Cover image for Appalachian lives
Appalachian lives
Adams, Shelby Lee.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Jackson : University Press of Mississippi, [2003]

Physical Description:
xxii, 98 pages : illustrations ; 28 x 29 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Item Holds
F217.A65 A25 2003 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area-Oversize

On Order



This collection of eighty photographs focuses on present-day Appalachia, a region that "progress" has placed under siege.

This once poverty-stricken, mountain backwater has been invaded by four-lane interstates, cable television, Wal-Mart, and mobile homes. The people have largely abandoned log cabins and country stores and now shun overalls in favor of tee shirts that blaze advertising logos.

Over a period of twenty-five years Adams has traveled back to his home state of Kentucky with his cameras to document the lives of people there and to enrich and challenge outside perceptions of Appalachia.

His previous books-- Appalachian Portraits (1993) and Appalachian Legacy (1998), both published by University Press of Mississippi--established the grace, intelligence, and wit with which Adams depicts life, as well as the candor and straightforward honesty he evokes from his trusting subjects.

Adams photographed many of these faces several times during his career. Appalachian Lives depicts how time and the outside world have affected the people dear to him. The boys of Appalachian Portraits now have become the young men of Appalachian Lives . Old homesteads have changed hands. The elderly in earlier photographs have died, yet their features glow in the faces of descendants.

In her introduction Vicki Goldberg says, "Adams looks at a difficult subject with an artist's eye. At their best, the complicated and ambiguous pictures in this book are an uncommon blend of humanity, reportage, and art, an Appalachia most of us thought we knew seen through eyes that tell us that maybe we didn't know it so well after all."

Just as his photographs portray the richness and complexity of Appalachians, Adams's accompanying text explains how he attains the level of trust that allows him to continue photographing these people. He tells why the region continues to fascinate him. His reflections give context to the images and a sense of the lives lived outside of the photographic frame. His honesty about his interaction with his subjects, their sometimes wary reactions to him, and his personal history in the region infuse the photographs with an intimacy that only an Appalachian insider such as Adams could achieve.

Author Notes

Shelby Lee Adams's photographs have been shown in single-artist exhibits in New York, New Orleans, and Dallas, among other cities. Find out more about Shelby Lee Adams at |Vicki Goldberg is the author of The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives and editor of Photography in Print: Writings from 1816 to the Present. She writes on photography for the New York Times, Vanity Fair, American Photo, and other publications.

Reviews 2

Publisher's Weekly Review

As in Appalachian Portraits (1993) and Appalachian Legacy (1998)), here photographer Adams works more as a collaborator than a documentarian in rendering the "intense family environments"-isolated microcosms of farm, factory and self-employed kin-of eastern Kentucky. He employs careful, unsettling poses not unlike those of Sally Mann, but his subjects register an uncanny combination of bemusement and desire to articulate something deadly serious rather than Mann's difficult sexuality. In text that winds through 80 lushly printed b&w portraits, Adams draws on his own upbringing in the area, and details his long-term relationships with his subjects; often a visit to "Hylo's Place" results in warm exchanges but no pictures. Rather than interfering with photos, the texts add layers of meaning. A shirtless blond boy clutching a rooster was the only one among many on a hot day who could control the bird without getting scratched; his worried stare contains the anxieties of the shoot along with less defined emotions. In "Driving Straight to Hell," a photo featured in the New Yorker, Adams shoots Dan Slone in the cab of his 1979 Ford F-150 at night after days of drinking, illuminated by a lurid strobe. Beginning with portraits of children and ending with several open-casket funerals, the results throughout are disturbing enough that Vicki Goldberg (The Power of Photography: How Photographs Changed Our Lives) is forced to note in her introduction that "evidence of Adams's care and respect shines through." They do, and Adams's subjects, particularly in the group shots, transform his visits into nuanced symphonies of life and light. (July) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

There is deep poverty in Adams's photographs of a rugged, inner Appalachia shaped by generations of intractable struggle. Adams's first two books, Appalachian Portraits and Appalachian Legacy, revealed both his access and his sensitivity to people who were his neighbors. This third volume reveals a progression in the battered infrastructure of shacks and debris: trailers are plunked down where homemade wooden cabins stood before, and a wardrobe of old dresses and work shirts has evolved into T-shirts with sports and pop culture designs. The satellite dish is ever-present, even a rallying point for proud owners. In Appalachian Legacy, Adams captured a frail dignity and enduring natural rhythm. A few years later, some of his subjects seem to have acquired a new edge, or even swagger, perhaps bred through movies, broadcast sports, and a crumbling of isolation. The introduction by photography writer Vicki Goldberg makes a good contribution to an excellent book. Adams continues to give us the blunt, perfectly composed reality of a distinct American place and people. Highly recommended.-David Bryant, New Canaan P.L., CT (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.