Testifying With Roger May

Roger May Testify Walk Your Camera

Roger May is a documentary photographer, who lives and works in Raleigh NC, but was raised in West Virginia on the Kentucky border.

Roger runs a great blog called: Walk your camera, where he discusses Appalachia and how it’s represented-primarily through the Art of Photography. I first became enamored with Roger May’s work last year when he wrote about all the hoopla surrounding CNN’s showcase of Stacy Kranitz’s photo series “Regression to the Mean,” which raised more than a few hackles among devotees of Appalachia.

Over the last several months, Roger has been working on a fascinating project called Testify. I could tell you all about it-but I’d rather let Roger tell you about the project and what it means to him.


Testify written by Roger May

Testify is a visual love letter to Appalachia, the land of my blood. This is my testimony of how I came to see the importance of home and my connection to place. After moving away as a teenager, I’ve struggled to return, to latch on to something from my memory. These images are a vignette into my working through the problem of the construction of memory versus reality. My work embraces the raw beauty of the mountains while keeping at arms length the stereotypical images that have tried to define Appalachia for decades.

The word ‘testify’ carries both a religious and legal meaning. In the churches of home, it’s common for a portion of time during a church service to be devoted to allowing members to share publicly what God has done in their lives; to give their testimony. In legal terms, one’s testimony is a statement accepted, sworn under oath, believed to be true and acceptable.

I am both an insider and an outsider and though I maintain a safe distance in my photographs, I attempt to invite you into the intimacy of family, of sacred space. Testify is my bearing witness of a personal journey, of never truly being able to go home again, to seek answers from my ancestral home. Appalachia testifies of timelessness and natural beauty. The mountains testify of protection and sanctuary and at the same time the horrible destruction of mountaintop removal mining. The people of Appalachia testify of their pride and resilience. Old time religion testifies of the power in the blood and a heavenly home just across the shore.

My grandfather told me that I have two ears and one mouth, which means that I should listen twice as often as I speak. Through these images, I’ve tried to do just that – to listen more than I speak, both with my voice and my cameras. These images arise out of my pride of where I am from and where I am of, and an enduring love for Appalachia.

This is my testimony.


Click here to view the photographs from Roger May’s series Testify. (just click on each photo to go to the next one-and notice each photo has a description below it.)


I enjoyed the photos in the series because they resonate with me-with my thoughts and feelings about Appalachia. In my humble opinion Roger’s photos are more representative of Appalachia as a whole than the propped up pitiful photos that are often used as a narrative of Appalachia.

I also liked the words (Roger’s testimony) which accompanies his collection of photographs. His grandfather telling him he had 2 ears and 1 mouth -so that meant he should listen more than he spoke-reminded me of one of Pap’s sayings: The smartest man in the room is usually the quietest.

I hope you enjoyed Roger’s series Testify.



You Might Also Like


  • Reply
    March 16, 2013 at 11:11 pm

    So many memories in those pictures. Also, so many things we can still see in the country here today. Slide number 7 reminds me of a sign near here on the highway, it says “Jesus is coming back” and below it, someone wrote, “And boy is he ticked.” That’s probably right! I look around at things some humans do to other humans, and what some humans do to children and animals, and I think God must look down on us and cry sometimes. I pray one day we wake up and start walking gently on this earth, with each other and with all of God’s creation. I fervently pray so, one day real soon!!!
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Janet Smart
    March 15, 2013 at 9:20 am

    the media always love to downgrade our area. But, I wouldn’t touch their cities and fancy way of life with a 10 ft. pole. As to sayings, my English teacher used to tell us to ‘turn on our brain before we turned on our speakers.’

  • Reply
    Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph. D,
    March 15, 2013 at 7:59 am

    Roger, you captured the beauty and hardships of your home place. I missed your posting yesterday because I was ‘knee deep’ in writing my next book “Fiddler of the Mountains” from over in Clay County North Carolina.
    As children we had the honor of being from ‘the poorest county’ in North Carolina. NOW our county HAS BEEN DISCOVERED and our mountain tops have been destroyed by the building of houses – tied to cables in the stones – to hold the houses on the mountains. Mountain folks have no money and no VOICE – except through devoted folks like you.
    Sincerely, Eva Nell Mull Wike, Ph.D. AUTHOR “The Matheson Cove – In the Shadow of the Devil’s Post Office” 2007

  • Reply
    Peggy Lambert
    March 15, 2013 at 12:14 am

    I like what Bradley has for his comment. The people who write books about a place and culture hardly know what they are talking about. They have never lived and felt it in their hearts, the love we have where we were born. Usually they just copy someone else work. I loved the pictures. Not finished looking.
    Peggy L.

  • Reply
    Suzi Phillips
    March 14, 2013 at 10:46 pm

    I looove Roger May!!! As an avid photographer of Appalachian people and places, I’m always looking for the inspiration to step up a level. Mr. May tugs at my heart and makes me think, too. Thanks for featuring him today- everyone who loves photography and our culture can learn a lot from him.

  • Reply
    Mike McLain
    March 14, 2013 at 5:06 pm

    Sounds like a similar story to mine as I return to Appalachia NEXT MONTH!! I will definitely check out his complete story and website. It sounds like a must see.

  • Reply
    March 14, 2013 at 2:52 pm

    These are beautiful pictures!

  • Reply
    Sallie Covolo aka Granny Sal
    March 14, 2013 at 9:32 am

    My father in law was a coal miner in Pennsylvania. I love how Roger May phrased “a visual love letter to Appalachia, the land of my blood.” His photos are almost poetic. As transplanted Appalachian natives (Both Southern Appalachia and Northern Appalachia).My husband and I can identify.

  • Reply
    March 14, 2013 at 11:58 am

    I enjoyed Roger’s pictures alot.
    Also I agree with Shirla, seems
    everytime the “networks” do a
    documentary on our homeland, they
    manage to mess it up…Ken

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    March 14, 2013 at 10:40 am

    Yes, that is a loving testament. I like his pictures and I like his words. They are both a testament of the life and values of a people…!

  • Reply
    March 14, 2013 at 9:48 am

    I will have to check out Roger’s blog since he writes about and photographs an area close to my hometown. CNN’s “Regression To The Mean” couldn’t be any worse than Diann Sawyer’s mini series on Appalachia. I can’t remember the name of the show, but she ruffled some feathers when she found the poorest ‘Mountain Dew mouth’ family living in the poorest conditions and used her cameras to embarrass us around the world.
    The mountains are truly a natural beauty that is being destroyed by mountain top removal. When I visit down home, I think of Barbara Woodall’s book, “It’s Not My Mountain Anymore”

  • Reply
    March 14, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I agree that the pictures tell a story almost better than words. They allow for personal interpretation. Perhaps, one day the photographer will use the pictures to tell his story. I did like the use of two ears and one mouth. I had never thought of my physical features being used in that way.

  • Reply
    March 14, 2013 at 9:17 am


  • Reply
    Mary Shipman
    March 14, 2013 at 8:23 am

    Amen! What a wonderful testimony.

  • Reply
    March 14, 2013 at 7:46 am

    I agree with Roger. And (this is only my opinion) it seems to me that any documentary no matter how well researched is better presented by those that have a first hand knowledge. It is hard for some to remain objective when discussing others. You know, that old parallax problem.

  • Leave a Reply