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EPF 2010 Finalist

Matt Eich

Carry Me Ohio

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Once known for its bounty of coal, salt, clay and timber, Southeastern Ohio was stripped of its resources by the mining corporations that thrived from the 1820s to the 1960s.  When they had mined all that they could, the corporations left, leaving the communities with little but their cultural identity, which is a product of poverty.

For the past three years I have been documenting the people of this region as they attempt to recover from the aftermath of extractive industry. In photographing their daily life, I’ve explored the culture of the area, as well as on the crippling poverty that threatens to extinguish it. The foothills of Appalachia have been my home for the past five years. I met my wife here and our daughter was born here. Now, the same lack of opportunity that has plagued the residents of Southeastern Ohio for decades has forced us to move.

Rampant unemployment, poor housing conditions, drug abuse and sub-standard schools have left many families here in crisis. In 2006, Athens County, one of the poorest counties in the state, had a poverty rate of 27.4 percent and a per capita income of just $14,171. With the economic downturn of the United States these numbers have only gotten worse.

In this series of images I show the isolated and trapped residents of Southeastern Ohio. From Hercules the German Shepherd, chained to his house in the snow to Timmy, asleep on the couch, trapped in his body and requiring around the clock care from his family. Despite their bleak surroundings there is still a sense of whimsy and beauty in the lives of the region’s occupants. They opened their homes to me and this is my love song to the place I once lived.

Poverty is more than the lack of monies; it is the deprivation of opportunity and has a lasting emotional resonance for the individuals who live within its grasp. These images strive to remember a forgotten place and a unique time in American history.



Matt Eich (b. 1986) is a freelance photographer and founding member of LUCEO. His work is rooted in memory, both personal and collective and he strives to approach every photograph with a sense of intimacy. Matt’s images focus on his own back yard, often exploring communities, the issues they face and their sense of identity.

As a student Matt interned with National Geographic before returning to Ohio University to complete his degree. While finishing school Matt began working for clients such as Newsweek, Mother Jones, TIME, The FADER, Smithsonian, More and Apple. His accolades include POYi’s Community Awareness Award, The Magenta Foundation’s Bright Spark Award, the Joop Swart Masterclass, a Juried Fellowship at the Houston Center For Photography and being named one of PDN’s 30 in 2010.

Matt and his family now live in Norfolk, Virginia where he works on long-term projects while compulsively documenting everything around him.


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Matt Eich


30 thoughts on “matt eich – carry me ohio”

  1. Well Matt, for me, you have succeeded in catching that sense of intimacy in your images. You have given me what I feel to be an authentic glimpse in to this family. What else can I say other than keep going, you’ve got a talent for seeing, and being part of something you can catch on to film for others to also experience, and hopefully, in the best circumstances, educate, and help improve understanding.


  2. Hi Matt,

    I must have ESP. You may not remember this but when I met you at Review Santa Fe a few weeks ago I was convinced I had seen this work published in an online magazine. I was thinking it was here. Guess I was just a bit premature :)

    Happy to see my vision (and yours) realized :))

    Congratulations on being an EPF finalist.
    I love this work.
    Looking forward to seeing much more from you.

  3. 1 is great.
    24 is nice.
    The rest, while telling the story well, are just regular pj work and dont really appeal to me.
    Been thinking about this for a while now in relation to something I have been working on. I found myself including images that ‘move the story on’ or ‘tell’ something, even though in my heart I know that I dont even really like the images. Been bugging me for a while now and looking at this essay I can see the trap I fell into…..Matt is clearly a photojournalist….and im not.

  4. Autumn Begins in Martins Ferry, Ohio

    In the Shreve High football stadium,
    I think of Polacks nursing long beers in Tiltonsville,
    And gray faces of Negroes in the blast furnace at Benwood,
    And the ruptured night watchman of Wheeling Steel,
    Dreaming of heroes.

    All the proud fathers are ashamed to go home.
    Their women cluck like starved pullets,
    Dying for love.

    Their sons grow suicidally beautiful
    At the beginning of October,
    And gallop terribly against each other’s bodies.
    –James Wright

    Matt, when i first saw the book, i thought, ‘this cat can sing, beautifully and with a plaintive soul’…each time i’ve seen the work from this series, it breaks like spit and sweat across my body….

    when i first saw it, i thought immediately of my beloved Wright’s poem….and wanted a time when i could share that….maybe once we get a face-to-face…

    for me, that trapped zebra and the child being tugged from being playfully buried in the earth are enough to catapault this work past the ‘clearly a photojournalist’ category (and so what) and into the category of story teller…..that zebra pic and all it represents metaphorically and all it suggests verismilitudinally is just iconic….

    it’s interesting to see the relationship between Hercules and the bottles and Michael Brown’s Sakhalin wolf in the snow…..cousins separtated by geography, paired by winter and poverty’s pain…

    no time to write, off for a long trip, but beautiful, intimate, humane story…filled with the surreal and the sublime….

    congrats Matt on the EPF and all the accolades….now get back to work! :)))


  5. I very much appreciate this effort. I’m from a similar place and have struggled to visually make sense of similar stories. Less successfully, I might add. So I hope you understand that anything I say about this comes from a humble perspective.

    I know that it’s very easy to miss narrative structure in a photo essay, or a photo itself for that matter. That said, I don’t see any narrative structure in this essay. The story is set in a small town where jobs, once plentiful, are now scarce. There are a couple deaf children there, a sickly boy, a German Shepard and a zebra. Some people live in mobile homes. Some people drink and use drugs. And there are a couple deaf children there. Apparently, some people don’t keep a close eye on their special needs children.

    It’s probably fair to say that I am a bit more story obsessed than most people who look at and critique a lot of photo essays. I like the traditional three narrative arc with an intro and conclusion, or something that at least departs from that in a conscious, more effective way. Drama and tension, you know, and ultimately some sense of closure, even if the point is there can be no closure. Anyway, I don’t get that this essay provides any of that. The captions, while necessary and in some ways enlightening, are far more descriptive than expository. So the question I have for you, Matt, is what is the story you are trying to tell? If you’re clear on that, you might want to consider a bit more sophisticated narrative strategies to make it more clear and compelling.

    I’d say pretty much the same thing about most of the individual photographs. Many of them are descriptive, they provide details, but they do not appear to sit comfortably within the context of the story. The strong ones, I think, are the ones that require captions to understand. The deaf girl in the street is a powerful image. The sickly boy who requires constant care, apparently able to walk out of the house while his father sleeps. I sense a story there. And although at first glance, I thought it seemed out of place in this essay, the abandoned prom queen may be the one that sums it up best. She was a beautiful little town, but her date (big industry), left her standing by the curb, waiting for a limo that ain’t never gonna come back and take her home again.

    Personally, I’d consider expanding the visual scope of the essay a bit more beyond the trailer park. You have a few longer shots, but we really don’t see much of the town, or even the trailer park. If you’re telling a story about catastrophic health care in the rust belt, I’d constrict it further. But if this is, as I think, more a story about small midwestern town socio-economic reality, you might want to reveal a bit more of the rest of the town.

    Anyway, all that aside, I liked it and hope to see more.

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  7. There are so many ways to tell a story, some cannot be grasped by everyone.

    Matt your photos touched me and to me the story is clear.

    ‘World is crazier and more of it than we think,
    Incorrigibly plural.’

    Bob, less is more.

  8. I disagree with Michael, above. I, too, am obsessed with narrative in photography, and I think this sequence certainly holds up. Each photo is rich in story. It’s as good a treatment of a small town in Ohio as Lauren Greenfield presents of Los Angeles, though this one is more narrowly focused. Much of the stuff depicted here is bizarre — a zebra in the snow, kid in a Darth Vader mask, little girls sleeping with ferrets. I would like the weird stuff foregrounded, maybe more exploration of the weird and less of the straight-doc, concerned-journalist stuff. It’s obvious from how you shoot, Matt, that you are sympathetic to these folks. You don’t need the aging farmer (though this is a gorgeous shot), the wandering dogs, or the bar patron. I am more interested in your personal take on this milieu than your trying to convince me that you are a neutral observer documenting their economic plight. Stay with the weird.

  9. Your work is very powerful, the zebra photo and the kid in the hole will stay with me forever…

  10. Although I recognize a good pj work, it’s way too explicit and descriptive for me….
    With such concise introduction, I would start by dropping the captions.

    Congratulations on the EPF Matt.

  11. Matt,

    Preston really has a good perspective on this. I will resist saying your
    work is like this or that, but please look at Ralph Eugene Meatyard. I grew
    up in Louisville seeing Meatyard and reading Wendell Berry. Their attention to quirkiness
    and the land really help define life between the South and the Mid-West.
    I still want to know the exact location of Rabbithash, KY. I know it’s on
    the Ohio…

  12. Well, if you all see the story here so clearly, why not share your interpretation? I’ve looked at it a lot more since I wrote the above comment, and re-read Matt’s statement several times, and now I think the essay is much less coherent from a storytelling perspective than I did before. It’s not the story of the family depicted in so many of the photographs. It’s not the story of a small town. I suppose it’s a story about a region, but it fails to tell us much of anything about the area beyond the statistics, and one has to understand written language to get that. The pictures alone illustrate a small, representative slice of American life, but I don’t see much poverty in them, unless you consider manufactured housing and wood panelling synonymous with poverty, which they are not.

    Regarding Preston’s observation that much of this is weird, I just don’t see it. Most, if not all, regions in the United States have some kind of wildlife park (aka zoo) and if it snows you can find exotic animals standing around in the snow. Ferrets and other exotic animals are hardly uncommon throughout the midwest. Many people own them. A childhood friend of mine used to raise and sell them. I guess it’s a bit weird that any kid these days would be interested in a Star Wars character, but it’s certainly not weird and a kid dressed up in some kind of costume. And people getting drunk and stoned is not weird. People do that just about everywhere. Rich and poor. I guess I can see how people living in Europe or otherwise far, far away from the cultural reality of the American midwest might see these photos as weird, but in relative terms they are no weirder than riding a subway or watching a rugby match would be for the small town midwesterners. Not weird at all.

    So I’d consider a bit more focus. What is the story about? The family? The town? The region? Poverty in the midwest? In any case, I suspect more photos, more variety of photos, are needed to tell the story.

  13. i really enjoyed how you shot this. interesting from start to finish.
    my only (mild) gripes would be: lose the captions- i feel the images are strong enough to speak for themselves.
    also, i felt that you dont need to include all the shots of the deaf girls. i think a single image of them within this piece would speak louder by itself.
    nice work.

  14. Michael, the story is the subculture, the milieu — the one where little deaf girls sleep with their pet ferrets. These photos are not a comprehensive survey of the economics and social dynamics of SE Ohio, but they are a window into those issues from one tiny subset. And it’s Matt’s personal take on it.

  15. That’s a nice interpretation Preston, but I’m not sure it’s entirely consistent with what Matt has written. Maybe though. Hopefully Matt will chime in and clarify things a bit.

  16. I learned long ago here at Burn to ignore the photographers’ intro texts. The photos are the photos. It’s nice for Matt to say he has been documenting this or that and to claim that these things are somehow revelatory, but who cares?

  17. Yeah, of course, he cares — but the photos and the writing are two different things. We commenters spend too much time pointing out the distance between the prose and the pixels.

  18. First off, it is very cool to see the open dialogue occurring about photography in this forum. Thanks for including the work of the EPF finalists in here, DAH and thanks to all the Burn readers for their willingness to engage in discussions. I usually just sit back, watch and read, but wanted to respond to Michael’s question to help put this presentation of the work into more context.

    The images and text shown here are taken directly from the application I submitted for the Burn Emerging Photographers Grant. These images and the accompanying text are excerpts from a larger ongoing book project that is closer to 65 images, exploring daily life throughout the region of Southeastern Ohio. Initially I focused on one family, then another as they began introducing me to people they knew and the project evolved. For that reason there are recurring characters that appear throughout the narrative that I have built relationships with over the last four years. While I hope to bring this project to completion within the next year, some of the families I want to continue documenting for years to come (the deaf twins in particular, Kacey & Lacey, I plan to photograph into early adulthood).

    As Michael said, there is nothing inherently “weird” about ferrets for example, but viewed within the context of Southeastern Ohio animals and pets are very much a part of daily existence and tie in to status symbols and the milieu of the community, which Preston was getting at. Elvis (the zebra in the snow) is contextualized by the fact that the place where he lives (The Wilds) is a reclaimed strip mine and mining was once an economic mainstay for the region.

    Poverty in this part of the country certainly doesn’t look exceptional – it is more in the deprivation of opportunity and the internalized belief that there isn’t anything beyond what people are born into. More than anything this collection of pictures is about a place and the feeling I got from living there, falling in love with the land and the people and ultimately the heartbreak of having to leave.

    I hope this helps clarify some of the questions people have had about the work. I’ll be leaving soon to get back on the road for projects so if I don’t respond to comments on here I’m not ignoring, I’m just out meeting people and making pictures. Thanks again to everyone who has chimed in.


  19. Matt, a great gift has been given by allowing dialog about your work by
    Preston and Michael. They both see such great possibilities. Allowing them to chime in on your project is a conversationevery concerned photographer should cherish. Best of luck on your project, it
    has a great future as do you.

  20. Matt it made my morning to see this essay presented on the front page of burn. The EPF gallery taste of the images has been in my head for weeks.
    What you must be happy about ( i know i am) is that the only thing anyone is kind of disputing is the narrative of these images. Everyone seems to agree that the photos themselves are at such a high level and it seems a few people just want to see more.
    I love that in this one essay I can get a feel for what a mixture of influences you have. Some images are like master paintings ( number 1 and 9…my god) and some are sort of deadpan and new wave-ish. And some are plain old, great photojournalism. I don’t think I’ve ever seen one photographer shoot a photo essay like this, it breaks a lot of rules in that way.
    I have no doubt you have noble intentions with this project but the photos are just so damn good they command my attention over your blurb and captions.
    If that’s not an acheivement, well I don’t know what is.
    Best of luck Matt, I cannot wait to see where you take this photography game next.


  21. Damn. I’m here in Greenland and I forgot my reading glasses and I’ve been missing lots of sleep. I tried to look at this and I can see the images, but they’re just not sharp, even if they are sharp, and now I have a headache as a result and that makes it even worse.

    I’m pretty sure that if I had my glasses and had been getting enough rest and could see this essay clearly and sharply and didn’t have a headache, I would think it was good. It probably is. In fact, I’m sure its good.

    Even blurry, the picture of Jesus did grab me. I thought it was the real thing, the Second Coming and I wondered how you managed to be there to get the image and why I hadn’t heard of it, since we’re all supposed to know when this happens, wherever we are.

    Congratulations. Keep up the good work.

  22. Hi Matt, I wanted to comment on Athens and Connecticut’s similarities.
    We have traveled for the past four years back and forth between Athens, OH and CT. I can attest to its poverty visually. My son can attest to it as a student; he has had many internships in the surrounding areas, and has seen first hand poverty in Athens. Here in CT while we are not rich my husband and I have been able to provide, and keep the family afloat. I believe home is where love abounds regardless of finances. Although finances help alleviate many issues.

    Now that I have been out of work for a year. I realize that CT & Athens are alike when it comes to poverty. This economy is awful. The world hears of Greenwich rarely about other towns or Counties similar to Athens. Many residents here are an inch from deep poverty themselves. CT cannot retain its graduates of any level. Insurance Companies, and big Corporations left or sent the work abroad. The “downtown” area is dead after 6pm no one wants to be “downtown”.

    I’ve watch home prices here slightly dip while the rest of the Country was dropping dramatically. I realize that this small State needs the revenue to survive. CT is between two big cities-NYC and Boston-with lots of people traveling between the two. Perhaps keeping the home and gas prices above the Nation I guess the thinking is that revenue will help sustain the State. In the meantime families who moved here during the insurance boom are uprooting, leaving after many years to go south or the big cities for what they first found here.

    Pictures here as with Athens can depict the declining, sorrowful atmosphere that once strived. Sure we have pockets like Ohio.

    I have met too many young people that have left, or, are fleeing CT in pursue of opportunity no longer presented here. Including our son and probably our daughters, I too have considered leaving to work in another state.

    Poverty is no one’s friend.

    I haven’t viewed your photos yet after reading your essay I wanted to comment first.

  23. I really enjoyed viewing these photographs. Thank you for capturing these images of sorrow, reality, and hope. Very nice work.

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