2015–2019

HELLBENDER

(née Good Bad People)
Collaboration with Heith Copes, Ph.D, University of Alabama at Birmingham Department of Criminology


In April 1862 – just a year into the American Civil War – The New York Times reported on a dispatch from Union troops titled, “Advance into Alabama.” It read:

An hour before sundown we reached another barren region inhabited by poor white trash. Their houses were of the worst imaginable description, and how they managed to obtain a living upon such as soil, was a problem to us. Yet hither the pitiless monopoly of the slaveholding class had driven them, and, by some means were other, they managed to wring sufficient food to keep themselves and their children from starving, out of these inhospitable rocks.1

Impressions of Alabama have changed little in 150 years, particularly as the roots of deep poverty have perpetuated class division and precipitated widespread drug addiction. Photographed in collaboration with University of Alabama at Birmingham sociologist Heith Copes, Ph.D., Hellbender tells the complex, often contradictory stories of more than two dozen people from Sand Mountain, a sandstone plateau in northeast Alabama infamous for extreme poverty, poultry processing plants, Pentecostal snake-handlers, and meth production. Through the combination of first person accounts, research analysis, documentary photographs, and participant-made images, Hellbender seeks to engage with the current conversation concerned with the pivotal political role and cultural identity of the rural American South while considering how people who use methamphetamine navigate social and economic marginalization.

Southern Gothic literature has described the American South as a deeply flawed place, where the lives of eccentric characters are shaped by poverty, alienation, crime, and violence as they struggle through morally questionable actions to make sense of the world around them. Characters in stories by Flannery O’Connor, Carson McCullers, and Harry Crews both embody the madness, despair, and decay found in the social realities that surround them and offer critique of conventional cultural understandings. Similarly, Hellbender tells the stories of Chico, an ex-convict, meth dealer, and self-proclaimed member of the Aryan Brotherhood; Ryan and Alice, a young runaway couple on the brink of a lifetime of addiction; Willow, a transient, chronic binge user; and Fred, a long-time user who lost everything he owned in a house fire.

1 “Gen. Mitchell’s March Into Alabama,” originally published by The New York Times, April 14, 1862 and reprinted in Salvation on Sand Mountain by Dennis Covington, Addison-Wesley, 1995.


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Select publications:
  • with Heith Copes and Fiona Brookman, “Sex, Drugs and Coercive Control: Gendered Narratives of Methamphetamine Use, Relationships, and Violence.” Criminology, forthcoming.
  • with Heith Copes, Lindsay Leban, “Changing Narratives of Intimate Partner Violence: A Longitudinal Photo-Ethnography.” Conflict and Society, forthcoming.
  • Catherine Wilkins. “Jared Ragland: Photography and the Cultivation of Visual Citizenship.” Interdisciplinary Humanities, Fall 2019, Volume 36, Number 3: 45-60.
  • with Heith Copes and Adam Forrester, “Caught In-Between: A Video Essay of Masculine Identity and Meth Use in the Rural South.” Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice & Criminology, Volume 10, Issue 1, 2021. DOI: 10.21428/88de04a1.6b435bfe.
  • Heith Copes. “Visual Criminology with ...Qualitative...Criminology.” The Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice and Criminology, August 12, 2020. DOI: 10.21428/88de04a1.e575325e.
  • “Snapshot: Willow, 37.” Southern Cultures, Volume 26, Number 1 (Documentary Moment): 172-173. DOI: 10.1353/scu.2020.0002
  • with Heith Copes, Whitney Tchoula. “Ethically Representing Drug Use: Photographs and Ethnographic Research with People Who Use Methamphetamine.” Journal of Qualitative Criminal Justice & Criminology, Fall 2019, Volume 8, Issue 1: 21-35.
  • with Heith Copes, Andy Hochstetler. “The Stories in Pictures: The Value of the Visual for Narrative Criminology.” In J. Fleetwood, L. Presser, S. Sandberg, and T. Ugelvik, eds., Emerald Handbook of Narrative Criminology. Emerald, 2019.
  • with Heith Copes, Whitney Marsh, Fiona Brookman. “Photo-elicitation Interviews with Vulnerable Populations: Practical and Ethical Considerations.” Deviant Behavior, 9: 388-401, 2018.
  • with Heith Copes, Whitney Marsh, Jennifer Kim. “Symbolic Perceptions of Methamphetamine: Differentiating between Ice and Shake.” International Journal of Drug Policy, January 2018, Volume 51, 87-94.
  • with Heith Copes. “Considering the Implicit Meanings in Photographs in Narrative Criminology.” Crime Media Culture, 12: 271, August 2016.
  • Catherine Wilkins. “Foreign Domestic: Identification and Differentiation as Pedagogical Strategy in Good Bad People.” Focal Plane, July 2016.

Textbooks:
  • Heith Copes and Jared Ragland. “Women, Relationships, and Methamphetamine: A Longitudinal Photo-Ethnography.” In M. Lindegaard & L. Berkmoes, eds., Longitudinal Ethnography, forthcoming. 
  • Heith Copes, Andy Hochstetler, and Jared Ragland. “The Stories in Pictures: The Value of the Visual for Narrative Criminology.” In J. Fleetwood, L. Presser, S. Sandberg, and T. Ugelvik, eds., Emerald Handbook of Narrative Criminology. Emerald, 2019.

Awards:
  • 2018 Dorothea Lange–Paul Taylor Prize, Semi-finalist, Duke University, Durham, NC
  • 2018 New York Times Portfolio Review, New York, NY
  • 2017 PhotoNOLA Review Prize, Third Place, New Orleans, LA
  • 2017 Alabama State Council on the Arts Photography/Media Fellowship Grant, Montgomery, AL
  • 2017 All About Photo Awards Merit Gallery
  • 2016 FotoWeekDC Photojournalism/Documentary Series, First Place, Washington, DC
  • 2016 Dotphotozine Award for Excellence in Photography, Finalist

Press:

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Select works:


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