1996 — student award of excellence
In the heart of Appalachia, War, West Virginia is a historic coal mining town that has been struggling to survive since the major mining companies in the region pulled out in the mid-1970s. Once a major boom town, War was a weekend destination for many people in the region. Now, with most of its storefronts empty, War’s main street commerce only jumps at the first of each month when welfare checks arrive.
Documentation of the current condition of War is very important on many levels. First, southern West Virginia, a traditionally poor area, is often ignored at the state and national level. Many political decisions, especially those involving economic development or improvement projects, do not take the region into consideration. Without the support of the state to develop a new industrial base, the residents of War will be devastated when welfare reform takes effect. I want to use my photographs to expose the current level of poverty as an impetus for recognition and change.
Documentation is also important to show the strength in character possessed by the people of this region. The people of War are extremely courageous, generous, and kind. Their strength in the face of economic adversity is worthy of attention and respect. Many people who live outside Appalachia hold fast to negative stereotypes, which only reinforces the oppression of the people. I believe it is necessary to explore stereotypes where they exist but also to reveal the deeper traits that form a unique cultural identity.