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Arts & Exhibits

Vanishing Appalachia: A photographic exhibit

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Copyright by Don Dudenbostel

Vanishing Appalachia: Photographs by Don Dudenbostel, Field Recordings by Tom Jester is the name of a new photography exhibit at the Museum of East Tennessee History in downtown Knoxville. Covering 40 years of photography from 1969-2009, the exhibit features the themes of Roadside Culture, Moonshine, Cockfighting, the Ku Klux Klan, and Faith. It runs from March 1-June 20.

Dudenbostel, a well-known and respected commercial photographer in Knoxville, said he picked Appalachia because it was convenient and easily accessible. Jester, who recorded audio of several of the people in the photographs, is probably best known to East Tennesseans as the music producer for WBIR’s “Heartland Series.”


Copyright by Don Dudenbostel

Several of the 94 pictures in the exhibit show people holding something. An elderly lady holding a portrait of her mother. A lady holding a fiddle. Pastor Jimmy Morrow holding his Bible to his chest and, in another shot, holding an open Bible with two copperheads lying on the pages. A young Mennonite girl holding a kitten. A cockfighter holding a trophy and the rooster that won it. A chain-smoking moonshiner holding his cigarette.

Asked if he had to move out of his comfort zone to get some of his shots, Dudenbostel replied, “Oh yeah. Way out. We never knew what we were walking into. Some very scary situations.”


Copyright by Don Dudenbostel

A likely crowd favorite is the series of pictures of moonshiner “Popcorn” Sutton at his working still. Some shots are up close and personal portraits of the man as an iconic hillbilly, with his long beard, flannel shirt, overalls, and feather-stuffed hat. They are strong and memorable.

But those are not the only memorable images. Some of the shots of Mennonite children are magnificent examples of photographic art, worthy of being compared to the greatest photos of the greatest photographers in the documentary tradition.

“I’ve met some of the kindest people in my search for vanishing Appalachian culture” Dudenbostel said, “and I would name Pastor Jimmy Morrow among them. It has changed my image of Appalachian people. Many of them are very smart. Jimmy Morrow might have been a professor if he had grown up somewhere else. I want people to see that these people have a lot of dignity. They are just like you and me. They deserve respect.”

A 37-page book about the exhibit with a CD of Jester’s recordings is available at the museum. More examples of Dudenbostel’s photographic art can be found here.

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