Last Thursday in my Photography Portfolio class we watched a documentary about the work of Shelby Lee Adams. The documentary is called “The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia.” I hadn’t heard of this photographer before, but he has created some absolutely stunning images of Appalachia that have received a lot of criticism throughout the years. The documentary brought up several different themes that show up throughout Adams’ work as well as the argument of his critics, who question his motivations for photographing his chosen subjects. The subjects that Adams focuses on are the people who live at the head of the “holler” who are stereotypically the most “hillbilly-esque” as well as followers of a religion called Holiness Pentecostal, who interpret the bible literally and choose to handle serpents as part of their faith, and families with children who are mentally retarded.
As part of this write-up, I am supposed to discuss the similarities
and differences I have found between Adams’ work and my own. After experiencing one documentary on the artist, I don’t feel that I am enough of an expert to make large generalizations about our differences, but I have noticed a few things we have in common. The first of which is we both photograph what we know, whether if be family and friends or aspects of society. Adams said in the documentary that he “identifies with people suffering and people who are in pain.” Artists are kindred spirits with melancholy souls. Although not necessarily to the same extreme, I believe that nearly all artists have this quality in common, and it is one that I think comes out in some of my work as well.