Call and Response

Call and Response: Greg Banks and Misty Skaggs

Greg Banks . August 15, 2015. 46 Years, printed in platinum and palladium. The photographer's mother at her childhood home. Harlan, Harlan County, Kentucky.

Greg Banks. August 15, 2015. 46 Years, printed in platinum and palladium. The photographer's mother at her childhood home. Harlan, Harlan County, Kentucky.

Mamaw shakes her head 
and says things change. 
but she stands just the same way 
she always did. 
firm against the years blowing past
with that one leg cocked 
and a bare foot pointing the way
out of frame, out of Harlan. 
she looks past the camera 
and Mamaw says 

them steps seem steeper,
she stands there, the way she always did
surveying what's left of the mountains 
and staring down decades. 
the only difference is
her fists have migrated 
up to her hips 
and clenched in defiance of time. 


Misty Skaggs. Stark, 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.

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.

Call and Response: Meg Wilson and Larry D. Thacker

Meg Wilson . August 8, 2015. Paint Lick, Garrard County, Kentucky.

Meg Wilson. August 8, 2015. Paint Lick, Garrard County, Kentucky.

I’m driving to a fire, momma. 

I hear there’s a fire on the mountain, momma.
That’s where I’m headed. Bare foot, pressing the gas
to the floor. I’ve been headed up that way for a while. 
Toward the light. The glow. Since I heard
you and daddy whispering how there ain’t nothing
out past as far as I can see. 
                                             Funny thing, though. 

You can see a little better with every little step. 
Every play mile. And I’m burning a road out for my own
way up the hill, to the very top, with my eyes and ears. 
Have been since you set the signal fires alight
In my heart. In my hands. Mostly in feet. 

Ever remember doing that? Right when I was born?

I know I was born in this house. I still see it.
I catch versions of lives mirrored back in the flames
of a bonfire some men joked and drank around
while I struggled free from your belly, momma. 
I smelled smoke. 
                            I have ever since. We all have. 

That same ground is dark with autumns of brush burnings.
With newspapers and bills. Leaves and tobacco spit.
Old toys. The black mud below is heavy spellbound
and I have a pocket full of it to take with me
over the ridge. The mud’s full of light and heat.     

I hear there’s fire all over the mountain, father. Up
where all the answers are etched in boulders.
Who spends all that time up there carving wisdom
into such stubborn earth? 
                                          Some kind of angels? 
Do they write with lighting? Is that how the fires started? 

And will they wait for me to make it up there? 
I want to meet them. I always have. But I’m moving slowly. 

I ain’t going there to put any fire out, sister. 
I’m taking my own. What I’ve hidden under our bed
these years. What’s been long out of control in this heart, unsung. 
Waterless. What’s warmed our little room on cold nights.  
When I add my own to lightning you’ll know I made it. 
You’ll know I’m up and can see over
where we’re never supposed to have gone. 
Look hard and you’ll see me waving back only to you. 
You’ll hear it happen, too. I promise. 

There’s fire in the sky, little dead brother in the ground. 
But you know that. You’ve played in air since leaving us. 
I’ve felt you swing by giggling. 
                                                  Whispering, You’re it

             I’m taking you with me, if you’ll go. 
Pack your airy things, light and sparkly like I glance you
sometimes in the branches, and sit with me. 
We have lighting to create, flame to transport, 
and fire to seek: 
                          the other side of a dark ridge to discover. 

Larry D. Thacker. Johnson City, Tennessee.


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.