Familiar Paths Vol. 1 is a homecoming of touching black-and-white photography by Appalachian native, Jared Hamilton. Part photojournalism, part family album, Jared's camera lens casts a loving eye on his subject. In his forward, Jared muses on their home of Appalachia. He talks of being wrapped in it... or perhaps being wrapped by it, both a comfort and also a containment. According to them, folks can leave Appalachia, but time and space will only loosen the grip, and they will be forever tethered to that place. Jared is one of those folks and Familiar Path's is their interpretation of that tether. Although we know there is love behind the photos, the dark, velvety black-and-white images belies the mixed feelings he has. In fact, black-and-white photography it is the perfect medium for this intermingled narrative - a mix of grey tones only with small hints of blackest black and whitest of whites which darken or lighten depending on perspective.
There is one photo per page and the viewer has ample space to contemplate the images singly or as a duo. There is a rhythmic pattern to the curation of the photos - like its title, the book is a meandering path. The layout winds and twists from landscapes to portraits to still life. I am taken through an excellent visual narrative that varies from tender, to humorous, to conceptual. There are no other context clues on the page, no text to hint as to where the photos were taken or who the photos are of. So fictional stories jump into my mind, filling in the pieces: Portraits of people are placed next to the places where they can be found; gravestones are next to a tilled field, waiting for the season's growth to begin. And I ask myself if these gravestones are the same folks that have tilled this soil? Or were they miners like so many in Appalachia?
The opening pair of photos, in my own narrative, is "Mama" standing in front of a tall rhododendron bush, whose floral patterning is echoed in the leopard print of her shirt. The companion photo is a landscape and has, presumably, the same rhododendron shrub zoomed out in front of a flat wooden walking bridge across a gully. I interpreted this imagery as an invitation from Jared on how I should proceed - to find the bridges between the photos.
As I walk through the book I find other bridges: a mason jar of moonshine against a botanical backdrop placed next to an overgrown parking lot of a liquor store; three Calvary crosses made from branches juxtaposed with an image of Kudzu overtaking the landscape. Perhaps the most humorous bridge I crossed was the photo of the outhouse, barefeet poking out from the bottom of an American flag curtain next to a photo of a statue of a seated Abraham Lincoln - perhaps a commentary on thrones?
Although Jared calls this place home and has a familial history with it, he also takes space on the inside back cover to acknowledge that Appalachia was stolen and the land was once under the care of the S'atsoyaha (Yuchi), Shawandasse Tula (Shawanwaki/Shawnee), and ᏣᎳᎫᏪᏘᏱ Tsalaguwetiyi (Cherokee, East) tribes. As we move forward on our respective paths, it is good to remember how and why we came to a place what what it was before we got there. I love that Jared included this important piece of history - a fitting end note to his ode to home.
This zine may be purchased on Jared's website www.jaredhamiltonvisuals.com Follow them on their Instagram @jaredhamiltonvisuals
Photos by Jared Hamilton.