You might be wondering why you’re looking at pictures of Los Angeles on a blog that deal primarily with work from Appalachia. From my desk in Charleston, West Virginia, Los Angeles is more than 2,300 miles away, but there is a proximity of heart for place I find in Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin’s photographs that I’d like to share.
I first learned of Boyd-Bouldin’s work via Twitter, though I can’t remember exactly who shared it. I scrolled through some of his images online and was drawn in by his straightforward manner of looking. His compositions suggested an eye of someone looking beyond the surface and beyond the stereotype of place. This is not the Los Angeles you’ve often been shown.
After several months of following Boyd-Bouldin’s work on Twitter, and later Instagram, it occurred to me that he is looking at his corner of Los Angeles in a very similar way I’m making work in West Virginia and Appalachia. Despite the geographical differences, there is a common thread of love for place, a desire to show a more realistic portrayal of that place through critical looking and thinking, and to document the impact of the physical changes in the landscape of one’s home.
For all the things I detest about social media, every now and again, there are redeeming qualities. Had it not been for social media, I might have never known about Boyd-Bouldin’s work. I might have never had the chance to reach out to him to tell him how much I appreciate what he’s doing and why he’s doing it. I might never have had the chance to ask him about his work and to share some of that work here.
Boyd-Bouldin’s work is becoming more widely visible. In February of last year, he was included in TIME’s 12 African American Photographers You Should Follow Right Now and in November of last year, the New York Times LENS blog featured some of his photographs and a brief interview. One of the things he said in that piece illuminated a foundational element in the work he makes and made me think about the work I make: “In part, he says, the project is his intention to document a vanishing L.A. Few who live outside it even know it exists. He wants “to present a portrait of the city that reflects the lives of people who live in Los Angeles, as opposed to the glossy fictional version that dominates the mainstream narrative.” Just substitute Los Angeles with Appalachia or West Virginia or Kentucky.
In his series The Displacement Engine, in which he provides much needed critical thinking and viewing on the issue of gentrification, he writes, "The effort to push vulnerable populations to the margins may seem to be organic but it is often an organized campaign. Perpetual, neighborhood wide rent increases coupled with a total sustained lack of local infrastructure (grocery stores, good public schools, etc...) are the ingredients needed to initiate the desired effect." In West Virginia it isn't the same type of gentrification but it is systematic erasure. Apply this lens to look at the organized campaign of the coal industry to keep an already vulnerable population marginalized. In Mingo County, West Virginia, there isn't a single grocery store in the entire county. Likewise, four of the county's five high schools (Burch, Gilbert, Matewan, and Williamson) closed their doors in 2011 before consolidating into one school, Mingo Central, which is built on a reclaimed surface mine site.
I trust you'll enjoy Boyd-Bouldin's work and his thoughtful approach to place. Scroll through for our brief conversation, including a list of photographers he recommends following. You can see more of Boyd-Bouldin’s work at his website Kwasi Boyd-Bouldin and The Los Angeles Recordings. You can also follow him on Instagram and Twitter.