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Appalachia, USA
1990

In 1990, I travelled to eastern Kentucky in Appalachia. Lost on mountain roads, I stopped at a small country store and asked directions. Luckily, a man in the store knew where I needed to go and led me down winding roads framed by strip-mined mountainsides until we arrived in Viper. As I drove down the dirt road which lead to the Riddles house, barking dogs, chickens in trees, and a boy with sideways eyes carrying a rifle greeted me. This was like no place I had been before and for several of the longest days I remember I lived in a feverish dream witnessing the rites of the Holiness Church, where the handling of deadly snakes and drinking strychnine serve as measures of faith and Gods will. Here, family and religion bind people together. The violence of poverty sometimes tear them apart. The Napiers were savages. A sister lay in the hospital, lye poured down her throat; one brother shot another in the stomach leaving a gaping scar, and there were rumors of incest. The day I was there, a hog was killed, and killed badly. It was then scrubbed and split open. One of the Napier boys reached in for its heart. As he plucked it out and prepared to roast the dark thing on an open fire, black thunderclouds rolled up the hollow and a terrific storm erupted. I was glad for natures intervention. These are the photographs that came of those long, hot days.

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