Sunday, August 26, 2007

People and Animals - Updated 2014

Vanessa with Kittens,'09

Pigs Feet, '93

Measuring Space and Giving Recognition

Advocate and push yourself, measuring and expanding your inner acceptance of all humanity. This defines you, and more importantly, helps some unrecognized people to have a better place in this world. By simply being present with, acknowledging equally, and sharing, we create and define better living for each other.

                                                                                                     Shelby Lee Adams

Lincoln, Maw and Shorty, '92

James and Clapper, '06

Chester with Hounds, '92

Homemade sign

Children with Blind Horse, '08

Sherman with Hog's Head, '92

"We enjoy having you here and having things done we never had before. Ain’t no way we see it any other way, we see it only in a good way. If anything, your pictures help, more than anything. You let the people have the books and they enjoy seeing thereselves in the books and what you write up. They always somebody that’s goin' to be against you in everything, don’t care what you do. Your work is original. It’s real life and it’s the way we live. People away from here, they got all they need in life, they got new homes, new cars. They don’t know what it is to live a poor person’s life. People enjoys livin' from day to day, makin' it on their own, not out here crookin' somebody or stealin' something to make it; just makin' it, surviving on their own. That’s the way Kentucky people are. We just enjoy doin it, because it’s everyday things. If I go out here today and make enough to survive to the next day, I’m tickled to death. Long as I’ve got dinner on the table for my family. If I tell a man something, I tell the truth. I don’t lie."

Sherman Jacobs
October '07

Sherman, '08

Wade, '05

Paul with Rabbit, '06

Eric with Spike the Rooster, '99

Angelia with Banty Rooster, '03

Gobel with Puppy, '83

Brice and Crow on Porch, '92 [with Puppies]

Cody and Tank, '04

Billy and Bethany with Coon Skins, '04

4x5 Polaroids shared with family showing some of the compositions made before film was exposed.

Snake Hunter, 1983

Hort's Church Sign 

The Blind Serpent Handler, '87

Gracie Serpent Handling, '86

"The spirit is something you can't hardly explain. The feeling of the spirit of the Lord can't be explained without you having the spirit in your soul. It is a good feeling - it's a feeling too good to explain! Just like in heaven, you can't even wash the spirit of the Lord out of your hands. The spirit is something great. I've had the spirit in my arms, in my whole body. I've had it so much, I feel so weak I could fall out. I have to sit down sometimes. I feel so weak in the Lord- I'm in the spirit! If you understand the spirit of the Lord, it's not weakness or sickness but meekness in the spirit."

Gracie Holland, Happy, Kentucky

Gracie Serpent Handling, '87
[Two Timber Rattlesnakes]

Student- Marc Culp's photograph taken during the making of
"Gracie Serpent Handling," 1986

Holiness Boy with Serpent Box and Poison Jar, '87

Serpent Box, 1986

Carrie LeeAnne, '03

Donnie with Baby and Cows, '99

Nancy with Parakeets,  '04

Tyler and Sheba, '01

Sheba Asleep, 07

Shithead the Pony with the Noble Family, '03

Larry in Garage, '04

Bert with Guitar, '92 [cat and dog]

Jane with Diddles, '94

The Cock Fighter, '89

Lila and the Goose, '03

Enos holding Snapping Turtles, '07

Tammy with Catfish, '03

Larry with Goat, '05

Eagle's Nest, '04

Freddie with 38-Year-Old Retired Mule, '05

Anne with Pigeon, '95

Reed with Pony and Chicken, '95

Peggy and Albert, '99

Aunt Glade with Tom, '73

Knives, 1997

Grandpa's Last Hog Killing, '73

The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by fines and federal imprisonment.

All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1993-2012 Shelby Lee Adams, legal action will be taken to represent the photographer, the work taken out of context, subjects and integrity of all photographic and written works, including additional photographers published and authors quoted. Permissions - send e mail request with project descriptions.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Excerpts from Essay - We Are Still One People

"What does love look like? It has the hands to help others. It has the feet to hasten to the poor and needy. It has eyes to see misery and want. It has the ears to hear the sighs and sorrows of men. That is what love looks like."

-Saint Augustine

Hettie and Children, 1977


         This photograph, titled “Hettie and Children, 1977,” was made more than 35 years ago. It is a black and white portrait of a mother of nine, Hettie Childers, standing in a long, white dress with Selina and Homer, two of her three special children, sitting at her feet. The photo was made in the summer in the mountains of Eastern Kentucky at a place called Bulan, not far from my childhood home. 

Some family portraits are often seen, but not always clearly perceived.  Sometimes the character and temperament of a culture is misunderstood and that multiplies and builds isolation.  Other times, peoples feelings of vulnerability and cultural insecurity is projected upon the innocent that we know nothing about. The reality of one families burdens can cause misleading assumptions and paralyzes open communications. This picture and others of this family, have been waiting to be discovered and positively experienced, without judgement. To quote the famous Appalachian writer, James Still, when seeing these photos for the first time in Hindman, Kentucky, in 1992, "It is time they have their day in the sun." 

Working with my friend Hettie, and her family, we made pictures at home; this was a healthy, acknowledging and healing experience for all concerned, creating visually and photographing openly without shame. Their images are important to acknowledge and study from many perspectives. Outside of institutions, we have little photographic information of special children.  Societies self-imposed barriers need to be opened and expanded for special people to have a more contributing life. We need these kind of caring and involved family made images, not clinical, but done freely and outside of the establishment to show us another way. Evidence of a families love to make their own special children more familiar, that strengthens all involved, and can inspire others to find new ways to improve acceptance, replacing old institutional regimentation and cultural taboo's. Otherwise, how are we going to make an acceptable place for others like these? Their dreams of a home are the same as ours.

In many ways, the fact that this family with fewer economic resources, carrying children with disabilities, have sometimes provoked degrading community reactions without cause, brings forward the certainty that some people in our world today are indifferent and can be destructive and are in need of a more all encompassing outlook. We need to share the sunshine as the Appalachian writer James Still said, with all our people. Resistance to any humanity, especially loving special children, maimed or not is unfortunate and disabling to all. Why do we resist the special children of the world? Yet, we do. Name-calling and contemptuous behaviors lead to rejection and never ending prejudice. Simply recognizing and affirming all our people, is a necessity, no matter what limitations and appearance another may have. This is fundamental to bringing about productive change and acceptance, replacing old  presumptions.

Burley, Hettie and Homer, 1986

Yet, publicly denied, covert behaviors continue, maneuvering our special people, needlessly segregating to societies backgrounds. To expose and examine our cultural mind-set that creates this public estrangement needs to be addressed. The special people themselves oftentimes continue to be blamed for their own disadvantages. But, when publicly focused upon by the media, society outwardly creates and portrays a positive celebratory involvement, which often fades away, backsliding as the media moves on to the next topic. We find it convenient to fault any envoy’s representing and supporting our special peoples presence.  We know, day-to-day they have no political power or lasting influential voice. Meanwhile many special needs people remain unseen and are often still victimized. Humanity is not an ideal state from any side nor is it always honest, and to pretend otherwise is to deny imperfections in ourselves.

Freddie and Selina, 1976

"Shame is always unwelcome. Shame makes you want to hide, disappear, or even die. This is bondage we need to overcome from both sides of the economic spectrum to improve our society and make whole."
                            Communicating Emotion
               —Sally Planalp

How far have we evolved from biblical times when Jesus looked sympathetically upon the lepers and sinners, touching, forgiving, and healing them? Was this just a symbolic metaphor? Jesus taught to forgive the unforgivable and love all of mankind, lepers and yes, families like Hettie's. Not all, but many of our older mountain families indeed shaped and disciplined their lives and families guided by such biblical parables, living and struggling as Jesus’s witness, excluding no one. These interpretations represent guidelines for living a life full of forgiveness and tolerance, a model to strive for.

 But we must first look in order to see.

 Accepting difference requires some removal of self-importance and finding a more shared and connected purpose. Many today practice an internalized social elitism and ranking of humanity, separating themselves, by comparing and categorizing differences. Some refuse to reposition themselves to see our humanity more communally and some can afford to isolate themselves in gated communities for multiple reasons. Yet, individually, I have seen unique mountain people and others outside who change overnight, finding deep compassion, developing benevolence, overcoming fears and insecurities, and finally connecting whole-heartedly with all. I have friends who testify to these transformations. 

“The world is not set at a distance like an enemy to be shot, but embraced to become one flesh, like a beloved wife."

                                      Nature, Man and Woman 
                      — Alan W. Watts

We all experience each other in varied and different ways. With my perceptions I try to look inside ourselves collectively. Imagine what it would be like to see and speak to the world from a perspective of total trust and innocence—traits most of us are born with and which life itself, slowly, sometimes violently, through circumstance and events, takes away. Our loss of innocence is disabling. Some feeling fragmented or orphaned strive to reclaim again and again that earlier being. With time, support, and validation we grasp just how important our childhood really is. These children born into a permanent state of openness and joy can remind us of our capacity for the same, helping us reclaim a part of our lost selves. They do not look back into themselves and are not distressed by their own imperfections; they are very much in the present. Innocence visualized or not, understood or not, is still a critical part of our humanity. Within its goodness lies the seeds of our future and that cannot always be expressed clearly, written objectively, or photographed precisely. Finding an abundance of innocence reflected in these special children is purposeful.

Shelby Lee Adams

We Are Still One People - Work in progress - Excerpts continued.

Making Pictures

Using Polaroid materials and 4x5 film the family and I photographed together affirming the children’s natural grace, and expressions. We engaged all the children, with no exceptions, and they all enthusiastically participated. While making these images, we made portraits of the parents and myself, visually connecting all of us together, including the pets, so important to a child’s world. I even handed the camera’s cable release to Homer and Selina so they could make their own self-portraits and photograph each other.  We discovered, from the excitement of this manner of working that we had formed lasting relationships.

It’s stimulating to photograph all the children together with the adults in a variety of uninhibited moods and mindsets. It is especially demanding when working with a stationary view camera and lighting equipment. To visualize and create images with so much vulnerability revealed, inspired and humbled me. Their energy was contagious. To become more a part of this vitality, I began using wide-angle lenses, because they provided a more spontaneous response. This allowed more instinctive photographing; any distortions seemed appropriate and more expressive, maybe closer to how the special children actually see the world. We wanted to challenge and break down conventional attitudes, orchestrated by an uncommon family never seen before. All those photographed relished the pictures, especially the 4x5 Polaroids that could be instantly produced.

“When we were very young it was a wide, wide scene. As we grow older, however, we come to take a more restricted view.”

Douglas Harding —Look for Yourself

I have often wondered how the special children of this world, actually see. Each unique, I am certain. I have prudently observed the three special Childers responses when making Polaroids, handing them one at a time. How the children slowly, sometimes excitedly and yet always carefully they lift the Polaroids up close to their eyes, studying inquiringly, much like a baby observes. Yet, when gazing out into the distance they seem totally focused and absorbed on a tangible space, taking in something maybe we cannot see. Do they have a 180-degree fish-eye view or is their vision calculable? Certainly, their sight and vision perceives and responds differently from us. I wanted to make photographs and see the world from their perspective with the same wonder and amazement.

We worked and played with portraiture, challenging cultural and photographic taboos, allowing the special children and their siblings to express themselves together, knowing full well that some viewers might be challenged. Life is difficult for some and that life acknowledged and given free expression openly making photographs helps transform that very difficulty into a form of play and concrete participation, giving hope. The difference between participation and another’s perceptions of that experience becomes our predicament to explore. This can be vast and infinite in its possibilities, intuitively and intimately realized. This family provided and welcomed a unique openness, a need, and desire to be photographed, challenging us, because no one had given them recognition before. The Childers family made these photographs; I simply provided the tools and served as the catalyst— or “messenger” as Hettie would say. We all knew that outside their home, worrisome attitudes and reactions would arise again. Life as we know it can change in a moment. This awareness further spurred our creativity.

To explicitly create new possibilities in old traditions is a necessary calling. To have the courage and daring to redefine yourself with your people in your own culture is the challenge. Expanding perspectives, discovering new ways of seeing, and broadening our thinking are essential. Sometimes amid utter chaos, reality opens its windows and reveals its infinite expansiveness to us for only a moment. But in that brief span of time, we can see the world as it is, without making disparaging distinctions.

         Special children’s visual perceptions are each unique, as with anyone visually aware, but they also seem to be participating in life with sensitivities from a unique vantage point that others might not possess. Many parents and care providers who work with these children, know the unique gifts and facets their children possess. Somehow, out of a life that many would view as deficient, these children and other forever-children like them remain benevolent and innocent to all around them; they inspire and give to those connected, it is not burdensome. I remember the day I clearly heard and understood Selina’s fragmented voice and dialect, she said, looking into my eyes and touching my face with her hand, “I Luv You.” That moment triggered an epiphany withn me. Selina’s open declaration of love brought a gift of joy not only to myself, but the entire family. Love always changes our perceptions of another.

These lives are real, stimulating, poignant and very much worth photographing. Here is a drama of sorts taking place in real life where I once lived with my friends, making visible a human struggle that is known and yet private, but experienced here like family. My photographs make visible families who deal compassionately with challenges that most of us cannot imagine. These pictures are environmental portraits that express feelings and emotion. Trauma and distress distorts and fragments from the inside, these folks have experienced them abundantly. To make our photographs we recognized a starting point of playfulness and joy, unashamedly, leaving a world of brokenness and prejudice. With pictures we transcended and helped to heal each other, finding and creating a more caring world.

Shelby Lee Adams

©Shelby Lee Adams 2013

All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1978 - 2013 Shelby Lee Adams, legal action will be taken to represent the photographer, the work taken out of context, subjects and integrity of all photographic and written works, including additional photographers published and authors quoted. Permissions - send e-mail request with project descriptions.