Guest Photographer: Mike Andrick, An Honest Look At Isolated Appalachia

Every Tuesday, filmzblog will be featuring film work from a different guest photographer. In our inaugural week, I could not be more pleased to bring you this intimate look at an Appalachian community in West Virginia by Mike Andrick.  His project 'Left Alone: The Pride and Fear of Isolated Appalachia' establishes Mike as a seriously talented, compassionate, and honest social justice documentary photographer. 

Mike, a proud native of West Virginia, spent a portion of 2007 in his home state documenting  an impoverished community in the Big Creek District of southern McDowell County. The images from 'Left Alone'  are remarkable for their nuanced subtlety. The telling details do not scream out at you, but are stumbled upon: a few bare feet amongst a crowd of school children, a young girl's accessories in her studio portraits, the word 'fag' written across a drawing of a Teletubby. While some of Mike's photographs hint at something disturbing and almost violent, they are juxtaposed with scenes that contain profound gentleness, and stubborn hope. 

Mike was generous enough to share some never before seen images from his project with us. If you think these pictures are moving wait till you see the final edit on his website. Should you happen to live in Austin, then you are fortunate enough to also be able to go check out an exhibition of this project at the Terrazas Library on Cesar Chavez. 

What's particularly awesome about Mike is that he's not just there for the pictures, he actually CARES about his subjects and the community that he documented. He started group called Viva La Revolución de Appalachia to celebrate regional pride, discuss relevant social and political issues, and advocate for social and environmental justice. There is even a seriously badass T-shirt that you can purchase to support this organization (I've got one, I love it). To top it off Mike runs Soft Rock Renegade,  a culture blog about music, art, and literature from West Virginia. 

I first met Mike in grad school at UT Austin. I entered the photojournalism program with a cliché but very sincere desire to change the world with my photographs. I was going to expose injustice! Advocate for change! Make people care! I left the program feeling disillusioned, and uncomfortable with the ambiguous line between witnessing and taking advantage. In order to pour my energy into something I have to be excited about it, and I could never reconcile myself to getting excited over someone else's misfortune. Trust me: it happens, and it feels dirty. 

What I love about Mike's work is that he is so clearly on the right side of that line. His images are honest without being judgmental. He tells a poignant story without relying on extreme violence or sensationalism. This project embodies all of the reasons why I fell in love with documentary photography to begin with, and that my friends is why Mike Andrick is filmzblog's first guest photographer. I can't wait to see more of his work.

*All Photos © Mike Andrick. Mike shot these photos using a Nikon F5, a Nikon 8008S, a 20mm f/2.8 and a 50mm f/1.8 (beyond jealous) and Tri-X 400 speed film.  Man's got class is all I'm sayin'.  Text by Lauren McGlynn

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