"Social documentary has to go beyond propaganda. It has to speak to people's lives and struggles"
In his book Appalachia USA, the photographer Builder Levy has done what Australian photographers have not yet done.
Levy has documented the destruction caused by the mining industries, particularly the coal industry, in the Appalachian region of the USA.
Levy has spent 45 years photographing the effects of mining on communities, families, livelihoods, ways of life and ecosystems and environments in the Appalachain region and his new book Appalachia USA contains over 600 photos taken since 1968.
Despite its massive mineral wealth, Appalachia is one of the poorest regions in the US. The extractive industries, particularly the coal industry, have made massive profits, whilst polluting the land,water and air and capturing democracy to serve their corporate interests and plundering from the public purse. In excess of 100,000 coal workers have been killed in mining accidents.
Levy's photography springs from his deep commitment to progressive ideals and to social, economic and racial justice. But his work is neither didactic nor polemical
"I always wanted to show people's struggles. And I wanted to show people with humanity, dignity, culture and heritage that others might not know about. you want to go beyond the superficial and stereotype.... What I needed from my art was to be able to talk about what was going on in the world, out there in the streets. I could do that with photography.”
As well as Appalachia, Levy has photographed inner-city New York City where he was a NYC teacher of at-risk adolescents for 35 years; civil rights and peace demonstrations (in the 1960s & new millennium), Mongolia and other developing nations including Cuba, Venezuela, Mexico, Brazil, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia.