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Monday, May 18, 2009

MEDIA HYPE AND POPCORN SUTTON


Don Dudenbostel/Special to the News Sentinel

Moonshiner Marvin "Popcorn" Sutton talks to Knoxville photographer Don Dudenbostel in March 2007 at his still in Parrottsville. The photograph was made only hours before the still exploded, bring agents of the ATF who found 850 gallons of Popcorn's best.

33 comments:

  1. That day was the start of Popcorn's demise, I think!

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  2. "...molded into something that we want them to be" sums it up, Gary. But I expect Sky's take on her father is rather different than the popular version. I also suspect that Popcorn was the best maker of his own myth -- as, probably, are we all.

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  3. I reviewed Sky's book and found her take both angry and grief-stricken. I think she both resented Popcorn and yearned for his approval. A lot of us are familiar with that contradiction.

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  4. Betty Cloer WallaceMay 18, 2009 at 9:35 PM

    Ah, well, Gary.

    So now Popcorn is PHOTO-SHOPPED to the size of a little leprechaun in the presence of the giant Leibowitz-wannabe Don what's-his-name?

    Popcorn sitting upon his still only HOURS before it explodes?

    Oh, gee, golly, whiz.

    Whoever devised this abomination of history (and exploitation of our culture) ought to be horse-whipped, including the East Tennessee Historical Society for contributing to (cashing in on) this travesty of fabricated imagery.

    And the photos are even going on a road show to national museums? Along with snake-handling preachers and mule-skinners?

    Oh, my.

    A legend, yes, because he was. But not because of this. Because of this Popcorn is reduced to a joke. And his real contribution to the region's history will be lost.

    I hope Popcorn's ghost rises up to haunt all these opportunists.

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  5. Good one Betty. Popcorn does look like a little leprechaun sitting there on his pot of gold! But I'd say that guy is an ersatz Walker Evans as opposed to an Annie Leibowitz. One things a certainty though- I'd sure hate to be the outlander who used the "H" word in your presence!

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  6. Thank you, Steve. You must a'been reading the Mountain Xpress. If not, check it out--over 250 comments at last count regarding the obnoxious Molton "Pigdemic" cartoon about hillbillies fornicating with pigs, "Fighting Back: It's time to declare war on hillbilly stereotypes" (my original commentary), and "Hillbilly hypocrisy" (someone else's letter to the newspaper about the Pigdemic cartoon and my commentary), which generated a whole new round of response. It's been going on for more than a week now--and I need to get back to my gardening!

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  7. And, Steve, the other piece of the Mountain Xpress adventure is "Retract Pigdemic" wherein people are calling upon Mountain Xpress to retract the offensive cartoon. I, by the way, am not one of those since I don't know how one would go about retracting a cartoon. Rather like un-ringing a bell, isn't it? I'd rather try to rehabilitate the poor misguided soul.

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  8. I decided a couple of years ago that there are too many battles to be fought and the ones on misconceptions of Appalachia are the most frustrating and probably pointless. I find that they sap my energy ... energy that could be better spent on something "creative." I remain interested in Popcorn because he goes beyond stereotyping. Popcorn, after all, is what this post is about.

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  9. I find that I've got to eat a little crow. I watched the Neal Hutcheson film on Popcorn last night and I have to admit that I was totally captivated by the whole thing. My wife said, "Well you have to admit that he is kinda cute." Plus, it's a great how to DVD for someone that wanted to make their own spiritous beverages.

    So Popcorn, if you're looking over my shoulder as you read this, "I'm sorry for SOME of the things that I said about you."

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  10. Ah, well. Lots of folks (including myself) have responded to Popcorn the way you have, David. He is both an insult and a parody, I think. I also like the idea that, although Popcorn is gone, he is still showing folks how to make moonshine in "The Last Run," and there isn't a damned thing the government can do about it.

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  11. Betty I'm not certain how you come to such a conclusions about my work and me personally. I'm certainly not a "Liebowitz-wannabe" and find little in common with her or her work. My work extends back over forty years prior to any knowledge of Liebowitz. If you compare my work you'll see I work in a pure documentary style. Also if you know my work and my subjects you will see I represent them in a totally objective manner. My images are honest and are in no way fabricated. Whether anyone likes it or not Appalachian culture is still alive and strong although I will admit it is fading. My reason for documenting Appalachian culture is to preserve the last remnants of what was once the dominant culture of the mountains. Once it's gone it will be gone for ever and written and photographic records will be all that remains. No one dislikes the the term hillbilly more than me. I've lived in the south nearly sixty years and and have resented the hilbilly tag all of my life. My exhibition that will tour is not to promote the image of the hilbilly but to show others how it was not how it is. If it hadn't been for photographers like Edward Curtis, Walker Evans, Lewis Hine and many others part of our American culture would be lost for ever. Not all of the past is pretty but it's still part of our history.

    Don Dudenbostel

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  12. Betty I thought I should add a couple of comments regarding my photographs. As to photo shop, Popcorn weighed 85 pounds. I towered over him at over 6'2" and 240 pounds. No photoshop needed there. Opportunist, no, I was invited by him to document his whiskey production and his life. If you want to see photography promoting the hilbilly culture and making fools of the people just check out the work of Shelby Lee Adams.

    Before you pass judgement on a person and his/her work please take the rime to do a little research before you assassinate someone. Reading your comments about me and my work would lead me to believe you're a rude and shallow person but I would imagine there's more substance to you than what first impressions lead me to believe. Just guessing from your writing I would say you are not from the south and have only lived here for a few years. You picture yourself as progressive and open minded. Your remarks lead me to believe you really don't know the people of Appalachia and have little interest in finding anything out about them other than your neighbors that are transplants like you. Now if I did some research and took the time to get to know you and your work I think I would find a decent person. Would that be correct?

    I'm not a true native but have lived here almost sixty years. I spent the first years of my life in a small coal and oil town in Illinois living with my older brother and parents in a chicken coop on the back of my grandfathers property. We had a light bulb, potbelly stove and cold water spicket with an outhouse behind the building. My grandparents didn't have an inside toilet until the late 60's. My grandfather was a honey dipper (cleaned out outhouses) and then became a janitor which enabled him yo put in a bathroom. I've come a long way since then but can remember the days when I didn't have anything giving me a closer perspective and respect for the people I photograph.

    One correction that needs to be made about the article. There will be a total of roughly 70 photographs but only one or two of Popcorn. Please come to the show and see the work and meet me before making a judgment.

    If you want to chat I can be reached at xrayarts@tds.net.

    Don Dudenbostel

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  13. Well, Don, I will agree with you about one thing. There is, to my knowledge, no greater shame masquerading as art than the work of Shelby Adams.
    Ironically, Shelby's extensive collection of Appalachian photographs were recommended to me by a fellow that found them "sensitive and moving." I was sickened. However, I decided to not jump to this conclusion based on one collection, so I ordered the Netflex film and got my hands on all of the "collections.' I felt violated. I was especially offended by the New York exhibits which the film covered. There were those sophisticated N. Y. folks looking at Shelby's photographs of deformed subjects and elderly poor. The N. Y. viewers looked shocked. All I could think was, there we were, we Appalachian folks, just as they thought we would look. Most distressing of all was Shelby's passionate vows that he loved these people and that they loved him and they had willingly posed for him. Ah, well, I need to hush.
    Gary Carden

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  14. Thanks, Gary, for calling Don Dudenbostel’s comments to my attention, or else I would have missed them.

    Don, I do not go around being intentionally rude, but I do get my neck hairs up when insulted, for myself and my family and friends and my culture---hence, my raised-neck-hair reaction to your ET Historical Society tour of photographs of Popocorn Sutton and snake-handling preachers and mule-skinners, which surely do fit the bill of stereotypical insult.

    If the photographs were on tour as “stereotypes,” that would be understandable, but to continue to perpetuate such century-old stereotypes in the name of actual historical preservation of a culture is cliche at best and abomination at worst. After a century of this kind of stereotypical insult, how many more times do we need to repeat it? What is new or insightful in this tour of photographs?

    No, I did not research you or your photography. Gary’s blog entry on “Media Hype and Popcorn Sutton” with quotes from you and the Knoxville newspaper were enough for me. I do not know your entire oeuvre, and I was not commenting on your life’s work or even your entire collection of photographs in the ET Historical Society tour. I was commenting only on what I read in Gary’s blog about the Knoxville newspaper article about you.

    Popcorn set himself up as an entrepreneurial stereotype for the tourists who actually believed he was the real thing, or at least they wanted to believe him. As Jeff Biggers says, “America loves its hillbillies,” simply because they sell copy, and Popcorn surely knew how to sell his stereotypical self.

    Your comment in the Knoxville newspaper that you had “caught the essence of the man” is what reminded me of Annie Leibowitz (she always makes that statement of her subjects and objects)---not any comparison of your work with hers.

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    As for snake-handling preachers, I have never understood how people could believe that a small deviant religious practice that arose in this century could be mistaken for a significant root of our culture. I really don’t think our early Scottish-English-Irish-Welsh-German Anglican-Presbyterian forefathers brought snake-handling here, but somehow it just keeps on being trotted out as representative of who we are, along with rotten-toothed moonshiners in one-gallused overalls. (By the way, I read somewhere that there are more snake-handling sects in Los Angeles than in the Southern Appalachians, but Los Angeles is not “defined” by them.)

    As for me, you write, quite erroneously: “Just guessing from your writing I would say you are not from the south and have only lived here for a few years. You picture yourself as progressive and open minded. Your remarks lead me to believe you really don't know the people of Appalachia and have little interest in finding anything out about them other than your neighbors that are transplants like you.”

    Well, Don, how you concluded all those prejudicial and judgmental opinions about me is a real mystery!

    Actually, my ancestors through all my family tree branches have been in WNC since the 1700s, and many branches have been recorded through many centuries, e.g. the Sheltons of Madison County, who have had volumes written and movies made and songs sung about them. (Google “Roderick Shelton” and then go backward and forward in time if you want a real historical look at Southern Appalachian culture.)

    The gravest error I have seen during my whole life is that so many people think we need other people to tell us who we “really” are, and where we came from, and what our culture is, and how we should preserve our heritage. It is my belief that the debased stereotypes will remain long after our “real” culture is gone---through cartoon characters and denigrating movies and selective “representational” photographs and bad novels.

    Here’s one of my own quotes from essays that made the rounds through the blogosphere this year:

    /// It becomes increasingly harder to identify native mountaineers…..and within a few more generations our real culture may fade into oblivion even as the stereotypes linger. Our centuries-old heritage will be gone, and children in the future will ask, "Who exactly were the hillbillies? Where did they live? Where did they go?" And their mothers will respond, “They were lazy toothless ignorant people in old movies, dear, who ate possums and tourists, but you must not say that ‘h’ word aloud. It’s politically incorrect.”///

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  16. I invite you to the show to learn a little about my work and me. From reading your remarks I really do not think you know as much about the culture of Appalachia as you think you do. You have a seriously warped and paranoid view of anyone outside of your thinking. To make such hasty judgements is simply closed minded and rude.

    Don Dudenbostel

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  17. Betty, having given more thought to your writing I think I have come to the conclusion that you are closed minded, paranoid and ashamed to have been born in Appalachia and ashamed of the history and culture around you. You wish you were born in a city like New York so you wouldn't have to associate with the uneducated and cruse people of the mountains. You use this blog to hide behind and spew hate about anything outside your tiny little world.

    If you think my show is so horrible then come and picket the museum when the show goes up. I'll be more then happy to photograph you making a fool of yourself.

    DD

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  18. Betty, please remove my photographs from you blog. I am the copyright owner and I have not and will not grant permission for you to use them.

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  19. Dear Anonymous,

    I do not have, nor have I ever had, a blog with anyone's photographs on it. You must have me confused with someone else.

    BCW

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  20. Betty, I posted about how much I really enjoyed your thoughtful essay. Don's a bit touchy about criticism it seems. I find it interesting that he had no problem with his pictures being posted when he thought all of us unwashed and unlearned were viewing them with adulation.

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  21. I have a little problem with remarks from people who don't take the time to research what they're talking about. Betty doesn't know me, my work or anything regarding the show.

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  22. Let me give a little background to my work. In no way am I promoting the idea that my images represent the new south. My work spans a little over forty years and documents some of the more obscure cultural practices in the old south. These cultural practices either no longer exist or there are so few practicing them that they are gone for all practical purposes. Each topic is a part of our culture and our history whether we like it or not. If you look at my work you'll see that I do not bias my images for or against. I do my best to remain totally innert and objective. If you come to the show you'll see images of Appalachian people working for example cutting tobacco, plowing with horses and gathering eggs on the farm. You'll also see a variety of religious services from serpent handling, river baptisms and mennonite families working the farm as they did in the 1800's and daily life. You'll also see three moonshiners working dating from the late 60's up to present. There are a number of Ku Klux Klan cross burning images dating from the 70's. Cock fighting is another that will be represented including images from a fight. There are many more topics but this give an idea of what will be there. Again in no way am I saying this is representative of Appalachia but it is a part of what Appalachia has been.

    Along with the images will be recorded interviews with our subjects and my comments along with the pictures. As far as this having been done before, it has but not in as much depth or as complete a collection of work.

    The Klan and serpent handling are straight out of Appalachia with the Klans orign in middle Tn and serpent handling out of Cleveland Tn. The Klan is virtually gone and started in the 1800 as is serpent handling started by George Hensley in the early 1900's. At one time each had thousands of members but now there are few and the numbers are dropping weekly.

    The importance of this work is the same as any other documentation of historic events and time. Down the road I will be donating this collection of over ten thousand images to one of the historic archives so students and interested parties can look at them, study and learn of a past culture. Our past isn't always prety but is is part of history and should be remembered and hopefully we can learn from it. I would suggest you look at the work of Lewis Hine, Walker Evans and Dorothia Lange. They documented a very ugly part of history but now the images are quite important historically. Do some more reasearch and you'll see the Library of Congress is full of these images.

    Don Dudenbostel

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  23. Don,
    You have no argument with me. In fact, after reading all of your comments on this blog, I find that I am in agreement with the majority of your views. At first, since the news of your photography emerged in the middle of the Popcorn Sutton controversy, I thought you were possibly one of those folks out to make a buck on the backwash from Popcorn's death. After reading your comments and doing some research on you (and despite the views of some of my posters on this blog), I see things differently. I would also venture to say that the newspaper coverage of your coming exhibit was a bit "sensationalized."

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  24. Gary I appreciate your taking the time to research my work. The article wasn't 100% accurate and yes it was a little sensationalized.

    As to making money from my documentary work, I'm not in it for money. The project has actually cost quite a sum of money from my own pocket. I have totally funded all expenses as well as contributing substantial sums of money to assist some of the folks I have worked with. I'm very fortunate to make good money with my commercial photography business and many of the people I have photographed are not that fortunate. Any money that is coming from this will go to a selected group of Appalachian charities.

    Popcorn sold his name and his image to a fellow from San Francisco for commercial purposes. The deal was made final the afternoon he killed himself. The person in California bought his name to introduce a Popcorn brand of moonshine based on Popcorn's recipe. This person who I will not name tried to push me to sell my images for his label and promoting the brand. I refused but later told him the only condition was that he would write a $25,000 check to Pam Sutton. Nothing more came out of it.

    I respect the people I photograph and would never betray their trust. All of my photographs of each of my subjects have been made with the understanding that I will be using them for historic and educational purposes not commercial. This is exactly how they will be used and for nothing else as long as I own the negatives.

    I've grown close to some of the people I've photographed. They've treated me like family and are by far the kindest people I have ever met. I would call on them for help before I would call on my neighbors. I want to keep it that way and be able to continue to visit them be invited out with the families and taken into their lives.

    Thanks,

    Don Dudenbostel

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  25. Gary can you tell me how to reach the blog moderator or the person that posts the blog?

    Thanks,

    DD

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  26. Don,
    That would be me. Holler Notes is my blog.

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  27. I too checked up on Don's work and now I am an admirer.

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  28. Gary and Dave, given all of the comments above, please enlighten me. What exactly is it you admire about this photographer's work (not the technical aspect of his X-rayed objects, but the content of his "cultural" photographs)? And, what exactly will be "lost forever" about our culture if we do not endorse these photographs?

    I'm willing to be convinced that, if shuffling the "cultural" photographs of Dudenbostel and Shelby Adams, you can tell the difference. /BCW

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  29. Well, I can certainly tell the difference, but I'm not interested in getting in a prolonged discussion about it. It is the same difference that I see between Doris Ullman's photographs of Appalachian people and the shameful photographs that Jonathan Williams made of a poor mountain family several years ago. Ullman's "portraits" have travail, suffering and even madness etched in the faces of ministers, housewives and widows, but it is a pain the ennobles. Williams' photographs, like Shelby Adams, seem designed to shock and offend.
    Who can look at the horribly deformed girl or the mentally deranged naked man that Adams "catches unaware" without being offended and shocked.....especially if the viewer is from the same culture. Shelby's major argument is that he "loves" these people and indeed, they seem to love him .... but he has betrayed them, for they have not the slightest idea how they will look to the outside world. When I look at Don's photographs, they seem to be honest depictions poor people who endure against all odds. I don't find a kind of "suppressed leer" as i find in Shelby Adams a "these-people-are-so-ignorant-and-stupid-they-have-no-idea-what-this-picture-does-to-them" smirk.

    I suspect this is a pointless exercise, since the old adage, "Beauty is in the eye of the beholder" (and its opposite) are at work here. It is like people in a photograph staring raptly at a Confederate flag. What the viewer of such a photograph sees depends on the experiences that have affected him. I guess I look at things differently. I can't work myself into a rant over a word or a picture when I have already fought those wars and lost them, everyone. In what time I have left, I choose to try to capture my culture in writing, and
    capture it with integrity. I think integrity is a good word to use for people like Don and Doris Ullman. Now, I'm going to the Coffee Shop.
    Gary
    - Show quoted text -

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