In his historic 1964 State of the Union address, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a 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 because politicians were concerned they would have a difficult time maintaining widespread public support if the face of poverty had dark skin.
News organizations from across the country descended on the region, which runs along the Appalachian Mountains through West Virginia, Virginia, Tennessee, Kentucky, Ohio, and North Carolina.
Journalist Charles Kuralt and many others depicted it as an unseemly place to live. Those responsible for these misrepresentations had the best of intentions, but they contributed to unfair stereotypes of a rural group of people who already felt ostracized from the "Great Society." Decades later, most of the social programs put in place there have been severely hindered by reductions in aid.
I have been making photographs in central Appalachia for five years. I spent the past summer collaborating with local writers to tell stories that offer a complex and nuanced understanding of what central Appalachia looks like 50 years after becoming a byword for poverty.
The stories, as diverse as they were, inevitably took on themes: the effects of the declining coal industry in Boone County, West Virginia; systemic problems with health care across the region; locals' decades-long struggle against the obliteration of their mountains due to strip mining; the drug epidemic in West Virginia; and the unfortunate stereotyping of so-called redneck and hillbilly culture.
Early on, I had to accept that the stories could never offer an authoritative view of the region. Central Appalachia is too vast and complicated for this. Instead the series, done in partnership with writers who call the region home, slows down the process of journalism and localizes it. We doubled and tripled the days of reporting most mass media outlets usually allow. Together we set out on a path that would move beyond the media's one-dimensional outsider perspective to immerse the reader in a complicated set of circumstances and viewpoints.
The series will not correct the easy, overly simple story the press developed in 1964 or reverse the decades of class discrimination that have followed. The pieces, varied and ambiguous, aren't propaganda illustrating how great or awful things are. There is no perfect way to gather up the voices of the other, and culture is not something that can be gotten exactly right. But there is value in thinking through what happens when we attempt to change people's circumstances through social engineering. Sometimes these people profit, sometimes they suffer, and sometimes they are empowered to make things better on their own, away from the policies of a government that has seemingly discarded them.
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 [€550] 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.