I just finished watching the film "The True Meaning of Pictures" which I found to be a very well made and important film. It tells the story of photographer Shelby Lee Adams and his photographs of the Appalachian families. This photo explains Shelby's experience with the Appalachian people, the Appalachians lifestyle, and the controversy that Shelby experienced with his photos.
Shelby had a connection with the Appalachian people and felt that they were perceived in a wrong and negative way, especially with films like "Deliverance" giving them a perception as animals and low-life's. Shelby got a fascinating with photographing the Appalachians in their natural lifestyle and showing the world the true world of an Appalachian. He felt that these photos were eye opening and important, others, however, felt different. They felt his photos were demeaning and negative. One critic was criticizing one photo of a girl and man naturally posing in front of the very dirty and busted wall. The critic was going on questioning why it had to be in front of this unattractive wall. Why couldn't it be in front of a more appropriate wall with the people a little more cleaned up. She felt the way it was set up was extremely negative on the people. A lot of critics actually felt a big number of Shelby's photos were very negative and appalling. One stated how she wanted to go around and to all of Shelby's published books and rip out everyone of those photos.
Here's my personal reaction to these allegations. If you were to purposely aim on changing the setting so that the characters seem more attractive completely defeats the purpose of the photo in the first place and you're not getting the point. Shelby felt a fascination by these people because they lived dirty and rough and did not give a damn about what others felt. It was the lifestyle they wished to live and could care less to change it because someone else is standing in the corner telling them what the "correct" way of living is. Who are we to tell another what the correct way of living is. The point of Shelby's pictures isn't to show these characters in a demeaning fashion, but in a manor that presents us another way of living. The Appalachians were all for Shelby taking these photographs as well. They felt positive about these photos. They may be living in poverty and illiterate, but that doesn't mean that they are compromised of basic human emotions, and if they don't have a negative feeling against these photos, then why should we. Why you we tell them that this is wrong.
I feel Shelby should be applauded for his attempt to bring back honor to the Appalachians and try to show the outside world their lifestyle. It's a daring choice for his art, but that's what he feel is most important to show and that is what art should be there for. Not to make a buck but to make a difference and start discussions. This was a well-made documentary and I would recommend it to eveyone.