Not only did Matt Eich win the College Photographer of the Year portfolio contest in 2006, but he also won the prestigious Community Awareness Award in this year's Pictures of the Year International contest for his "Carry Me Ohio" series.
Richie Goins Jr. watches from the window of his parents' trailer as cinderblocks are brought in as the foundation for his grandmother's new trailer. Leetha Goins and her children Timmy, 25, Troy, 16, and grandson Will, for whom she cares, were displaced when a drunken driver swerved off the road and crashed into their trailer.
The Goins family moves their belongings into a new trailer as dusk settles over the town of Chauncey. Communities that once struggled to get by can no longer make ends meet after the economic downturn in the United States.
The Goins children circle around the table for dinner. T he extended family occupies the corner of a street in Chauncey, spread out between a trailer home and a house. The trailer home has no running water so everyone gathers in the house to eat and bathe.
Jesse Sellers Jr., his hair still wet from a bath, stands in his kitchen holding a trophy he won during his first dirt bike competition.
Tylor Woodrum, 16, burns trash in the backyard of his stepmother's house in Carbondale. His father, Dave Woodrum, was killed in a high-impact four-wheeler accident in 2006.
Tylor holds a box containing his father's ashes. His father's favorite cock-fighting rooster is mounted on top of the box.
Viewed through a collection of medicine bottles lining the Sellers' window, Hercules crouches to watch the children playing in the snow. The Sellers struggle with an assortment of health problems. Most of their children have asthma and twins Kacey and Lacey, 5, were born profoundly deaf.
Clayton Ator riles up Shank and Money after smoking marijuana. Ator learned to "shoot ink" in prison and does prison-style tattoos out of his home in Carbondale.
Jesse Sellers Jr. tussles with a neighbor in Chauncey.
Kiah Chonko, 15, of Athens High School waits for her ride after prom in Nelsonville.
A plywood cutout of Jesus looms in the falling light in the community of Shade. Religion is a mainstay in struggling areas such as Southeastern Ohio.
Lacey Sellers wanders out in the middle of the street near their home in Chauncey to examine the skid mark her father left as he drove away.
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Eich introduces this series: "Once known for natural resources such as coal, salt, clay and timber, Southeastern Ohio has been stripped of its resources by extractive industries. When nothing was left the corporations vacated the region... leaving the remaining communities with little but their cultural identity: a product of poverty, which has forged their lifestyle in Appalachia. Communities that once struggled to get by can no longer make ends meet after the economic downturn in the United States. In 2006, Athens County had a poverty rate of 27.4 percent and had a median household income $14,000 lower than the national average."
He also agreed to answer a few questions. Picture Show: "Carry Me Ohio": an intentional reference to the Sun Kil Moon song? Does the song bear any significance in the series? Matt Eich: The song was a great influence on my understanding of this project and was at the foundation when I began piecing together disparate stories from the region into a larger body of work. While the lyrics of the song don't refer directly to a lot of the things depicted in the images, the words resonate with me as indicative of the area.
PS: Were you raised in Ohio? Can you elaborate a bit on the process of making this series? ME: I was born and raised in Virginia, only coming to Ohio for the first time when I started college at Ohio University in 2004. It is a place that has completely changed me during my time here in a way that I never anticipated. Working on this project has been my way of learning more about the community I am a part of and my place in the world at large. I met the Goins family at a town hall meeting in Chauncey, Ohio, where they lived. The family had been undergoing a lot of struggles at the time and were kind enough to open their home to me and allow me into their lives for a time.
PS: The image of Hercules shivering in the cold is so unsettling. Poverty is something we don't typically associate with our own backyard — and yet it's at the very heart of our society. Is this something that you hope to change through your work? ME: I would love for my images to change policy and the public's perception of poverty, but I try not to get too grandiose with my intentions. At this point I am happy documenting the hard-working Americans that are often forgotten and the landscape they call their home because they deserve to be remembered.
All images courtesy Matt Eich/Aurora Select, available for licensing through Aurora Photos.