In conjunction with our annual photo issue, we are publishing photo essays of long term, in-progress, personal work by contributing FADER photographers about the people and changing landscape of America. More photos from Matt Eich’s “Carry Me Ohio,” along with his personal statement about the project are after the jump.
Once known for natural resources such as coal, salt, clay and timber, Southeastern Ohio has been stripped of its resources by extractive industries. When nothing was left the corporations vacated the region, adversely affecting the economy and leaving the remaining communities with little but their cultural identity; a product of poverty. In 2006 Athens County had a poverty rate of 27.4 percent and had a median household income $14,000 lower than the national average. With the recent economic crisis in the United States the poverty rate in Appalachia is skyrocketing.
Aside from its social relevance, I have felt a unique connection to the people of the area in many ways – specifically in their personal and geographic isolation. It is hard to be an idealist when looking at rural poverty. Its roots in this area are unfathomably deep and no photograph I can take will change it. The fact is, the individuals who live in this area deserve to be photographed and remembered whether the images change anything or not.
For the past three years I have focused on documenting communities that have been overrun by poverty as they attempt to recover from the aftermath of extractive industry. As opportunities continue to decline and rural poverty grows, in our struggling economy I have felt it is imperative to document this ever-changing landscape and to show the strain placed on an individual when the very land they have inherited betrays them.
I first came to Southeast Ohio almost five years ago for college. Having grown up in rural Virginia I felt comfortable with the landscape and the people but was surprised at how little my peers at school seemed aware of the surrounding communities, or of any life off campus for that matter. This only made me more curious so I began exploring some of the economically hard hit towns in the region like Chauncey, Carbondale, Shade and Glouster.
The residents of the towns have been incredibly open and generous for the most part and I’ve grown quite fond of some of them. The Sellers family was the first family group that really let me in when I was doing a story on their identical twin daughters, Kacey and Lacey, now five, who were born deaf. They were the flower girls at my wedding in 2007, which certainly made the reception livelier. Despite the plethora of problems these communities face daily, the residents are strong people who have somehow made ends meet in this region for generations.
I started working in earnest my sophomore year of college, back when I was just beginning to discover who I was as a person and as a photographer. Continuing the work over the next three years has allowed for the project to evolve naturally as my life and vision have changed. As attached as I’ve become to the region and to this body of work, it’ll be nice to finally bring it to some closure – hopefully within the next 5 months or so. When I first moved to Ohio five years ago I didn’t expect that my life would be completely transformed by my time here, but it has.