A spark was lit once again and Rich-Joseph finally returned back to his medium after a short hiatus, which was inherently driven by a meeting with one of his neighbours – a young man named Erik, with tattoos across his forehead. “I immediately knew I wanted to take his portrait,” he adds. “But I found myself sitting in my truck talking myself out of approaching him. Thankfully, I overcame my reluctance, grabbed my camera, got out of the truck and tapped on the window of his car. I introduce myself and gave him my pitch. He obliged.” The debut photograph of the project, Rich-Joseph had no initial plan for this to be the start of an ongoing series. “The portrait was exactly what I needed to rekindle my drive for image-making and to begin exploring life in Appalachia with my camera.”
Despite Rich-Joseph’s valid concerns about what life would be like in Appalachia, he was delightfully surprised and assured by his surroundings: “much of what was imposed onto Appalachia did not mirror my own personal understanding of the region,” he notes. “That being the case, I felt a need to celebrate the heritage, culture and history of this land and to also visually share my experience within this community.” While out on errands – walking or driving around – he’d notice things on the way and pull over to take a picture. He never spent too long with his subjects, usually between five to 20 minutes, but this adds a candid level of spontaneity to the imagery. He was honest and upfront about his motives, and resultantly stumbled across a community of “loving, kind and proud people”, whose similarities were greatly larger than their differences.
There are so many stories to be unearthed throughout Rich-Joseph’s Black Diamonds, having met a range of inspiring people in the process of shooting, like Gary, an “avid outdoorsman”, carpenter, skateboarder and the closest friend he’s made in Appalachia. Or Ms. Roberta, who at first was skeptical of being photographed, but eventually approved so long as Rich-Joseph would tell her stories with utmost truth and sincerity. Black Diamonds is a kind and honest documentation of the community he’s now part of. “I’d like my audience to view the book, in its entirety, with an open mind, heart and eyes,” he says. “I want the audience to know that those who live here in this micro-region of Appalachia receive the work as a recognition of my true admiration for this community that has given me a place to call home.”