For more information on the book, Useful Work: Photographs of Hickory Nut Gap Farm, with a preface by the photographer and historical essays by Rob Neufeld, please see the Books & Prints page.
Useful Work: Photographs of Hickory Nut Gap Farm
Ken Abbott’s photography and Hickory Nut Gap Farm is a marriage made in heaven, or about as close as we get to heaven here in the Blue Ridge Mountains in western North Carolina. For almost a hundred years, one extended family has lived on and created a uniquely beautiful farm and community in this place. In Useful Work, Ken Abbott so thoroughly and beautifully depicts the surface and soul of this home and farm, that he reminds us how the best photographers can focus on something seemingly small, yet evoke our common humanity. This book represents an extraordinary achievement in life and in art. – Alex Harris, Center for Documentary Studies, Duke University
Stockyards: Brownfield to Brewery
In 2011 and '12 I documented the buildings, site, and businesses in an area known as Asheville's Stockyards. Formerly the site of a busy trade in cattle and livestock of all kinds, in recent years, the site along the west side of the French Broad River, across from the River Arts District, had taken on a neglected and funky look. Favored by graffiti artists and the homeless, the site still hosted several businesses, including a cafe, a car parts store, an auction house, and a concrete pumping business, as well as others. The buildings, originally tobacco storage warehouses, were dilapidated and overgrown with vines. In other words, it was a great place to make pictures.
Coal River Country
I made these pictures on a trip to document a protest against mountaintop removal mining led by Coal River Mountain Watch, near Whitesville, WV, in March, 2009.
I am not an impartial observer to these events or to the impacts of mountaintop removal mining. However, I am not an activist – no matter that I feel strongly about the situation. I am a photographer and even in this case, my primary interest is photography. I am trying to work out what photographic form is appropriate for such polarized content, and whether it is possible (or useful) to respond as an artist there – to try to work beyond polemics toward the universal.
I have a feeling that the pictures need to be uninflected and straight-forward, and that I must trust that what is within the frame of the camera, at my eye is, simply, enough.
Robert Adams said to me once, “the best pictures contain contradictory but truthful things.” I believe that art can provide resolution, as in the resolution of form and content. The result is a kind of beauty, a quantity of hope. Looking at the pictures now, I realize that they are an expression of my faith as an artist in the power of form to resolve conflict.
Pole or Mast photography
Photograph using 8 meter "photomast", for a low-elevation aerial panorama
I use a tethered, helium filled balloon to lift a high resolution digital camera, to make photoplans as well as panoramic images for elevations as high as 400 or more feet.
Asheville Stockyards - panorama
Asheville Stockyards - photo mosaic/photo plan
Images made using the balloon lofted camera, then pieced together in Photoshop using a Google map base for orientation and scale.