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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.


Jennifer Baichwal

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

Filming Locations:

Kentucky, USA

Company Credits

Production Co:

Mercury Films Inc. See more »
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Did You Know?

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 »


Features Deliverance (1972) See more »

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User Reviews

Very strong and thought provoking, if arguably flawed
3 September 2011 | by runamokprodsSee 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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