Vern McClish – Gallery

“Look into someone’s eyes, and if you are lucky, you see a soul.”

Appalachia is a region encompassing a large part of the central US, including Southeastern Ohio.  Often thought of primarily as a region for mining coal and creating moonshine, recent times have created a harsher reality there, even tougher than in years past. Upon receiving his BFA in photography at Ohio University, Vern McClish remained in that region to live and photograph the people of Appalachia, fascinated by their toughness and generosity.    

After generations of working under abysmal conditions with low pay, poor health car and poor education, a new crisis has developed for these people. Many of the mines have long been barren and the people neglected, and sadly the region now has been decimated by the opioid epidemic which has ravished the area. 

Taken during the early 70s, McClish’s photographs show resilient people struggling to survive yet happy to be alive. The artist built and established a trust with them that enabled him to get close and to portray them as they really were.  

He plans to return to the Appalachian region again and further document these resilient people. As Mcclish says in his artist statement “Our industrial revolution was partially made possible because of the pain and sacrifices of these folks. I was fortunate to get to know many of these people… They became my family. After gaining their trust, they gave me access to recording their very souls, through those eyes and faces in these photographs.”

Working closely with these people gave the artist a new and deeper understanding of their plight. Each photograph represents for the artist a personal encounter with them. McClish goes on to ask “Why didn’t they leave or gain new skills? It’s not that easy! Fifty years ago I witnessed a depressed region and neglected people. When I travel back today, little has changed.  And more recently, the horrible plague of the opioid epidemic ravished this area. Is Appalachia the “Canary in the coal mine of America?” 

May you gain much from seeing these images.