Monday, October 7, 2013

Rob Amberg

Rob Amberg was born in Washington, DC in 1947. After stints in Dayton, Ohio, for college and Tucson, Arizona, where he performed alternative service for his draft status as a Conscientious Objector, Amberg moved to western North Carolina in 1973 and has been there ever since. Throughout his career Amberg has been on staff or done assignment work for non-profit organizations and philanthropic foundations. His work has largely focused on rural communities, family farms, and the environment and is based largely in the South. His photographs are regularly published and exhibited nationally and last year he began blogging at He is the recipient of awards from the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the North Carolina Humanities Council, the Center for Documentary Studies, and others. Photographs are included in numerous public and private collections and his archive will be housed at the Rubenstein Rare Books and Manuscript Room at Duke University. Since moving to Madison County, Amberg has written and photographed the evolving culture and environment of his adopted county. His first book, Sodom Laurel Album, was published in 2002 by the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke and the University of North Carolina Press. His second book from Madison County, The New Road: I-26 and the Footprints of Progress in Appalachia, was published in 2009 by the Center for American Places at Columbia College Chicago. To complete the trilogy, a third book, tentatively titled ShatterZone, is in progress. He lives on a small farm with his wife, Leslie Stilwell, their daughter Kate, and an assortment of animals.

View more of Rob's work here

Project Statement

These photographs are part of a work-in-progress I have titled ShatterZone. This project is meant to accompany my previous books, Sodom Laurel Album and The New Road, as book three in a trilogy about Madison County, North Carolina. Shatter zone is an 18th-century term that refers to an area of fissured or cracked rock that forms a network of veins that are often filled with mineral deposits. The phrase took on new meaning after World War II when anthropologists and political scientists began using it to speak of borderlands. In this modern definition shatter zones are places of refuge from, and resistance to, capitalist economies, state making, and state rule. Appalachia and Madison County have always fit that definition. Throughout the county’s history, people have seen it as a place to retreat to and resist the outside world. Native Americans built no permanent settlements, but actively utilized it as a summer/fall hunting ground. Anglo settlers built lasting homes, but at great enough distances apart to insure their isolation. During the Civil War, deserters and resisters from both sides of the conflict hid out and conspired within the county’s boundaries. A century later, resisters and veterans from Vietnam, and refugees from the country’s cultural wars, found Madison to be a place to weather economic, social, and environmental upheaval in the company of a like-minded local population. Fast-forwarding forty years, Madison’s present population of locals, young professionals, artists, retirees, back-to-the-landers, developers, and primitive dwellers continue to think of it as a place of refuge and resistance. “It’s my hideout.” “It’s quiet and dark.” “People will leave you alone.” “You can live off the grid.” These are commonly used sentiments in describing the county and what draws people to it. But those same sentiments keep many people away. “You’ve got to be crazy to live out there, “ non-residents will say, and newcomers quickly realize Madison County is not for everyone. It takes a total rethinking of your relationship with community and requires new skills, new tools, and new ways of interacting with your surroundings. And while the community may be unified by an almost singular reason for being here, there are also clear points of conflict – zoning, land use, politics, religion, culture, language – with each offering potential for fracturing the community. These dynamics are the making of ShatterZone. This portfolio of images represents work from 1975 to the present.

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