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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 »
Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs




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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 »


References Deliverance (1972) See more »

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User Reviews

Brilliant and subtle
5 April 2007 | by devilbotSee all my reviews

I loved the way this movie presented the controversy over Adams photographs by allowing the different perspectives to state their positions and impressions without interruption nor extraneous commentary. The film makers camera seems to pierce the photographs and show the context, which the still camera obscures. Children with facial disfigurements are photographed by Adams and frankly in these photos, they are uncomfortable to look at. But in this documentary, the subjects are seen playing and interacting with their family and their playful demeanour and the acceptance that they have from their family makes you not seem them as objects of pity. Despite this, it should be noted that this is not a hatchet job on Mr. Adams, and he is clearly given his space to speak and his arguments are valid and he is certainly not demonized. This is the genius of this movie; it moves from a specific example of possible misrepresentation of a group to analyze the relationship of artists and their subject. Fantastically subtle.

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