understand the wisdom in those words - that stealing souls is precisely what photographers do although they might call it something less inflammatory, like capturing someone’s essence.

Whatever we choose to call them, photographs are ubiquitous today and the number of photographs made daily is eye-numbing. Most everyone is armed with a cell phone and we’ve clearly become a visual society. But we have only an elementary understanding of the unique power of photographs and how they work. Photography has forged social movements, helped end wars and careers, and taught us about our basic humanity. As individuals, images have moved us to tears, to anger, to action, to purchase, to lust, and to remember. We don’t quite know how or why pictures spark this entire range of emotions, but we know that they do. Does it have to do with the photographer, or the subject, the composition and light, the viewer himself, or some combination of elements?

Until we - photographers, subjects, and viewers - learn to see and understand the workings and the doings of this complex mix of elements, we will continue dealing with face-offs in West Virginia and assaults on our cultural treasures.

Three Years Ago, Today. . .

July 12, 2012, I posted my first blog entry with the following piece on my grandfather, Joe Galeano. There's been quite a few entries since that time and you can reference all of them by going to the blog page on my website and hitting the overview button.

Thank you all for your interest and support. It's been a fun project.



ShatterZone - A Fiction


Our nights are quiet and dark, save for a pair of screech owls calling from either end of the holler, or, coyotes high on the mountain yearning for goats. The sky is studded with stars and when the moon is full the forest dances with shadows and shapes the daylight doesn’t know. Sometimes we lie on a blanket in the yard, smoking, sipping a shared Bulleit, counting fireflies, waiting for comets, and soon making love in the comfort of dusky light.


The 40th 4th


One of the points of consistency in my forty-two years in Madison County has been the 4th of July party held annually by Paul Gurewitz, Laurie Pedersen, and Gary Gumz. This year's event is the 40th consecutive party and while the personnel has changed over the years, the party hasn't, except that it's gotten bigger. I want to believe I was at the first one in 1975, but if I was I didn't shoot any pictures, which would have been unusual. These images are from the 1977 party. Music and dancing in the now mostly demolished Art Gallery, pizza cooked in the car hood oven, and plenty of children and dogs. I met my wife Leslie at the 1988 party so, in essence, this party changed my life and I'm forever grateful for that.

But this party also conjures up childhood memories of the 4th - gatherings of my extended Italian family, first generation Americans all, and proud of it, tons of food, badminton and horseshoes, fireworks, and heartfelt goodwill. 

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