Coal is still king in much of Appalachia, yet the heritage and history of the people who enabled the United States to become an economic superpower in the Industrial age are slipping away. This remarkable book presents arresting black and white photographs and powerful oral histories that chronicle the legacy of coalmining in southern West Virginia. Ken and Melanie Light traveled hundreds of miles through rugged, isolated terrain recording the stories of a range of people whose lives were shaped by coal: retired miners, men and women who have been jobless their entire lives, a contemporary coal baron, a justice of the State Supreme Court of West Virginia, a writer who bravely ran for governor on a third party ticket, and people who returned to the hills when their lives failed elsewhere. What emerges is a complex portrait of people locked into an intricate web of geography, history, and unfettered profiteering. In Light’s poignant images and in their own distinctive voices the residents of Coal Hollow—a fictional composite of the communities the Lights surveyed—reveal how the intersection of mountain culture and the greed of the coal companies produced the most powerful economy in the world yet brought crushing poverty to a region of once-proud people.
Ken Light, a social documentary photographer, is Adjunct Professor and Director of the Center for Photography, Graduate School of Journalism, at the University of California, Berkeley. Among his books are Witness in Our Time: Working Lives of Documentary Photographers (2000), Texas Death Row (1997), and Delta Time (1995). Melanie Light is a writer and Executive Director of Fotovision.org.
“Ken Light is a social documentary photographer in the classic sense . . . he photographs people who otherwise would never be seen or heard.”—Ken Lassiter Photographer’s Forum
“The images are searing in their honesty.”—Steve Goddard’s History Wire
“A tour de force of the human face of the dark underbelly of American capitalism.”—Foto8
“Both documentary and narrative, the book’s backstory is the tale of big coal mining companies using up both natural resources and people. . . . No one who has viewed the recent mine disasters in the news can fail to feel compassion for these people, and the Lights’ book adds another dimension to our concern for our fellow citizens.”—Black And White
“A devastating, deeply moving chronicle of threadbare lives and pitiless plunder.”—San Diego Union Tribune
“Ken Light’s haunting photographs. . . and Melanie Light’s moving oral histories . . . present a complex picture of the human suffering and environmental costs of coal mining in America. . . . This timely book, whose release comes shortly after recent tragedies in which trapped coal miners have lost their lives, examines the role of corporate greed as it has affected once-proud people who live in dilapidated houses and trailers amid denuded forests, abandoned strip mines and toxic slurry ponds. It does so with dignity and respect for the people the Lights encountered on their journey to ‘Coal Hollow.’”—Sacramento Bee
“Successfully makes a personal connection in a way that facts and statistics simply cannot.”—Christianity Today/ Books & Culture
“Beyond its merits for helping us appreciate the personal and social burdens of coal mining in Appalachia, Coal Hollow serves as a model for how to bring photography and interviews together in a documentary book. . . . Without documentary efforts like Coal Hollow we are short of background, short of the insights we need to be informed, empathetic, fully functioning citizens.”—Digital Journalist
Photographer Ken Light and writer Melanie Light rivet readers’ attention on the landscape and lives of rural southern West Virginia in the first years of the 21st century. . . . Coal Hollow belongs in the pantheon of great documentary projects of photo and text. The Lights succeed in respecting their subjects, intruding on their lives just enough to render a haunting profile of hardworking folks living on the margins.”—Choice: Current Reviews For Academic Libraries
“Has a social value apart from its value as a splendid piece of photojournalism.”—East Bay Express
"Coal Hollow'' a new book of photos by UC Berkeley's Ken Light and oral histories by Melanie Light, is a study of coal miners in West Virginia, a subject to which national attention has been turned since last week's explosion. A show of the photos, currently at the International Center of Photography in New York, will open at UC's Graduate School of Journalism on Feb. 10. Meanwhile, Anderson Cooper's CNN special last week about the Sago Coal mine included a piece about the book. “—Leah Garchik San Francisco Chronicle
“Coal Hollow presents a heartbreaking, visually arresting portrait of Appalachia now that, as one resident puts it, ‘the easy coal is gone.’”—Dallas Morning News
"America's coal industry remains a laboratory test for 'free market' capitalism and government's efforts to control it. The people who live in its midst, as captured here in words and pictures by Ken and Melanie Light, are obstinate, wounded, witty, profane, and defiantly human."—John Sayles, Independent Filmmaker