Call and Response

Call and Response: Josh Birnbaum and Kari Gunter-Seymour

  Josh Birnbaum . July 9, 2016. Amesville, Athens County, Ohio.

Josh Birnbaum. July 9, 2016. Amesville, Athens County, Ohio.

WEDDING DRESS                                                               

It looked like a defeated botanical,
stuffed butt first in an old hat box,
petals of crinoline, silk and netting 
leafing out. A waning magnolia, 
shaped of faux pas, trapped between 
memory and the moment.

She’d carefully packed it in tissue 
thirty years ago, schlepped it town to town,
her gut the depository of a thousand 
swallowed tacks. Now a freewoman, 
she wanted to drown it, torture 
each perfectly petite pearl button. 

The day she accidentally unearthed it, 
bracelet snagging a needle-laced sleeve, 
her forceful yank, its silken skirts 
a dance of air, spring-winged, 
and she that girl, stunningly 
unacquainted with loss.

Kari Gunter-Seymour. Athens, Ohio.


Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.

Call and Response: Sam Owens and Chad Smith

  Sam Owens . January 3, 2016. Dakota Flowers spends an hour boxing on the front porch, eventually busting his hand open, at his house. Flowers, who works out nearly every day in-between his busy schedule of working for Coalfield Development Corporation and going to community college. Lincoln County, West Virginia.

Sam Owens. January 3, 2016. Dakota Flowers spends an hour boxing on the front porch, eventually busting his hand open, at his house. Flowers, who works out nearly every day in-between his busy schedule of working for Coalfield Development Corporation and going to community college. Lincoln County, West Virginia.

Evenings are the best part of my day. A time when it all slows down a
touch and one can look back on the toil and look forward to hope.
After supper’s done, I thumb through the Gazette on my front porch and
wait for the sun to slip behind the hill. Once Night has fully hugged
our holler, I venture out for a stroll with my four-legged friend so
he can recoup the claimed telephone poles of hours gone by.

Summer nights have a way of making time seem infinite. Its humid
embrace, the crickets and whippoorwills melting together with the
faint scent of honeysuckle and smoldering campfire. The staccato of
distant laughter. The splash of a backyard cannonball. Yeah, a good
night walk opens your senses to the revery of a fading day.

Up yonder, right past the creek, he’s there like he always is,
steadfast. I hear him long before I see him. The chain clanging and
jerking against the old wooden truss; the muffled thud of leather
against weight, bone against sand; strained exhales of winded might.
There he is, up on that porch, hitting that bag, giving the day the
old what for.

Dad called it the sweet science. Mom, barbaric machismo. Me? I saw the
fire in the belly, the beauty of will unbroken. For a few minutes I
watch in silence under the cloak of an ancient oak’s shadow. I
question my routine. I guess we all have our fight.

I return to my trailer shortly after and award my pooch with a
milk-bone and a belly rub. I cut up some onions and cucumbers and soak
them in vinegar for the dusk to come. Tomorrow evening is pinto beans
and cornbread with sour kraut and fried potatoes.

Maybe I’ll offer him some. I’m sure he’s worked up an appetite.

Chad Smith. Charleston, West Virginia.


Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.

Call and Response: Meg Wilson and Shaun Turner

  Meg Wilson . May 1, 2014. Berea, Madison County, Kentucky

Meg Wilson. May 1, 2014. Berea, Madison County, Kentucky

Memaw's Story

I said honey, you don't want to know because it was real bad times then.

Alright. Well, my daddy, your great-grandpa, he was one of nine kids, one of five that made it to old age. Well, he had built a two-room house. You great-grandma'd papered it in newsprint and playbill photographs of movie stars. 

When I was a girl, I remember my living in Foxlanta back when the old post office was my schoolhouse and the general store still got mail. When I think about those times, I think of brown beans and one solitary hog leg big as Christmas. I see my mommy making lye soap, her back stooped in the mud over a kettle outside, and I remember my daddy made staves—cut down acres of timberland for whiskey barrel planks and — 

In those times, you know, people died easier. In our graveyards, infants line in rows. The little brothers and stillborn sisters, their headstones cluster around their mothers. It’s hard to explain to you.

You know, a long time ago, I'm sure there was more trees then. Less roads. Birds and bugs all over the hills. Now, everything’s concrete—. Feels like it anyway.

Your mama gave birth to you in a big concrete hospital. You were premature, one month too soon. Don't tell your mama, but I cried in the truck first time I saw you, so slight with those tubes in your nose--a baby —in a plastic bubble. You were so small I could fit you in my hand.

Anyway, baby. Come out to the garden. Look at the beans growing. This one is as tall as you.

I can teach you how to plant a seed, if you listen. Come here, now.

Shaun Turner. Richmond, Kentucky.


Call and Response is a photo-literary exploration devoted to the relationship between photographs and words. Using photographs from the Looking at Appalachia project, writers are encouraged to respond narratively to a single image in 1,000 words or less. We hope to use this platform to expand our community and encourage collaboration between photographers and writers. Learn more about how to submit here.