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Two Days in Appalachia

Every person in Appalachia has a relationship with God, intentionally or otherwise. You could say the same thing about these pictures taken by Magnum photographer Bruce Gilden.

This article appears in The Photo Issue 2015

Photos by Bruce Gilden / Magnum Photos

Appalachia is beautiful. The mountains and the forests make it so. But the region's topography has a strange effect on those who call its habitable valleys, crevices, and crannies home. Most of the towns exist, to some extent, in isolation. Sure, roads and technology connect them to the outside world, but when you're inside, they can feel like landlocked islands. The result is that God is everywhere. That is to say, you encounter religiosity everywhere, not just because of the population's devotion but because that devotion has nowhere to go. It's born into the world, only to bounce off the mountains and echo right back to Main Street. The pot has nowhere to overflow, so every person in Appalachia has a relationship with God, intentionally or otherwise. You could say the same thing about these pictures.

Jonesville, Virginia, Saturday, June 6. Will at a men’s prayer breakfast gathered at Covenant Mountain Mission Bible Camp.

Harlan, Kentucky, Saturday, June 6. Destiny, Amber, and Serenity at the Harlan County Poke Sallet Festival.

Premium, Kentucky, Sunday, June 7. Roy, one of the brothers at Kingdom Come Church’s Old Regular Baptist service.

Saturday, June 6. Tammy at the Harlan County Poke Sallet Festival.

Saturday, June 6. A prayer session during breakfast at Covenant Mountain Mission Bible Camp.

Premium, Sunday, June 7. A churchgoer at the Kingdom Come’s Old Regular Baptist service.

Sunday, June 7. Carla, a churchgoer during the Kingdom Come community’s meal after service.

Sunday, June 7. Congregants at the Kingdom Come service.

Saturday, June 6. Wilma, whose husband worked in the coal mines, lives across from the fairgrounds in Harlan, home to the Poke Sallet Festival.