By Nicole Hennessy
Describing a trip to Appalachian West Virginia earlier this year, Chad Cochran hesitated to call it life-changing, avoiding the cliche.
Instead, he said, “It changed me as a person.”
Photographing scenes he found upsetting, but at the same time comforting, having grown up in a small town in southern Ohio before moving to Bay Village, Cochran realized the difference between this environment and the one he’d experienced as a child was the issue of abandonment.
Many of the deteriorating homes in West Virginia were still occupied, his photos capturing their stages of decay and the landscapes around them thriving, but absent of figures. Each of them much more than evidence of ruin, but commentary of how lives are lived in communities that seem further away from Bay than a few hours’ drive.
After his trip, Cochran edited his photos. Refusing to let them become useless novelties mounted and framed, he contacted a nonprofit called Remote Area Medical, which provides medical care to impoverished populations across the country, committing proceeds of the sales from his collection, “Homes of Appalachia,” to the organization.
He also raised $1,000 through the sale of his photos for his hometown of Fredericktown’s football stadium after the worn-out bleachers had to be torn down.
“My real job,” Cochran said, “affords me the opportunity where I don’t really have to make a lot of money doing photography. It’s more of a hobby and I can use it as my social giveback.”
Urban ruin photography, popular in post-industrial cities like Cleveland and Detroit, also tell the stories Cochran found in each of these homes, though his subjects are rural. There are many motivations for documenting ruin, ranging from thrill seeking to Cochran’s, which is storytelling.
“Even if a home is torn down, those stories and those voices still exist,” he said, mentioning situations like the toll of corporate farming on small towns.
Hoping to both raise awareness of the struggles faced by people in the Appalachian area, as well as funds for Remote Area Medical, Cochran continues to compile new collections, most recently a photo series called “Ten Rooms,” the title of which “comes from a speech a woman who lived in my town presented 200 times,” he said.
After doing some research he found that the speech wasn’t written by the woman, but published by Reader’s Digest sometime in the early 1930s.
It begins, “Perhaps you think you could easily add to your happiness if you had more money. Strange as it may seem, if you’re unsatisfied, the issue is not a lack of means to gratify your desires but a lack of desires – not that you cannot satisfy your tastes, but that you don’t have enough tastes.”
Continuing, the speech goes through 10 points the writer believes will help people obtain true happiness if focused upon, including art, work, children, music and the outdoors, each point representing a room “in the house of life.”
“Most people are already swamped with things. They eat too much, wear too much, go too much, live in too big a house, hear too much, and talk too much,” the speech concludes.
“I know people who live in houses of brick and stone where there are too many rooms, yet their house of life is a hut.”
SIDE BAR: Chad Cochran’s Appalachian photos can be seen in a current show at BAYarts titled “The Sky Is Falling.” The show also includes the photography of Jeff Swenson, and will be on display until May 3.