This story appears in the December issue of VICE magazine.
In his historic 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared War on Poverty, wanting to find ways to significantly change the lives of those the American dream had left behind. LBJ believed that America had the resources to wipe out economic scarcity, and he used military rhetoric to rally the people around the cause. Central Appalachia became the frontier for the initiative.
This region comprises all of West Virginia and parts of Southwestern Virginia, Eastern Tennessee, Eastern Kentucky, Southeastern Ohio and Western North Carolina. It is a large swath of land that runs along the Appalachian mountain range.
News organizations descended on the region to put a face to the War on Poverty. Journalists depicted it as an unseemly place to live. These representations have haunted its people ever since. Those responsible, had the best of intentions, but ultimately they contributed to unfair stereotypes of a rural group of people who already felt ostracized from the American Dream. Fifty years later, most of the programs put in place to eradicate poverty have been severely hindered by reductions in aid.
I have been making photographs in the region for five years. This past summer I collaborated with Vice and local writers Juliet Escoria, Catherine Moore and Jacob Knabb to tell stories that offer a complex and nuanced understanding of what central Appalachia looks like 50 years after becoming the poster-child for poverty.
We focus on the effects of the declining coal industry, systemic problems with the healthcare system, the struggle against the obliteration of mountains due to strip mining; the drug epidemic ; and the history and meaning of the terms redneck and hillbilly.
I did not want to produce a series of stories that reinforced mass media's view of central Appalachia as a poverty-ridden region. I also do not believe it is useful to ignore the poverty and only showcases selectively positive things. Both strategies fail to acknowledge the complexity of life in any region.If we want to utilize mass media to demystify stereotypes, represent culture, sum up experience, interpret memory and history, we must collectively acknowledge that these stories do not offer an authoritative view of a place. Central Appalachia is too vast and complicated for this.
Despite the failure of past depictions, there is value in thinking through how and when we attempt to change the circumstances of people through government-initiated policies. There is value in reporting that examines what it looks like when these policies fail. It is useful to understand how marginalized communities continue to struggle. It is important to remind ourselves that there was a time when a president thought he could eradicate poverty in the Unites States. As we prepare for a new election and a new president it is valuable to revisit the issues at stake in overlooked parts of America. It is valuable to provide representations of life in Appalachia that are dimensional and considerate of its effects on those that live in the region.
Linda and neighbor Alan in downtown Logan. Linda can barely afford the rent for her sparsely furnished apartment, where her two daughters sleep on the floor. Alan is on disability due to a coal-mining injury, entitling him to $600 a month and a prescription for the painkiller Norco.
This series is a continuation of Stacy Kranitz's study of Appalachia, originally appearing in July 2015 as part of our annual Photo Issue. Follow the entire series on VICE.com.