The upper Ohio River Valley has a long history of people making things from its dirt. With a low iron content and great plasticity, the clay of the region has been mined and fired to make everything from bricks to colorful fiestaware. At the beginning of the twentieth century, so much pottery came out of the region that it was touted as the “pottery capital of the world.” Yet that boosterism told only part of the story. As with many towns in what is now America’s Rust Belt, the glory days of manufacturing were never quite as robust as they are remembered to be. And here, where industry intersects with Appalachian culture, the veins of history can be particularly difficult to isolate.
For this unique project, photographer and historian David Bernstein combines color photographs of this region with brief texts that describe a single historical narrative from multiple perspectives. This approach provides a visual exploration of the towns, people, and topography of the area, but is also a statement on how memory and myth converge to create the truth of place and community. The viewer is not told if the people he quotes are real or fictional, or the specific geographic locations of the real-life towns he photographs. Taken as a whole though, that is not the point. As noted by this book’s publisher, “The photographs and short interrelated texts tell a history of Walker’s people, set against both pastoral and industrial landscapes, and their relationship to a sense of place.”
In his artist statement, David Bernstein describes an encounter with a local named Tony.
“The first time I met Tony, he was reading a magazine—The Racing Pigeon—sitting on his back stoop in the afternoon sun. It wasn’t late, maybe two or two-thirty, but on this side of the river, the sun goes down early in November. He was, it appeared to me, trying to soak up as much of it as he could in the dying days of autumn. As it turned out, Tony spent most of his time on that stoop, but I wasn’t to know that at the time. Hidden from the street by the Kudzu vines, we talked for almost two hours. We spoke about his past, the history of the town, pottery-making and pigeon-racing. He spoke with a mixture of nostalgia, resignation and pride. Some of the stories he told me I knew were bullshit. Some of the stories he told me he knew were bullshit. It didn’t matter.”
In Walker’s Vein there are signs of Rust Belt economic hardship with dilapidation in some structures, and overgrowth, but Bernstein also shows people immersed in the everydayness of walking down a street, playing with a dog, sitting on a porch, getting hair done at a salon…living their lives.
In the spirit of Walker’s Vein, David Bernstein invites you to listen to the song Appalachia Haze as you view the photographs.
–Ian Noe, Appalachia Haze – click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HWRRlPYbwN0
David Bernstein is a photographer based in Columbus, Ohio. He has participated in dozens of juried and invited shows nationally and internationally and been featured in multiple online magazines including Critical Mass 200, LensCulture and FotoRoom. Trained also as a professional historian, David’s work often explores humans’ relationship to place. He is also a lover of cartography.
David Bernstein : Walker’s Vein
Design: Caleb Cain Marcus, Luminosity Lab
Dimensions: 8 x 13 inches
Number of pages: 88 with three foldouts