Coal Town USA
Old 05-27-2016   #1
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Coal Town USA

This week I went on a 6-hour drive to West Virginia to see coal towns with my own eyes. What I found were beautiful landscapes and wonderful people who are trying to deal with the decline of the coal industry and mass unemployment.

All pictures taken with M4, 50/2 Summicron "Rigid", 35/2.8 Summaron, and 21/3.4 Super Angulon on FP4.



This lady started to cry when she told me about the night the hotel and theatre burned down:








"You should make a picture of me, I'm the only interesting thing in town!", Randall




"We used to have 16 churches, now we have one." coal miner Butch


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Old 05-27-2016   #2
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"We're just sitting here all day long and wait for people to die", Larry (right) and Robert






Abandoned coal mine gift shop:










Abandoned shopping mall:
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Old 05-27-2016   #3
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Wonderful series!
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Old 05-27-2016   #4
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Wonderful series!
Exactly! Loved it ... well done.
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Old 05-27-2016   #5
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Thank you!
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Old 05-27-2016   #6
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Poor old McDowell County. Nice work.
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Old 05-27-2016   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by photomoof View Post
Those places don't do well in street photography, the photographer really has to go deeper.
...Go back.
Thanks for the negative feedback.
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Old 05-27-2016   #8
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Inspiring, admirable, plaintive, neighborly. A lesson for anyone who's unsure whether a long trip is worth the trouble to use his/her camera in a selfchallenging way. Hope to see more.
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Old 05-27-2016   #9
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Fantastic work, you've captured something that goes beyond just the image and you've done it well.
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Old 05-27-2016   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by giganova View Post
Thanks for the negative feedback.
I'd probably agree with photomoof's comment that you should go back -- how long did you spend there? Are the people shots from one particular town in McDowell County? Judging by the relatively consistent light throughout all the photos you have here, it looks like they were taken in a single afternoon (though I could be wrong).

Maybe if you do go back (and back again), you'll get to know people and they'll get to know you (and thereby build that all-important element -- trust). Then, you might be invited to some more intimate events and get introduced to other townspeople, and they'll feel like you're doing something for them.

Guess it all depends on how well you want to get to know your subject and how 'deep' you want to go -- who knows, this could turn into a life's work for you.
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Old 05-27-2016   #11
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I agree 100%, but you won't be invited into people's homes, work places, churches, etc, and get permission to take photos if you only stay for three days, which is all the time I had. I think it would take weeks to form the kind of personal bonds that opens doors to the private lives of the locals. I did the best I could in three days and had long conversations with many people, which was a real eye opener and changed my perception of the coal towns and the people there. The locals were incredibly friendly and welcoming, and almost every conversation ended with “Thanks for visiting!”, but in the end I ran out of time.

The first thing that I noticed when I arrived was how amazingly beautiful the scenery in McDowell County is. Yes, there are abandoned buildings and sometimes entire villages, but you have to look for it. Quite honestly, it wasn't that much different from other rural areas in the US I have been. And the decline is not a recent phenomena, it’s been happening for decades, accelerated over the past few years by cheap gas & oil. One coal miner said: "The coal towns of WV are exactly like the gold rush towns in the West, or what is currently happening with oil in in Texas. Boom & bust!"

I might go back next week for a few days again, but I dread the 6-hours drive to get there. Plus, on my way back I drove through a sofa (!) in the middle of the highway at 80 mph and have to get my car fixed first.
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Old 05-27-2016   #12
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Old 05-27-2016   #13
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Old 05-27-2016   #14
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Excellent work!

My early years were in a small coal and oil town. You captured the essence very well and handled it very well. You allowed the people to preserve their dignity.

Well done.
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Old 05-27-2016   #15
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Great pix! Thanks so much for posting...
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Old 05-27-2016   #16
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Very nice work, and I admit that I never drove 6 hours just to make pictures. If you can, I hope you get back there and gather up more native commentary.
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Old 05-27-2016   #17
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All great but that very first pic of the bridge is special. Thanks for posting these.
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Old 05-27-2016   #18
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Quote:
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All great but that very first pic of the bridge is special. Thanks for posting these.
That's funny, Keith, I almost didn't take this picture because the bridge is such a cliché of WV! However, I loved the light (this is shot right against the sun) and how the lens (50/2 Summicron "rigid") rendered it. There really is something special about old Leica glass, they are razor sharp but bright areas tend to "bleed" into darker areas, giving it a slight soft, mysterious look.
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Old 05-27-2016   #19
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I didn't see a photo of the sofa.... I'd like to see that too.
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Old 05-27-2016   #20
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I didn't see a photo of the sofa.... I'd like to see that too.
The sofa is in a million little pieces on I-81 after I drove straight through it at 80mph. Thank god my car has one of these faulty airbags that didn't go off, otherwise I couldn't have continued my drive back home!
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Old 05-27-2016   #21
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Here's a funny story: on my second day I'm at a gas station in a little town on "coal heritage route" when a guy in camouflage and with tattoos and piercings pulls up in his big truck. His left hand is covered by a tattoo that says "Kuntry Boy" (sic), flanked by deer horns, which looks amazing! Before I can ask whether I can make a picture of him and his tattoo he looks at me and says "Hey, wanna go have a beer in the local titty bar? Nothing else to do around here anyway." I follow him and we have a really fun night in this bar, where everyone knows each other (incl the stripper who is just a nice local girl). When we got out, I was so drunk that I completely forgot to ask for their names and if I can take pictures -- the reason why I went there in the first place! Ah well, at least I know where to find them when I go back ...

P.S.: Don't tell my wife ... it was all just for the sake of photography, no really!
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Old 05-27-2016   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by giganova View Post
Here's a funny story: on my second day I'm at a gas station in a little town on "coal heritage route" when a guy in camouflage and with tattoos and piercings pulls up in his big truck. His left hand is covered by a tattoo that says "Kuntry Boy" (sic), flanked by deer horns, which looks amazing! Before I can ask whether I can make a picture of him and his tattoo he looks at me and says "Hey, wanna go have a beer in the local titty bar? Nothing else to do around here anyway." I follow him and we have a really fun night in this bar, where everyone knows each other (incl the stripper who is just a nice local girl). When we got out, I was so drunk that I completely forgot to ask for their names and if I can take pictures -- the reason why I went there in the first place! Ah well, at least I know where to find them when I go back ...

P.S.: Don't tell my wife ... it was all just for the sake of photography, no really!
Now that will have to be further documented! A good start on a continuing story, maybe a book is in the future. Hope none of my directions got you lost on the way.

PF
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Old 05-27-2016   #23
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Hi PF and thanks for checking in! I found the coal bunker right away, thanks for the directions! This one's for you:



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Old 05-27-2016   #24
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This post made me think of the John Denver song ...... 'Country Road'

Almost heaven, West Virginia,
Blue ridge mountain, Shenandoah river,
Life is old there, older than the trees,
Younger than the mountains, growing like a breeze
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Old 06-05-2016   #25
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I just returned from another 5-day trip to the coal towns in West Virginia. So far I've been driving 2,500 miles for this project!

This time I made a lot of close personal connections with the coal miners families. They invited me to a veterans fund raiser, let me ride with their local ambulance and fire truck and invited me to their homes. I had a blast!



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Old 06-05-2016   #26
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I asked the little boy in the above picture what he wants to do when he grows up. His answer: "I wanna make it stop rain!"
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Old 06-05-2016   #27
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Lighting is great on the opening bridge shot.
The others very poignant ; good to have shown the human element.
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Old 06-06-2016   #28
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Not sure how I missed this last week, but nice, thoughtful series. Thanks for posting these.
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Old 06-06-2016   #29
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I think I found Anthony Hopkins twin brother -- in a coal mine!


Woodrow recently retired from working in the mine for 42 years. Now he spends all his day sitting in front of the gas station, cracking jokes. "I was so scared when I went into the mine for the first time. But every job is dangerous. Some people fall off the chair in the office!"


Anyone see a cat in this photo?


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Old 06-06-2016   #30
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Don't know how I missed this thread - very nice work, love the pictures!
PS great portrait of Woodrow, and of the kids on the porch.
regards,
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Old 06-06-2016   #31
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This is a great set of photos, and also a wonderful story. I hope you continue to do this type of work in other parts of rural America, as well as WV.
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Old 06-06-2016   #32
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I was looking at the wrong photo for the cat! But that was my mistake.

The Longdale bunker looks quite different with all the vegetation grown up. I'm glad you've been able to expand on your original venture into West By God. You opened some doors with your first trip, and now you can really delve into the lives of those most affected by the changing industrial landscape. Keep it going!

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Old 09-14-2016   #33
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Quick update:

Last week I returned from my 3rd trip to McDowell County in West Virginia. I spent a total of three weeks there, drove 4,000+ miles for the project and took 1,700 photos to date. Here are some from the most recent trip:

Coal miner family:

The above picture took me on an emotional roller coaster ride: I sent 1/2 hour listening and talking to the mom, another 1/2 hr taking pictures. When I returned the next day to ask her for her address to send her pictures, she didn't remember me and had no clue who I was!? How is this possible? Drugs?





These two (incredibly nice & funny!) coal miners were best buddies and they insisted that I could only take pictures of them together:
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Old 09-14-2016   #34
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Ku Klux Klan members! Father with his two sons. The father was the most hateful person I have ever met in my life. Can't repeat here what he said about President Obama (would get me banned from RFF!). He kept saying that Obama was a Muslin who wants to destroy the USA. When I asked him how he knew that Obama was a Muslim, he said "Because I said so." No point arguing.

When a Geico insurance car drove past, the guy jumped out of his chair, raised his fist into the air and shouted as loud as he could "F%$#@ gecko! I hope a snake will bite your f%$#[email protected] head off!". Yes, he was shouting profanities at a cartoon character on the side of a car. All I could think of was "I NEED pictures of them in their silly robes and hoods, with a burning cross in the background!!" but decided that I don't want to spend any more time with these people, so I left.

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Old 09-14-2016   #35
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Vintage printing press of the local newspaper. I was amazed how they print the newspaper: first, they print out the individual newspaper articles on a vintage Mac and an inkjet printer. Then they glue the articles together to form an entire newspaper page. Then they make a picture of the assembled pages with a camera that has 2 feet x 2 feet negatives!! They develop the negatives, mount them in a machine on top of an aluminum plate and expose the plate to UV light, then "expose" the positive image on the plate with chemicals. Next, they crimp the sides of the aluminum plate, mount them in this gigantic printing press and start the press under an enormous noise level.



Newspaper archive, dating back 100 years or so:
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Old 09-14-2016   #36
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This one I really like:
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Old 09-14-2016   #37
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I happened to be there when the historic War Hotel burned to the ground:




Pool in front of an abandoned home. I came back to this home a few times every day for a full week, hoping that I would find kids in the pool, but no such luck.
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Old 09-14-2016   #38
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Vintage car enthusiasts:



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Old 09-14-2016   #39
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Abandoned truck on the side of the road that is being reclaimed by nature:

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Old 09-14-2016   #40
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Entrances to coal mines. Getting there was only possible with my brand new Jeep that I specifically bought for this trip. How do you find a coal mine? You simply follow signs "Ambulance entrance", aaaaaalll the way up into the mountains. When the pavement ended and the terrain became incredibly rugged and rocky, I had to put my Jeep into 4WD and crawl up the mountain -- sometimes for a full hour -- until I found locked gates. Had to sweet-talk myself past security and there it was: a hole in the mountain!



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