By Erinn Sweet

The Urban Appalachian Community Coalition has a passion for storytelling and supporting Appalachian artists far and wide, which is why we never pass up an opportunity to showcase voices from rural and urban Appalachians. In the heart of Appalachia, where rugged landscapes and deep-rooted traditions intersect, lies an assortment of stories and lives waiting to shared. There are many narratives that transcends the surface, delving into the intricate layers of identity, belonging, and defiance against societal norms and long-standing stereotypes. One of these narratives finds its visual voice in Deep Ruts, the forthcoming photography book by Julie Rae Powers, a Queer Appalachian artist blending storytelling and photography into a visual display of portraits, candid shots, Appalachian iconography and haunting landscapes.

At its core, Deep Ruts is more than just a collection of photographs; it’s a tapestry woven with threads of history, symbolism, and personal introspection. The title itself, a triple entendre, serves as a gateway into the complex themes that Powers explores within their work. From the primal imagery of a deer in rut to the worn paths etched into the land by human and animal alike, and finally, to the entrenched narratives of the mind, Deep Ruts invites viewers to traverse the rugged terrain of identity and representation.

“I used to have a laundry list of big hopes when I started this work but I think the most fundamental impact I want it to have is that Appalachia is dynamic, unique, complex, complicated, imperfect, and the reality is that Appalachia is not an American exception but the rule.”

Powers shed light on the inspiration behind the title, explaining, “Deep Ruts references a deer in rut (deer appear as a motif in the book often), the ruts that a four wheeler, tractor, or animal erode into the land over time and use, and the deep ruts of the mind where our narratives of ourselves, time, place, religion, etc. become well worn. Though, I suspect there are probably even more references lurking underneath.”

Central to Powers’ work is the notion of queering the standard perception of being Appalachian. Through a blend of portraiture and landscape photography, Powers challenges stereotypes and preconceptions, daring to defy the conventional narrative of what it means to belong to this storied region.

Portrait of Julie Rae Powers

“My approach to this work has evolved and become multi-faceted: Create and share my own queer story into a world of singular, flattened, media narratives about Appalachians; challenge my own ideas of stereotypes in Appalachian imagery; place my Queer body in landscapes, spaces, that access isn’t always welcomed or guaranteed, that tension & defiance is queer to me; but most importantly, I let the photographs teach me about myself, my practice, and my world over time.”

By integrating Appalachian iconography into their work, Powers pays homage to the rich cultural history of the region while infusing it with a contemporary twist. Symbols such as deer, antlers, and mountains serve as both visual motifs and metaphors for the complexities of identity and belonging.

“These symbols in my personal narrative work in a few ways: firstly, by showing how saturated my world was with some of these activities, attitudes, desires, funs, etc. And, secondly, they operate as objects of nostalgia. Some of the icons stand for larger ideas or metaphors of myself. The deer, for example, have become a metaphor for my queer presence: strong, beautiful, flighty, fearful, proud, iconic, hunted, wild.”

Through their photography, Powers challenges viewers to interrogate their preconceptions and embrace the multifaceted nature of human existence. As Powers eloquently states, “Everything you think you know about everything, including Appalachia, stop and ask yourself: Who told you what you know about it? What were their motivations? Why? Who benefits from this story about this place? Why? What other stories are there?”

In the unveiling of Deep Ruts, Julie Rae Powers invites us to embark on a visual and emotional journey of discovery—a journey that transcends boundaries and defies categorization. It’s a journey that celebrates the resilience of the Appalachian spirit and the enduring power of storytelling to shape our understanding of the world around us. As we explore the raw beauty of Powers’ photographs, we are reminded of the profound intricacies of humanity, even in the deepest of ruts we find ourselves in.

Deep Ruts is available for pre-order at March 1, 2024, is the deadline to pre-order.

Cover image source: Julie Rae Powers

Erinn Sweet is the Communications Specialist for the Urban Appalachian Community Coalition.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *