CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- For more than 45 years, Builder Levy has traveled throughout central Appalachia photographing the people, buildings and landscapes of historic coal towns.
"Appalachia USA," his new book, reprints 69 of his photographs from the coalfields. Some portray historic coal towns like Welch, along with pictures of nearby tipples and churches.
The book offers an array of powerful images of men and women working underground in mines across the coalfields in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky, in places like Mingo and Wyoming counties. Other pictures show miners heading home after the end of their shifts in places like Kayford Branch Mine on Cabin Creek.
Several photographs feature African-American miners and families living in the Appalachian coalfields.
"Appalachia USA" is filled with engaging photographs of children living in coal camp houses, many happy and some rather sad. Some play with friends, ride bicycles or feed their dolls. Others just stand inside their homes.
During a visit to a preschool/kindergarten class at Dixie Elementary School in Nicholas County in 2008, Levy asked Shelby Mari Hagan, "What are you doing?"
Holding her doll, Shelby told him, "I'm feeding the baby because it's hungry." The school principal told Levy most children in the school, including Shelby, qualified for the free lunch program.
Dramatic images Levy shot from 10 airplane flights he recently took in southern West Virginia and eastern Kentucky portray major damages caused by mountaintop removal mining.
These photographs also include shots of former Secretary of State Ken Hechler being arrested during a 2009 protest against mountaintop removal near Sundial and of Marsh Fork Elementary School, which was relocated after years of being in the shadow of a nearby Massey Energy sludge pond.
"The mountains themselves - the most biodiverse in North America and among the oldest in the world - have been central to my interests," Levy wrote. "My primary focus remains, however, the quotidian life of the people and their enduring humanity."
Country music legend Kathy Mattea, a native West Virginian herself, said, "These pictures took my breath away the first time I saw them. There's a fierceness and a reverence juxtaposed in these images. They capture the spirit of a place, a time, a way of life."