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Photos show 'the other West Virginia'

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Betty Rivard's upcoming lecture based on her book of photos of the state during the 1930s and '40s will focus on "the other West Virginia" -- not the one that garners mostly negative national attention.

"When I say the other West Virginia, I'm talking about the positive part of West Virginia," Rivard said. "The book does include some images of people in very destitute situations, but that's not the major part of the book, and that was deliberate."

Rivard's book, "New Deal Photographs of West Virginia: 1934-43," was produced by 10 professional photographers who visited the state as part of the Farm Security Administration Project.

The photographers took more than 1,600 photos during their time in the state, and Rivard selected 150 to publish in her 2012 book.

An event on Jan. 7 at the Culture Center titled, "The 'Other' West Virginia: Positive Images of the State from the 30s and 40s" will sample some of those photographs, and tap into what Rivard believes they mean about the past and the future of the state.

There were four purposes for the photographs as part of the FSA project, Rivard said: to show the problems, to show what the government was trying to do to help, to show everyday life in small, rural communities and to show life on the home front during the war years.

"In selecting the photos, I tried to reflect the overall balance of the state. I just felt that it was a way for all of us to connect to those real memories people have and the stories they've told," she said. "What's been so great for me is to find out that that's happened. I've done book singings and someone will just look at me and say thank you. It's really great."

The lecture's title is a spin on Michael Harrington's 1962 book, "The Other America," which focuses on poverty in the U.S. and in a way, parallels the stories told in Rivard's book, she said.

"[Harrington] introduced the country to poverty, and then West Virginia became a sort of poster child for that," Rivard said. "The positive side of West Virginia is also invisible the way poverty was in the early '60s."

Rivard's lecture will be held in the Archives and History Library at the Culture Center at 6 p.m on Jan. 7.

Her next exhibit is slated for April at the Art Emporium on Quarrier Street. Rivard's latest project includes photos of her hometown of Detroit, and glimpses of what she calls "a comeback" from the city's economic downfall.

The photos are reminiscent of past exhibits, and follows what has become Rivard's niche: finding the beauty in hard times.

"There's something so brave about these people who find the positives and the beauty in tough situations even though they don't have control of the environment around them," she said.

The FSA Project photographs in the "New Deal" book are available for download through the Library of Congress at www.loc.gov/pictures/collection/fsa. The photographs are free and in the public domain.

For more information, contact Rivard at bettyrivard@yahoo.com.

Reach Mackenzie Mays at mackenzie.mays@wvgazette.com or 304-348-4814.


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