An East Tennessee photographer takes a look at new trends in immigration and migration in a state where the Hispanic population of Tennessee increased by 134% in a decade.
According to a 2012 profile by the University of Tennessee, between 2000 and 2010, the Hispanic population of Tennessee increased by 134%. Today, one in eight new migrants to Tennessee is Hispanic, and one in ten births is to a Hispanic child. Photographer Megan King began her series, Hispanic Appalachia, as an effort to highlight the growing population of Hispanic people living and working in Tennessee. King says she hopes the series will “highlight emerging diversity in this historically conservative region.”
Daily Yonder: Where did you grow up? Tell us a little bit about your background.
Megan King: I am from Bristol, Tennessee. I grew up at the base of Holston Mountain surrounded by farmland and knobs, playing in creeks, barns, and fields with my brother and cousins. I lived there until I went to college.
DY: You now live in Johnson City, Tennessee. What brought you there?
MK: I came to East Tennessee State University to study education. I changed plans after taking a photo class and ended up with degrees in Studio Art and Spanish.
DY: When did you first start taking pictures?
MK: I do not remember specifically, but I went through several film cameras as a kid. My first was a 110 camera, very similar to the Micro Holga. I recently found a photo I made with that camera and my mother says I was 7 when I made it. I continued in phases to make photos growing up, but it was not until college that I started to take it more seriously.
DY: Tell us about the Hispanic Appalachia project. How did it begin and what is its aim?
MK: I began Hispanic Appalachia in undergrad as a project I could work on over a long period of time and bring together as a BFA show. The aim, for the most part, is enlightenment, to show an important side of Appalachia that is often underrepresented.
DY: Is this an ongoing series? What are your plans for it moving forward?
MK: It is an ongoing project, however I have taken a break since graduating. My goal is to come back with a fresh perspective. As for the project moving forward, I am not sure where it will go. As it grows I think it will change a lot, which may or may not change the direction of the project.
DY: What’s your process like when you’re taking pictures? How do you find the people and places you photograph, and how long do you spend with them?
I am friends with almost all of the people I have photographed for this project. I studied Spanish with several of them, went to Spain for a summer class with two, lived upstairs from another (literally, there was a blocked staircase connecting out apartments), and the others I met through people I already photographed or through Spanish connections. Typically I spent hours upon hours with my subjects, hanging out at their houses or farms.
As for the places, I found many of them by accident. I was running an errand in Morristown, Tennessee and happened to drive down a street with all these Hispanic businesses. Other places are restaurants here in Johnson City, or inside the homes of friends.
DY: On your website, you write “In the photographs Hispanic culture is represented by vibrant colors, food, clothes, and often decorations. These qualities create a visual juxtaposition to this region’s cultural heritage; however, it is important to see that the Hispanic and Appalachian cultures can blend in a nearly indiscernible manner.” Throughout your photo-making for this series, how have you seen this “blending” play out?
This is something I hope people see when viewing this work. More specifically, similarities the Latino population share with greater Appalachia. Farming, decorating one's home or body with things of personal importance, running small business, working with family, and fishing are all things we can relate to from an Appalachian viewpoint, if not a larger more inclusive viewpoint.