Growing Up Kentucky
By Emily Fox
16 Apr 2009
When I first started showing people my project, I was met with a sentiment of suprise and scorn. "You are from Kentucky," one photographer scolded. "How can you perpetuate these stereotypes?"
True, my essay on childhood in rural Kentucky touched on controversial issues--poverty, teen pregnancy, neglect... But while taking the pictures, I didn't feel a sense of degredation or exploitation, I felt something closer to pride.
Nonetheless, the critics got to me and I ultimately buried the project for a few years, but the desire for completion never left me. Though my rationale agreed that my pictures could be misunderstood, my feelings still believed in my project.
I started to delve into my own concept of poverty. If I had something to be ashamed of, then did my subjects as well? Should individuals in this age of ultra-acceptance be made to feel unaccepted because of socioeconomic standing? Or am I solely to blame for documenting it?
In the summer of 2008, i travelled for a lengthy stay in Uganda. Amidst vibrant culture and extreme poverty, I couldn't help but wonder how documenting life in Kampala (for which I was praised) was so different from the pictures I took in Kentucky. How is it that Americans feel remorse for the westernization of exotic cultures, yet such satisfaction when cultures at home give way to middle-class suburban ideals? What exactly is the difference between a brain stew in Africa and a burgoo in Kentucky? By giving up my essay, was I becoming a contributer in a silent crusade to normalize America?
In the end I decided that my sincerity would gauge the worthiness of my project and instead of hiding the stereotypical aspects of Kentucky life, I would embrace them for what they were--not merely a byproduct of poverty and isolation, but pillars of a proud culture with its own standards, ideals, unique as the individuals by whom it is comprised.
"Growing Up Kentucky" will be an essay in a cycle, starting with infancy and ending with pregnancy. The essay will focus on the fierce loyalties of Kentuckians: to their children, kin, God, and country. It will consist of candid illustrations of the principles that distinguish a Kentucky childhood whilst showcasing the dramatic adventure that is growing up andywhere at anytime.