01 March 2009

Eastern Kentucky, 1972

"William Gedney made two trips to eastern Kentucky. In the summer of 1964, he traveled to the Blue Diamond Mining Camp in Leatherwood, Kentucky and stayed for awhile at the home of Boyd Couch, head of the local United Mine Workers Union. Then Gedney met Willie Cornett, who was recently laid off from the mines, his wife Vivian, and their twelve children. He soon moved in with the Cornett family, staying with them for eleven days. Twenty-two of the photographs from Gedney's 1964 visit to Kentucky were included in his one-man exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York (December 1968 through March 1969). Gedney corresponded with the Cornetts over many years, and finally returned to Kentucky to visit and photograph the family again in 1972. In his notebooks Gedney writes about these lives he witnessed and photographed, the complicated relationships within such large families, the importance of the automobile. Gedney made notes about a creating a book dummy of the Kentucky work, but no completed dummy exists in the archive. With the exception of one image, the Kentucky photographs were never published during William Gedney's lifetime."
Selections from a huge digitized collection at Duke University online.

Via Could It Be Madness - This?


  1. I live in Eastern Ky and I LOVELOVELOVE it here!
    I can't speak for everyone in Eastern Ky but the Majority of us do not live like that and we don't allow our children to do those things.

  2. I spent 10 years in central Kentucky and married a Kentucky girl. Many of my friends were from Eastern KY. This item was posted for historical interest. The year shown was 1972.

  3. Go into those hollers and leave the secondary roads behind and follow the dirt roads and keep going and enter a different world that can actually be quite dangerous if you'n be a stranger and raise the least'n amount of suspicion.

  4. For those of us who fight desperately to deconstruct the negative stereotypical discourse that has plagued this region since the late 1800s, finding blog entries such as this one is an incredibly painful slap in the face. The small portion of information you include with these images does not provide an acceptable amount of context. As a native of Eastern Kentucky, and a scholar who works in this region, I hope you will post no further images of people from this region in such a decontextualized manner.

  5. All I can do is reiterate my previous comment.

    1. Hello, I was raised in Minnesota and fell in love with a boy from Eastern Kentucky. I married him and I think Eastern Kentucky is a beautiful place but a lot of the things I've experienced do lead to the stereotypes. There is still a almost endless sense of poverty and a major prescription drug issue. I had no idea these things existed until I moved down here and experienced one hell of a culture shock. My husband was chewing tobacco at 8 years old and even got to do it on the bus. It is a different life style. Not everyone is poor but a majority are. The coal mining jobs have been taken without anything to take its place. The people of this area are STRONG and have been through more than most. Education is the key to making it here and sometimes even with an education you get paid less than what you would in another state. I love this state and I am currently taking the History of Kentucky in college. My professor said it best "In order to understand how Kentucky got to where it is and not to judge it with stereotypes you need to understand the struggles she has faced." Hoping for a better life for all of Eastern KY. I think drugs and the lack of jobs are the major issue.

  6. I live in Eastern Ky as well, and yes I also "LOVELOVELOVE it here"!
    These photos are brilliant!
    Although I was only about 4 years old in 1972, I feel these absolutely capture the realism and the day to day life at that time. Especially when the subject is a family of 14 with an unemployed provider.
    In all honesty, they weren't doing too bad -- at least they had water coming out of the kitchen sink!
    I do thank goodness we've come a long way since then though. :)

  7. I left eastern ky in 1964 and yes that is just the way thay lived. And some of them still do.

  8. I dunno. I grew up in Kentucky and kinda think these images were beautiful. No fuss from me.

  9. God will take the foolish things to confound the wish.

  10. No, Minnesotastan, you can do more than reiterate your previous comment. This post is no better than showing pictures of African-Americans dealing drugs and getting in gang fights and justifying it by saying "it's ok, I have black friends and a black wife." It's just stupid to assume that having friends from a group allows you to degrade that group with impunity. And there is no historical interest in posting completely slanted viewpoints without context--in fact, it's actually directly opposed to the historical interest because it misleads people.

  11. I am a born and bred Kentuckian, and my family has lived here for many generations. My mother's grandfather was the sheriff's deputy and my father came from a long line of moonshiners. My grandmother was a historian and genealogist who was completely honest with me about our home folk- good and bad. These pictures are beautiful and most of all, truthful. Like it or not, Eastern Kentucky was (and still is in many places) a harsh, mountainous, dense land and it took a little longer for modern technologies to reach us. However, our people are some of the strongest, kindest and most adaptive there are and I am proud to call them mine. What they lacked in material things, they made up for with love.

    Anonymous, your argument pitting these against photos of black people 'doing bad things' is nothing more than a straw man. In these photos, there is nothing terrible. No one being abused or fighting- Rather they seem like a loving family... just poor. Google the photographer's name and if you look at the rest of the collection, it is quite clear. There are lots of photos of the family playing cards, cooking together, working on cars (apparently their fave pastime) and nothing in the photos makes me think the kids were neglected or mistreated. There are, however, a lot of hugs documented.

    I can actually relate to you, Anonymous. When I was younger, I was really upset about the stereotypes. I realized later that the people spouting the assumptions about hillbillies were the narrow minded ones and I had nothing to be insecure about. There is nothing wrong with where we come from. It's what we make of it that counts.

  12. Times were tough in those days. But those people were more than ready for what ever challenge they faced on a daily basis. Yes great strength and hearts filled with love was what you would find there and also in The mountains of North Carolina at that period of time.


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