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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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Cast overview, first billed only:
Shelby Lee Adams ... Himself
Chad Baker ... Himself
Donnie Benton ... Himself
Burley Childers ... Himself
Homer Childers ... Himself
James Childers ... Himself
Joseph Childers ... Himself
Rosalie Desrochers ... Herself
Roy Childers ... Himself
Debbie Childers ... Herself
Selina Childers ... Herself
Hort Collins ... Himself
Brandon Cooper ... Himself
Johnny Cooper ... Himself
William Gorman ... Himself


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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Release Date:

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 »


References Deliverance (1972) See more »

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User Reviews

Very strong and thought provoking, if arguably flawed
3 September 2011 | by See all my reviews

Very interesting documentary about Appalachian photographer Shelby Lee Adams, and the ongoing debate as to whether his photos are too "faked" or staged, and whether they reinforce stereotypes about Appalachia and its people.

Or whether they use valid techniques to reveal deep insight into a time, place, and way of life.

Whatever your philosophy about the "truth" of photos, there is no arguing that many of the images are striking and powerful indeed.

Yet somehow the film stays just a touch too much on the surface. While seeing the worlds of religious snake handlers, etc is fascinating, and some of the intellectual arguments about Shelby"s work are interesting (although tilted towards Shelby by the choice of supercilious, obnoxious commentators on the critical side), the documentary never feels quite as deep or as interesting as the photos themselves.

Yet, all my carping aside, this is strong and well worth seeing on balance, especially if you have any interest in photography, the Appalachian world or the ever ongoing debate on what is "truth" in art.

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