Viewfinder: Roger May, Looking Back

[imgbelt img=RogerMay03.jpg]In 1989, teenager Roger May moved with his mother and brother from West Virginia to North Carolina. Twenty-five years later, May still lives in North Carolina but aches for the Mountain State. A self-taught photographer, his photos are a testament to his love of the land and lineage to which he yearns to return.


All images by Roger May

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first in a series of articles called “Viewfinder” featuring the work and perspectives of photographers who focus on rural places and themes.

Technically, Roger May’s full time job is in IT in Raleigh, North Carolina, but talk to him for more than a few minutes, and it becomes clear that he has another calling. May spends much of his free time in his home state of West Virginia, photographing Appalachia. In 2013, he launched a successful Kickstarter campaign to fund his first full-length photography book, Testify, due to come out next month.

May’s first camera was a Kodak 110 that his mother sent away for after collecting enough cereal box tops. After that, May says he was the default family photographer, but the first time photography “really registered” with him was when he stumbled upon the Vietnam Experience Time Life series on a family friend’s bookshelf when he was 12 years old.

“I would get just an armful of these books off his bookshelf and sit on the floor and just kind of go through these books page by page and I would get just kind of lost in the pictures,” May says. “They just showed so much emotion and there was such a response from me to these pictures that it kind of registered with me, you know pictures can really do something. There is sort of a call and response to powerful imagery.”

“For me, I was just trying to photograph what was familiar and through the process of making those pictures was trying to figure out what was familiar to me — what made a particular place or road or holler familiar to me.  I think the process of making those pictures was even more compelling and moving and lasting for me than the actual pictures themselves. There was sort of a cathartic process of going back to a place I left when I was eight and recreate that experience.”

Over six years, the photos became a body of work that communicate a deep love and longing for Appalachia.

“My wife said one time that when she looked at my pictures, she felt like West Virginia was written in my DNA,” he says.