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The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams' Appalachia (2002)

The meaning of art itself comes into question in this documentary about Shelby Lee Adams' controversial photos of families in Appalachia.

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Shelby Lee Adams ...
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Chad Baker ...
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Donnie Benton ...
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Burley Childers ...
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Homer Childers ...
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James Childers ...
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Joseph Childers ...
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Rosalie Desrochers ...
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Roy Childers ...
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Debbie Childers ...
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Selina Childers ...
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Hort Collins ...
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Brandon Cooper ...
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Johnny Cooper ...
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William Gorman ...
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The meaning of art itself comes into question in this documentary about Shelby Lee Adams' controversial photos of families in Appalachia.

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January 2003 (USA)  »

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Crazy Credits

After the credits roll a subject of the film is shown commenting to the camera that "sometimes his pictures come out good, and sometimes not so good." See more »

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Features Deliverance (1972) See more »

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Appalachia revisited
14 October 2004 | by (Canada) – See all my reviews

This film looks at the photographer Shelby Lee Adams and his Kentucky holler neighbors. The obvious comparison is to Walker Evans and the pictures he took for Let Us Now Praise Famous Men. There, the grinding poverty was clear and unambiguous; barefoot sharecroppers with only a broken-down bed and a couple of chairs that they had to make themselves. Evans was accused of manipulating his images, although how you can make dirt-poor look even poorer is beyond my understanding.

Shelby Adams is charged with stage-managing his scenes of mountain-gorge desperation. It is true that the hog-butchering scene was brought about by Adams's planning, but little else could have been arranged. Certainly the snake-handling is real; you see the man in hospital with his arm swelled up to watermelon size. The two dwarfs, both with mental handicaps, are probably the result of incest, but this theme is treated very gingerly indeed. If you want to meet the people who sat for great photos like Brothers Praying, Hooterville, Kentucky and The Kiss, this is a great opportunity.


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