Review by Wayne Swanson •
The hills and hollers along the Appalachian Mountains running down the eastern United States are steeped in folklore and folkways. In From Yonder Wooded Hill, photographer Riley Goodman spins a narrative tale from his experiences there and the stories he heard growing.
Drawing from his own photos, archival images, short passages of text and poetry, maps, newspaper clippings and other ephemera, he has created a multi-generational portrait of the region and its way of life, complete with ghosts, folk wisdom, and biblical floods.
Setting the tone for the imagery that will follow, the book begins with a poem, “The Whip-Poor-Will,” echoing classic folk legends about the ominous presence of that “melancholy bird.” From there, Goodman presents a loose collection of imagery and text that paints a haunting picture of the people, places, events, and beliefs he encountered in the Patapsco River Valley of Maryland, and from his family’s ancestral history in West Virginia and North Carolina. “Growing up, I accepted this folklore as commonplace but came to understand with age that these stories were unique to a working class, Appalachian culture,” he notes.
He weaves together various threads related to this working-class life and history. A central figure is his grandmother, who worked in the mills of Ellicott City, Maryland, and was an endless source of folk wisdom. A recurring motif is imagery related to the floods that were endemic to the region, especially a 2016 flood that submerged much of Ellicott City. Scenes of its destruction, and bits of debris clinging to branches in the aftermath of floods, are sprinkled throughout the book.
Old newspaper clippings, cursive text passages, and ephemera provide more details about daily life, everything from using sassafras to make tea to the proper etiquette when encountering a ghost. Throughout the book, past and present, fact and fiction are jumbled together as he explores “what we choose to remember versus what chooses to remember us.”
The book itself simulates a family keepsake. It features a suede cover like a family album, with the title in cursive letters like his grandmother’s handwriting. The inside cover has the classic boxes to fill in “This Book Belongs To:” and “If Found Please Return To:” The treatment of imagery and text evokes the random collection of memories pasted into a family album.
The result is a book that effectively captures the sense of a place; its people, landscape, and history; and the shared stories handed down from generation to generation.
Wayne Swanson is a Contributing Editor and a San Diego-based fine art photographer and writer.
From Yonder Wooded Hill, Riley Goodman
Photographer: Riley Goodman, born Patapsco River Valley, Maryland, resides Richmond, Virginia
Publisher: Fall Line Press (Atlanta, GA, USA, copyright 2022)
Suede hardcover book, sewn binding, four-color lithography, 66 color plates, 35 archival photographs, 8.75 x 12.5 inches, printed in Spain, ISBN 978-1-7348312-6-9
Photobook designers: Megan Fowler and Riley Goodman
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