Student Photos Capture Life in East Kentucky

Oct 18, 2011

For four days last week, the pictures taken by photojournalism students in Breathitt County told a thousand stories. They told stories of everyday life and enduring love. Stories of strength, stress and strife, and other faces of the human condition. And behind their digital camera lenses, the students came away with a genuine appreciation of the subjects they pictured.

“I'm interested in people, and the stories we've learned about in the days we were here were interesting, compelling and inspiring,” said Lauryn Morris of Louisville, one of 16 photojournalism students who participated in the “Picture Kentucky” project. Many of them were from the University of Kentucky, and during the workshop, the students turned their lenses on Jackson and Breathitt County residents to tell their stories through pictures.

They set up shop at UK's Robinson Forest Camp in southern Breathitt County last Wednesday, and finished last Saturday, after taking hundreds of pictures of people here in the area. At times, it seemed just when you turned a corner in town, you could spot one of the students, camera in hand, ready to take a picture of some person, place or thing that lent itself to the local landscape.

How did the students pick out their subjects? After their advisers came down and did some legwork on who to photograph two weeks ago, the list was written down on a piece of paper, with the name of each subject put into a hat. The students picked their stories out of that hat down at the Forest Camp.

“We covered a wide range of subjects during those four days. Our cameras did a profile of a local family, and some of the students went to a couple of local restaurants to take in the lunchtime crowd. We went to a funeral home, some took pictures of hair stylists doing their work, while another one was at a barber shop watching a man get a haircut,” added Morris, who's originally a native of Phoenix, Arizona. “I was able to get some profiles of the coal and lumber industries here, and the biggest crowd of photojournalism students went out last Friday night to shoot the high school football game.”

In fact, some of those same students at the ballgame got a birds-eye view of the action from way up above, thanks to the help one of the Jackson Fire Department's aerial trucks located at Holcomb Stadium on the Breathitt County High School campus. “(Jackson Fire Chief) Roger Friley was gracious enough to take some of the students up the ladder truck to get a great view of the football field and the town,” said David Stephenson, who's the Photojournalism and Multimedia Adviser with UK's student newspaper, The Kentucky Kernel. “It was an experience they will surely never forget.”

Morris wasn't one of them, but she told the Times-Voice her experiences will stay with her for a long time. “Photography has been a big interest of mine. I keep a photography blog, and I have a degree in Industrial Design from Cal State University – Long Beach. I worked as an industrial designer in New York City, and with my interest in photography, I wanted to round out my portfolio of work experience. I want to improve my skills and possibly get into photojournalism, either full-time or part-time. Being here with this workshop went a long way to establish that opportunity.”

Morris was able to get some that chance during her stay here. “I did a couple of mini-stories. One was about people selling clothes to working folks, like the miners. I focused on a man who had such a clothing store, Arnold Gross. He's a hard worker, an interesting person, and a genuinely nice man. The other mini-story was about a mini-mart in Rousseau, along Route 30 East. It was 'Rissa's Mini Mart', and I took photos there. The owners and those at the restaurant were wonderful and very helpful. And there was a family along 30 East, Ronnie and Janet Barnett, whom I did a profile on. He works in the lumber industry, and we were able to go to their home. They showed us their property, and they showed us their big garden, including the mustard greens.”

The “Picture Kentucky” series is run by The Kentucky Kernel, and the workshop's goal is to teach students how to tell compelling stories through photographs.. Joining Stephenson in lending his talents and expertise to the project was David LaBelle, a Lecturer with Kent State University's School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Along with the photo shoots, students worked towards producing a book, multimedia and Web presentation, which will be shared by UK, Jackson and Breathitt County (this year's host city and county) and the public.

Soon, you'll be able to see more of the students' pictures at the workshop's Website:

“I've heard nothing but glowing reviews of our students' experience in your area last weekend,” Stephenson said in an email on Tuesday. “It says a lot about about a community when its people will allow students to enter their lives and photograph them as they are. It's a valuable learning process for the students and they made some great photos, and some made long-lasting friendships along the way. Jackson and Breathitt County, we can't thank you enough.”

“It's really invigorating, and there's a lot of interesting people in the world. When you meet with them, even for five minutes, you find out we have a lot in common,” noted Morris during an interview last Friday. “First and foremost, you look them in the eye and just be your genuine self and get their trust. When they like and trust you, the picture will come later.”