“All Americans come from Ohio originally, if only briefly.” (Dawn Powell)
Once known for its bounty of coal, salt, clay and timber, Southeastern Ohio was stripped of its resources by the mining corporations that thrived from the 1820s to the 1960s. When they had mined all that they could, the corporations left, leaving the communities with little but their cultural identity, which is a product of poverty.
For the past four years I have been documenting the people of this region as they attempt to recover from the aftermath of extractive industry. The resulting book of images will feature commentary from Los Angeles Times reporter Kate Linthicum, whose writing further illuminates the social fabric and cultural context of Southeastern Ohio. In photographing the resident’s daily lives I’ve explored the culture of the area, as well as the crippling poverty that threatens to extinguish it. The foothills of Appalachia have been my home for the past five years. I met my wife here and our daughter was born here. Now, the same lack of opportunity that has plagued the residents of Southeastern Ohio for decades has forced us to move.
Rampant unemployment, poor housing conditions, drug abuse and sub-standard schools have left many families in crisis. When I began making these images in 2006, Athens County, one of the poorest counties in the state, had a poverty rate of 27.4 percent and a per capita income of just $14,171. With the economic downturn of the United States these numbers have only gotten worse.
My purpose in creating these images is to show the effect of corporate greed in a forgotten region of the United States. Now is the time to look inward and investigate the issues that lurk below the surface within our country. It’s the first step to resolving them. In book form these images will form an historical document that remembers the resilient residents of Middle America who will still be there and still be poor long after the eyes of the media have turned elsewhere.
In this community abandoned by industry, it is not only the daily struggles, but living without the opportunity for economic advancement, which has a lasting emotional resonance. These images are my love song to Southeastern Ohio.
(Matt Eich | Carry Me Ohio, PRIVATE 53 – Hope, pages 28-33)