Aaron Blum – A Guide To Folk Taxonomy

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Aaron Blum

A Guide To Folk Taxonomy

Appalachia pulls at me like a haunted memory. It is a place of nebulous forests, moss blankets and dark corners where secrets are kept and folklore thrives.

Human nature moves us to classify the things that make up our world. We describe our culture and surroundings through self-made dialect called folk taxonomy. This type of language and folklore helps to create and sustain regional identities and pass our existence on to future generations.

A Guide To Folk Taxonomy infuses Appalachian mystery with pseudo-scientific study as well as personal experience as a lifetime Appalachian resident. I see this place through idealized eyes of wonder. These images are my folklore.




Aaron Blum is an eighth-generation Scots-Irish Appalachian from the hills of Appalachia; which is the center of his artistic work. After graduating with degrees in photography from West Virginia University and Syracuse University, Aaron immediately began receiving recognition for his photographs including the Juror’s Choice Award at Center: Santa Fe, Critical Mass top 50, Magenta Flash Forward, and FOAM talent. His work has been widely exhibited both nationally and internationally as well as featured by the likes of Fraction Magazine, CNN, BBC and the New Yorker. His work has been included in the permanent collections of the Haggerty Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Art and Duke Documentary Studies.


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Aaron Blum

6 Responses to “Aaron Blum – A Guide To Folk Taxonomy”

  • Essays such as this mud country …this is not real life …Bills essay. ….west seem to work better in this format that burn presents the story telling is just that much more poignant and refined. The camera and the photographers vision rule as opposed to so many of the EPF finalists that present ….What could be.

    The incomplete does not equate to quality

  • I thought this looked familiar. You can see an alternate edit here: http://www.newyorker.com/culture/photo-booth/another-side-of-appalachia

    It brings home the point that Blum’s work does not contain the usual poverty-pornish tropes about Appalachia, but rather shows it more from the perspective of a middle class resident.

    By way of contrast, the article links to this story that discusses Appalachian stereotypes, and some of the larger, associated problems of documentary photography. http://www.americansuburbx.com/2015/05/kate-fowler-appalachia-as-other-stacy-kranitz.html

    That link also contains some stunning photos of the kind we are more accustomed to seeing:

    In addition to subverting the tropes, which imo are badly in need of subverting; I think it brings up questions about dramatic vs. non-dramatic photography, and does a little subversion in that context as well.

  • akin to my beloved Charles Wrights poetry……..Aaron’s work is lyrical and richly complex, and i would argue much more complex that it’s ‘easy beauty’ surface…i mean, the pictures are beautiful and yet, the have such a layered complexity to them that belies their straight forward surface…..and i love the photograph of the woman with glasses: her expression, as if a reanimation of a C.D. Wright poem…

    there is so much beauty in this project…in aaron;s work, in the discipline of taxonomy….the set the grace of things by our inimical need to categorize, even that which resists such strains…..

    and David, don’t get upset with me, but Aaron’s work is infinitely more wise and powerful and insightful than Bruce’s silly cliche that he pinned for VICE last year…more insight and mystery here…and most important, he tangles the incredibly RICH LITERARY TRADITION of that area: the oral tradition of songs and tales and music….its profoundly biblical orientation…not to wonder that Cormac Mccarthy’s first takes place there…..this work stands along Peter Van Agtamel’s and some of the work by Soth, as most beautiful and haunted and complex of that I’ve seen tackling Appalachia….

    It’s fabulous to see the work here…thrilling….

    this magical light, channeling Terrence Mallick, Moonshine and the Moths that sift upon our hearts…….


    The Appalachian Book of the Dead Related Poem Content Details

    Sunday, September Sunday … Outdoors,
    Like an early page from The Appalachian Book of the Dead,
    Sunlight lavishes brilliance on every surface,
    Doves settle, surreptitious angels, on tree limb and box branch,
    A crow calls, deep in its own darkness,
    Something like water ticks on
    Just there, beyond the horizon, just there, steady clock …

    Go in fear of abstractions …
    Well, possibly. Meanwhile,
    They are the strata our bodies rise through, the sere veins
    Our skins rub off on.
    For instance, whatever enlightenment there might be
    Housels compassion and affection, those two tributaries
    That river above our lives,
    Whose waters we sense the sense of
    late at night, and later still.

    Uneasy, suburbanized,
    I drift from the lawn chair to the back porch to the dwarf orchard
    Testing the grass and border garden.
    A stillness, as in the passageways of Paradise,
    Bell jars the afternoon.
    Leaves, like ex votos, hang hard and shine
    Under the endlessness of heaven.
    Such skeletal altars, such vacant sanctuary.

    It always amazes me
    How landscape recalibrates the stations of the dead,
    How what we see jacks up
    the odd quotient of what we don’t see,
    How God’s breath reconstitutes our walking up and walking down.
    First glimpse of autumn, stretched tight and snicked, a bad face lift,
    Flicks in and flicks out,
    a virtual reality.
    Time to begin the long division.
    –Charles Wright

  • Nice photos Aaron. You live in a beautiful part of the country.
    One question is why all the salamander shots? The portraits of people are good, but showing some in their daily life working or passing time, rather than posed looking into the camera, might be more insightful. Captions would be helpful to understand and tie things together.

  • The fairground photograph is lovely!

  • Hello Skiwaves,
    All the salamanders are actually a big part of the origin of the project. There are more species in Appalachia than any where else on earth. It is because of the hills and how they become isolated that there are so many variations. This is one of the inspirations for the project.

    This is the excerpt that accompanies one of them in the book I am working on for this project.

    As a child I would explore the small creeks and streams around my home in hopes of capturing salamanders. When I would succeed I would hold them in my hands and admire their slender bodies and beauty. I could not have imagined that they would become an essential aspect of my understanding of Appalachian culture. There are more salamander species in Appalachia than anywhere else on earth. The isolated mountains and recesses transformed them like the finches of the Galapagos, each one different in shape, color, and ability. Some so secluded the entire population is confined to a particular rock or tree or county. How then does this place, these hills, affect a person? How then do the mountains mold us?

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