Coal Hollow

University of California Press

Coal is still king in much of Appalachia, yet the heritage and history of the people who enabled the United States to become an economic superpower in the Industrial age are slipping away.
This remarkable book presents arresting black and white photographs and powerful oral histories that chronicle the legacy of coalmining in southern West Virginia. Ken and Melanie Light traveled hundreds of miles through rugged, isolated terrain recording the stories of a range of people whose lives were shaped by coal: retired miners, men and women who have been jobless their entire lives, a contemporary coal baron, a justice of the State Supreme Court of West Virginia, a writer who bravely ran for governor on a third party ticket, and people who returned to the hills when their lives failed elsewhere.
What emerges is a complex portrait of people locked into an intricate web of geography, history, and unfettered profiteering. In Light's poignant images and in their own distinctive voices the residents of Coal Hollow--a fictional composite of the communities the Lights surveyed--reveal how the intersection of mountain culture and the greed of the coal companies produced the most powerful economy in the world yet brought crushing poverty to a region of once-proud people.

Watch the Coal Hollow DVD here

Click on any of the photos below to see a larger version.

James & his brother J.R.
Thacker Creek Hollow

Tent revival
Delbaton, W. VA

Laura, 45 years old
laundry day
Crane Creek Hollow

At the swimming hole
Laurel Creek Fork

After the storm
Devils Fork Hollow

Ku Klux Klan speech
Ohio-W. VA border

Brothers 5 & 7 yrs old
Riffe Branch Hollow
Hollie's Hair Cut
Devils Fork Hollow
Wedding Day
Bradshaw, W. VA


All photographs ©2005 Ken Light
All rights reserved, may not be reproduced without written permission