Coal Country 4th of July

So, I am back from my 4th of July exploration of West Virginia, and I must say that my mind is still working through all that I came in contact with. These past five days make up my third short exploration into the wonderful world that is WV.

Over my few short months of being based in VA, I have found myself returning to WV in search of something that excites my vision. The first trips were to the mountain ranges in the East with its old lumber towns, like Cass, and small hillside farms. This last trip was my first explorations into the central, and southern parts of the states, with just the hint of Coal Country showing itself.

There are many wonders, as well as tragedies hidden in the lush summer mountains of West Virginia. My eye was drawn to the endless collection of “holler” (hollow) churches and hidden family grave plots, these subjects being a continuation of projects started back in Arizona.

Of course there is the history, the coal mining, and the poverty that many in America think about when someone says the words West Virginia, the mere words invoking some of the strongest, harshest stereotypes found in this country, but I see something beyond all of that. There is something there, no; I feel many things there that I want to explore.

One of those things is the people. Over the course of the five day expedition, it seems that the people are what stood out to me most. The few that I talked to were very nice, and surprisingly open, often having a few connections to my own past and heritage. Although I was interested in covering terrain and mapping out areas to return to, looking mainly for family gravesites etc, it is the people that I wished I could photograph.

At this point I cannot help but point out the outstanding work of photographer Shelby Lee Adams. This man and his work with the people of mountain Kentucky are something to truly look up to. Take a look at his blog, explore his work, and truly take the time to learn about and see the images of the people. Shelby captures a proud people who are I feel living very close to what the original America and its people were. Although Shelby’s work is centered in Kentucky, the people that I have seen and talked with in West Virginia seem to be of a simular cloth.

So before I end this post I want to say that I will write more about this trip, and I want to point out that the WV folk are maybe the most patriotic Americans that I have ever seen. After driving around 600 miles of curving, twisting mountain holler road, I think that I saw more American flags that one can find in all of Washington DC. There is no doubt that the times are often hard in the mountains of WV, but the people remain tough, hard working, independent and seem to love their country which made for the perfect place to spend my 4th of July.

~ by Phil Nesmith on July 6, 2007.

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