© Rich-Joseph Facun

“I’m certainly aware of the stereotypes, clichés, and exploitation this area has been exposed to by many entities,” the photographer Rich-Joseph Facun once told us. “I want to be clear: I’m not here to define what Appalachia is or isn’t.” In this collection, we take a look back at some of the most powerful photography from Appalachia, created by five visual storytellers, each with a different perspective.

Rich-Joseph Facun documents quiet moments in Appalachian Ohio.

The Ohio-based photographer Rich-Joseph Facun remembers the exact day he started work on Black Diamonds: January 5th, 2018. He saw a stranger while leaving his doctor’s office, and he stopped briefly to greet him. “As we talked a little more, I began to get annoyed with myself,” the photographer remembers. “I knew I should photograph him.”

After some consideration, he did. “As I was photographing him, a tear dropped from his eye, then another,” Facun remembers. “I didn’t stop to ask why he was crying. I didn’t want to ruin the moment. It was really cold out, and as soon as I stopped firing off frames, he quickly thanked me and scurried back to his car where it was warm.”

He’s been sharing stories from the towns of Appalachian Ohio ever since.

Stacy Kranitz traveled through central Appalachia in search of hidden stories.

“I learned how to love, be loved, and how I never want to be loved. I also learned how to look presentable without showering for week long stretches (this was mostly accomplished with a daily whore’s bath in the McDonalds women’s bathroom),” Stacy Kranitz says about working on this project.

“I had very little idea of what I was doing when I started. I was interested in regionalism. I wanted to make new photographs that connected to a larger history of complicated representation in Appalachia. Both of these things still drive the project but it has also become this project about fantasy and desire.'”

In her book of photography from Appalachia, Rachel Boillot traces the history of unique musical traditions and heritage of Tennessee’s Cumberland Plateau.

“The Cumberland Plateau is filled with a diversity of songs and performances – ballads, bawdy pieces, religious numbers, instrumental tunes, and love songs – most of which have survived generations,” writes Lisa Volpe in an essay for Rachel Boillot‘s book, Moon Shine (Daylight).

“Yet the songs and traditions of this place are fading. Younger residents have rejected learning the music of their elders. Just as a song has a beginning and an ending, so do traditions and lives. Mortality is one of the natural rhythms that define the Cumberland Plateau.”

Matt Eich captures heartache, love, and family in his photography from Appalachia, where he lived until 2009.

Matt Eich’s first child was born in Ohio. He had started making pictures one year earlier in 2006 as a college sophomore. He created his family here and stayed until 2009, existing against the backdrop of the Great Recession.

Carry Me Ohio is what he calls “a love song.” Its melody is the people; the harmony can be found in the scarred terrain, the whiskey, and the sunburns after long days outside. Eich’s photographs capture what it’s like to be homesick for a place and for a person, even if they’re right there standing in front of you. They’re too intense to be nostalgic.

Justin Kaneps traces the complex relationship between the coal industry and the Appalachian communities it changed forever.

“In spite of awareness about the impact of coal, some know little about the lives of those who produce it and live in the effects,” the photographer Justin Kaneps explains. “With profound compassion and respect, I provide some insight into their world. I explore the evidence of an American ideological past and the nostalgia that exists within the way of life and traditions encompassing coal. An underlying connection exists to my subjects through the air we breathe and the resources we take from the land.”