As I was perusing my RSS feeds today I saw that APAD had mentioned that the new Soul of Athens project was live. If you’re not familiar with it, Soul of Athens was started last year as an online location for multimedia photojournalism pieces about Athens County by local Ohio University students. And as you probably didn’t know, I grew up in Athens…so I was glad to check it out. The first story I clicked on (in a format where I could only see words) was titled Love, Loss and Land. As the farmer with a familiar drawl started reading a poem for his dead wife I thought, wait, is that Dave? Sure enough, the story is about Dave Bircher, who happens to be a close family friend. He lives down the (gravel) road from my parents. My dad used to play penny-ante poker with him and the other local farmers. I was at the funeral where Dave read that poem about his wife Connie.
It’s a strange sensation to see someone you know translated into black-and-white images and audio voice over. I imagine Dave feels the same way, as does anyone who has every been the subject of any kind of journalism. But overall the piece didn’t make me uncomfortable. (If that sounds like an backhanded compliment, it’s not.) It didn’t unfairly idealize or doom the farming life. It didn’t sensationalize the pain Dave felt when Connie died or the happiness we’re happy he found with his second wife, Nancy. And when I could manage to step far enough away from the images to see them somewhat objectively, I could tell they were simply beautiful. And then I noticed who had made them. Aha, no wonder. Matt Eich and I got to know each other last year when I was organizing American Photo‘s Emerging Talent issue, in which he was featured. Being from Athens, I had to meet this kid studying there who was blowing everyone away with his talent when he was only 21. We had some drinks when I went home for the holidays and he came to see me last time he was in New York. It’s a small, small world sometimes — and it’s nice to be reminded that photographs can make it even smaller.
(Photo: © Matt Eich)