Urban California and rural Appalachia were amply documented in the 1960s, even if the usual narratives were often polar opposites: the Bay Area, with its free-loving, psychedelic hippie counterculture or Kentucky with its gritty backwoods scenes of despair and poverty.
But William Gedney wouldn’t have it either way. Even as an outsider from New York, Mr. Gedney — who was largely unknown during his lifetime — found grace and dignity in Eastern Kentucky and perilous uncertainty in San Francisco. Both of his series are featured in a new exhibition at the Howard Greenberg Gallery that opens Feb. 5.
Mr. Gedney set out for Eastern Kentucky in 1964, the same year that President Lyndon B. Johnson’s Appalachian Regional Commission released an outline for economic development. But according toMargaret Sartor, who was a co-editor of “What Was True,” a book of Mr. Gedney’s works, no one really knows why he chose to go. We do know that he contacted the coal miners union in an effort to locate and photograph a large family, which in turn led him to Willie Cornett, a former miner with black lung, his wife, Vivian, and their 12 children. Mr. Gedney stayed in their Kentucky home twice, first in 1964 and again in 1972.