A Documentary Tradition, Continued

Social documentary photographer Ken Light was featured this week on the New York Times Lens Blog, along with a slideshow of his photographs of Appalachian coal mining towns. These photos, along with residents’ stories and text by Melanie Light, are collected in the book Coal Hollow.

The recent disaster that killed 29 people at the Upper Big Branch mine has brought West Virginia coal miners and their lives tragically to the headlines. For their Coal Hollow project, Ken and Melanie Light visited the region, documenting, in image and story, the people they met and the connection the residents have with the land they and their families have mined for generations. It is a beautiful place, said Light in the Lens article, but steeped in poverty, with many left unemployed by changing technologies. See the slideshow, “A Photographer’s Trail to Appalachia“, at the New York Times Lens blog.

“Toward Los Angeles, California”. Photo: Dorothea Lange, 1937. Library of Congress. Ken Light’s photographs continue Lange’s documentary tradition.

During his career, Light has documented moments in the lives of Texas death row inmates, residents of the Mississippi Delta, migrant workers, and many others. His photographs are stark and revealing, and give a sense of bearing witness. Currently, his photos of tent cities, foreclosed homes, and struggling communities in California’s San Joaquin Valley in the wake of the housing crisis are featured in The Valley of Shadows, a Newsweek special report.

As Light discusses in a Newsweek audio slideshow, many of the scenes he sees in central California today echo those captured by Dorothea Lange in California during the Great Depression—migrants making long journeys in search of work, families waiting in line for food, mothers struggling to gain a foothold on shaky ground, and stretches of destitute land studded with abandoned homes and roadside signs from more prosperous times, that drift up like ghosts of another world.

5 thoughts on “A Documentary Tradition, Continued

  1. It’s very difficult to understand the weakness in the regulatory authorities in making mining safe. It seems the companies are given a way to oppose the imposition of any regulations as it moves through some sort of process. This needs to be streamlined and enforced

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