Review by Gerhard Clausing •
I once wrote an essay comparing learning a new language being similar to moving to a new town, a journey to get to know some new paths to achieving reasonable goals. As an outsider coming to a new place, there is always much to learn and take in, and to get to know some new people and their habits and customs. So it is with moving to a part of a country with which you are unfamiliar, especially one that is marked in people’s minds by many misconceptions, and possibly a lack of information. Appalachia is such a place.
An area formerly known for and economically sound due to its coal mining, Appalachia now faces new challenges. Clearly there are many individuals and families that would benefit from an economic boost. But as we find out from an extremely well-written and heartfelt essay by an insider, Alison Stine, the relatively modest life does not preclude an attitude of helpfulness and improvisation. Relying on your neighbor makes for stronger bonds between people, where economic considerations recede to the background and human values come to the fore. Once the other person gets to know you, an individual is seen as worthy of support, and differences such as your country of origin, or that/those of your ancestors, or shades of skin color, are of much less concern. The attitude seems to be one of “make the most of what we’ve got.”
So it is with this photobook of images taken in Appalachia. Rich-Joseph Facun, a photographer of color, entered this area in southeastern Ohio with some trepidation, unsure of how he would be received in his new home, primarily populated by folks descended from Northern Europeans. His images show a cross-section of places and individuals as you might see them in many other places as well. The photographer exhibits a light touch in portraying quirky moments and idiosyncratic displays of rituals as well as public and private occasions. Some of the portraits show expressions of curiosity and an initial quizzical attitude. The ethnicities present show the expected balance; we get the impression that this area might be more open to getting to know outsiders and establishing positive relationships. Many of the landscapes have a mysterious but intriguing mood. The images are beautifully printed on large pages and heavier stock, a pleasure to view. I was impressed that the pictures took precedence and that the essays and captions were presented last, as an epilogue. The pacing allows plenty of moments for the viewer to pause and contemplate scenarios for a possibly more positive future for Appalachia and for the United States as well. Appalachia could become a valuable model for the rest of the country in this regard.
It is my hope that constructive approaches in photobooks such as this one will play a major part in helping the nation overcome the current devisiveness. Facun’s project could be part of a new trend of getting along and achieving a truly greater country though collaboration based on true equality for all. This may give the term “black diamonds” a new meaning. A gem of a photobook, highly recommended.
Gerhard Clausing, PBJ Associate Editor, is an author and photographer from Southern California.
Rich-Joseph Facun – Black Diamonds
Photographer: Rich-Joseph Facun (born in Pensacola, Florida; living in Millfield, Ohio)
Publisher: Fall Line Press, Atlanta, Georgia; © 2021
Essay: Alison Stine; Rich-Joseph Facun
Hardcover, illustrated, cloth-covered, sewn binding; 128 pages, unpaginated, with 60 color photographs and 3 historical photographs; 26 x 28.5 cm / 10.25 x 11.25 inches; printed and bound in Barcelona, Spain by SYL. ISBN: 978-1-7348312-1-4
Photobook Designer: Megan Fowler
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).