Stranger with a Camera
April 15, 2008 11:02 AM   Subscribe

What happens when a US President declares war on a concept? In 1964, Canadian photojournalist Hugh O'Connor traveled to eastern Kentucky to document the battlefields of Lyndon Johnson's war on poverty and was shot for trespassing. The incident is the subject of a wonderful documentary, Stranger with a Camera by filmmaker Elizabeth Barrett, produced by Appalshop, a non-profit organization in Whitesburg, Kentucky, that works with local artists to promote self-representation in media and the expediency of culture to counteract a stagnating local economy. Makes you think twice about nostalgic representations of poor Appalachian coal miners plucking their banjo strings in the hollers, doesn't it?
posted by billtron (14 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite

 
This is just beautiful:

"A local landlord, who resented the presence of filmmakers on his property, shot and killed O'Connor, in part because of his anger over the media images of Appalachia that had become icons in the nation's War on Poverty."

Kinda reminds me of when I overheard some joker making unkind characterizations of Sicilians. So I cast his feet in cement and threw him in the East river.
posted by mondo dentro at 11:19 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Appalshop is one of the most amazing cultural-documentation projects in existence. Awesome to see them in a post, thanks.
posted by Miko at 11:25 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


A casualty in the war on poverty? This does not bode well for the image of Canadians in battle.
posted by jabberjaw at 11:27 AM on April 15, 2008 [2 favorites]


Don't Mess With ... Appalachia?
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:17 PM on April 15, 2008


Another shoutout for Appalshop, y'all.
posted by maggieb at 2:29 PM on April 15, 2008


Sounds like a great movie, but it would probably piss me off too much.

At the end of their stay, on the way out of town, the crew saw a young miner sitting on his porch, still covered in soot, rocking in a chair with a young child playing on his lap. O’Connor got written permission from the man to film what would be a very powerful and poignant scene, but as the crew was filming, the landlord of the property, Hobart Ison, drove up, got out of his truck with a shotgun, and demanded that the crew get off of his land. As they were packing up, O’Connor motioned to Ison that they were putting things back in their vehicle when Ison suddenly shot O’Connor in the chest. The filmmaker laid down, blood coming out of his mouth, and passed away then and there.

And for this he got a year.
posted by Wood at 2:30 PM on April 15, 2008


Why is this film not available on netflix? Argh!
posted by hlkneedler at 5:14 PM on April 15, 2008


What happens when a US President declares war on a concept?

The concept wins.
posted by jonp72 at 5:14 PM on April 15, 2008 [1 favorite]


billtron, thanks for the post! Related, from today's front page, 7 posts down!

Seconding Miko on Appalshop. They're great. Here's a tantalizing clip from one of their commercially available videos called Whippin' the Devil.
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:46 PM on April 15, 2008


Not exactly sure, though, billtron, what you're getting at with this:

"Makes you think twice about nostalgic representations of poor Appalachian coal miners plucking their banjo strings in the hollers, doesn't it?"

Am I misreading your intent, or are you saying that listening to/having an interest in Appalachian traditional music (you've linked there to y2karl's FPP on Roscoe Holcomb) is somehow irrelevant or inappropriate when considered against the backdrop of poverty in Appalachia? Why exactly should we "think twice"?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 6:54 PM on April 15, 2008


Once, in total error, we stopped at a hell hole of a town, Corbin, in eastern Ky.

WIld, homeless dogs run amok on the interstate, with no spaying or neutering going on. They just keep breeding and getting run over.
I tried to save one little terrier mix that was hanging out in the parking lot of the restaurant and who had been on the side of the road when we pulled in.

I gave our waitress $20.00 if she would take him for the night and bring him to the local shelter the next morning as they were closed that afternoon.
She told us that the town's policy towards animals was a disgrace and that she, personally, tried to adopt some of the overflow dogs that are running loose or left, mercifully, at the over crowded and under funded animal shelter.

All she wanted to do was to leave Corbin, which she despised , and never come back. I hope she was able to get away.
posted by Tullyogallaghan at 7:28 PM on April 15, 2008


I was a student at the university of kentucky (suspended at the moment) and last semester the creator of this film came for a showing. I highly recommended it to anyone, one of the more interesting documentaries I've seen on anything.
posted by phrontist at 7:54 PM on April 15, 2008


flapjax: "Makes you think twice about nostalgic representations of poor Appalachian coal miners plucking their banjo strings in the hollers, doesn't it?"

Am I misreading your intent, or are you saying that listening to/having an interest in Appalachian traditional music (you've linked there to y2karl's FPP on Roscoe Holcomb) is somehow irrelevant or inappropriate when considered against the backdrop of poverty in Appalachia? Why exactly should we "think twice"?


Flapjax, my fair metacolleague, what I meant by my statement was that there is a connection between the history of cityfolk (like John Cohen) going to Appalachia to find these performers and presenting them as authentic, untouched by modernity, emblematic of some cultural zeitgeist, etc. and the backlash against outsiders at the end of which we find Ison's gun. What I like about Appalshop is its commitment to self-representation, which is something that seems to be fleeting in so many narratives of old-time musicians.

I've said more about this about this here and here.
posted by billtron at 8:43 AM on April 16, 2008


Not quite sure what the modern statistic is, but as of 1994 the perfamily amount of dollars (1994 dollars, mind you) spent on anti poverty programs by the government was $34,000.
posted by yoyoceramic at 1:34 PM on April 16, 2008


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