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- VIEWS OF THE VALLEY OF DESPAIR : THE PHOTOGRAPHY OF JACK CORN AND MILTON ROGOVIN IN APPALACHIAN COAL COMMUNITIES (1956–1979)
- Cepak, Anthony Joseph
- Electronic Theses & Dissertations
Through extensive archival research, oral history and ethnography, this dissertation examines the coal mining photographs of photojournalist Jack Corn, repositioning his work alongside the work of noted social documentarian Milton Rogovin as being important in reshaping the visual discourse of mining in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. This dissertation argues that Corn’s and Rogovin’s work in Appalachia disrupted coal mining discourses popular throughout the first half of the 20th-century by...
Show moreThrough extensive archival research, oral history and ethnography, this dissertation examines the coal mining photographs of photojournalist Jack Corn, repositioning his work alongside the work of noted social documentarian Milton Rogovin as being important in reshaping the visual discourse of mining in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s. This dissertation argues that Corn’s and Rogovin’s work in Appalachia disrupted coal mining discourses popular throughout the first half of the 20th-century by repositioning their subjects in a way that changed how society thought about mining. For Corn, the disruption in discourse came from repositioning his subjects from a perspective of celebrating the heroics of mining in the context of empire building to illustrating the devastating consequences of extracting coal from the Earth. Corn’s work was generated through a combination of assigned, commissioned and independent projects that led to the creation of a significant body of work. For Rogovin, his work repositioned miners from being a faceless commodity to the coal companies, anonymously working to support the nation’s vast industrial complex, to being individuals with unique identities that existed outside the confines of the mines in which they worked. By exploring the ways Corn and Rogovin disrupted popular mining discourse, this dissertation also challenges conventional notions that widespread documentation of the state of the environment in the United States began in the 1970s. Across the literature, the formation of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the agency’s Documerica project are often discussed as being the pivotal moment when photographic documentation of the environment began to illustrate the widespread effect of human activity on our physical world. This dissertation argues, however that, while Documerica was significant in creating a large and diverse archive of photographic evidence showing the effect industry was having on workers, family, public heath, and community, photographers such as Corn and Rogovin were approaching documentation from a similar perspective more than a decade before the project launched in 1971. While working at The Tennessean in Nashville, Tennessee, Corn departed from documenting traditional narratives of miners at work to explore the socio-economic, environmental and public health aspects of mining while covering coal communities in Appalachia beginning in the 1950s. Heavily influenced by newspaper coverage of the struggles of miners, including coverage from Corn and The Tennessean, Rogovin headed to Appalachia in 1962 and commenced what would become one of his longest and most prolific projects: documenting miners, their families and their communities. Finally, this dissertation argues that through their photography Corn and Rogovin were participating in a form of activism with the images they made being more than just documentation, but a type of visual protest against the social and environmental conditions they encountered in Tennessee, Kentucky and West Virginia. In much the same way Margaret Bourke-White, for example, gave LIFE magazine readers their first glimpses of Apartheid through her photographs of South African gold miners in the 1950s, Corn and Rogovin gave Americans living outside Appalachia a visual introduction to the human cost of a nation’s growing energy consumption.