The Appalshop Archive staff has been working to digitize a wide range of photographic and audiovisual material from obsolete formats. The following is an overview of what has emerged recently from the archive, along with connected threads that lead elsewhere.
Footage from Richmond, VA, 1970
This silent footage features Black communities in and around the Church Hill neighborhood of Richmond, Virginia. It was shot on Super 8mm film by Ben Zickafoose, a prominent but elusive character in the history of Appalshop film. Zickafoose made this film while a student in a sociology class taught by Helen Lewis at Clinch Valley College (now UVA-Wise) in Wise, Virginia. Zickafoose’s thesis project for the class was the film Coal Miner Frank Jackson which became one of Appalshop’s first feature documentaries.
The William R. “Pictureman” Mullins Collection, 1935-1955
William R. “Pictureman” Mullins was a self-taught professional photographer from Dickenson County, Virginia, two counties over from Letcher County, Kentucky. From the 1930s through the 50s Mullins photographed people living in the coalfields of Eastern Kentucky and Southwestern Virginia, and in Baltimore where he worked in a shipyard during World War II.
Mullins took photos of individuals, couples, families, religious happenings, funeral ceremonies, landscapes, roadways and storefronts. He had a sharp eye for composition and light and his work is often recognizable, in part because of the rarity of commercial portrait photography in this region and time period. Many of the people in his portraits took care to get dressed up for the picture in their best suits and dresses. The images are careful and formal and stand in contrast to most early to mid-twentieth century photography of Appalachia, which often took the form of outsiders looking in at an impoverished, “other” world.
Mullins’ work was prolific, but only a fraction of his photographs still exist after a fire destroyed his home studio in Jenkins, Kentucky. The Appalshop Archive is home to the 3600 photo negatives that survived the fire and our staff is performing preservation scans of these negatives to be cataloged and made available to the public.
Mullins’ son James described his father in an interview:
“No, he was a poet as such. And he used to draw a lot. I can remember pictures – or sketchings, should I say, more than that – I remember one picture he had of a turtle sitting out here on a log and three rabbits standing on the bank, and one of them had a bow and arrow, fixing to shoot the turtle.”
Interview with Morgan Sexton, 1991
In late May of 1991 Dallas filmmaker Blaine Dunlap shot this video footage of the legendary banjo player and singer Morgan Sexton at his home in Linefork, Kentucky. Dunlap speaks with Morgan and his wife Virgie on their porch, and follows him around his garden. This particular project was never completed and Dunlap’s footage remains unedited, but some of Dunlap’s other finished work, including this short documentary about the nighttime street cleaners of Dallas, hints at what the Morgan Sexton footage might have become.