Fine Art Photography Daily

Matt Eich: The States Project: Virginia

Carry Me Ohio: Examining the legacies of coal and industry in Ohio and the communities left behind in the wake of its withdrawal. Work spans 2006 - 2012.  Route 356 to Mineral, Ohio is flooded as the winter snows begin to melt on February 25, 2007.

As the winter snows melt, Mineral, Ohio, 2007   ©Matt Eich

I first met Matt Eich in 2011 when we were on a three-person panel at the Savannah College of Art and Design. I had long admired his work and accomplishments when I discovered how young he was and that he had been helping support a beautiful family of four for many years. From then, I had many more reasons to respect him. His photographs are made with an abundance of affection, curiosity, and integrity, no matter where he is or who he is photographing.

Matt Eich (b. 1986) is an American-born photographic essayist and portrait photographer. The oldest of four children, he grew up in the peanut farming town of Suffolk, Virginia. Matt studied photojournalism at Ohio University and works for clients including National GeographicThe New YorkerEsquireHarper’s, TIME, The New York Times Magazine, Apple, Tiffany & Company, Republic Records and others.

Matt is the recipient of numerous recognitions including POYi’s Community Awareness Award, the Joop Swart Masterclass and PDN’s 30 Emerging Photographers to Watch. His work has been internationally exhibited in both group and solo shows, and is in the permanent collections of The Portland Art Museum, The Museum of Fine Arts Houston, Light Work and the New York Public Library. His long-form projects have received grant support from National Geographic Magazine, the Aaron Siskind Foundation, the Getty Images Grant for Editorial Photography and others.

These days, Matt lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with his family while pursuing an MFA in Photography at Hartford Art School’s International Limited-Residency Program. He continues to accept commissions of all kinds while working on long-term projects about the American Condition.



You are trained in photojournalism, have worked very successfully as a photojournalist and documentary photographer, now working on your Masters of Fine Art.  How do you see your photojournalistic/documentarian background informing your work as you move forward?  Can you sense your style or interests changing at all as you progress through your MFA studies?  

While I come from a documentary/photojournalism background, I’ve never felt that my work has a home in the news cycle. I tend to prefer a longer view, and work slowly. More of a ramble than a sprint. The MFA is certainly requiring me to reframe my thinking, which is story-based, as well as my perceived purpose. This is healthy to an extent. My interests have been slowly evolving though I continue to remain entranced by the possibility of photographs from the real world. There is very little I can add to the serendipitous beauty that surrounds us.

Dexter McCroy (back turned) lights a hookah for young ladies at a party at Main Attractions in Greenwood, Mississippi on November 22, 2014.

Dexter at the club, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2014  © Matt Eich

I am fascinated by the way you integrate seamlessly into cultures.  In some ways it’s like the work of an anthropologist, but the stories you bring home seem to be more like those of your family rather than any sort of “other.”  Can you tell us a little about your experience with this?  It seems quite distant from the work of a photojournalist whose job is to get in, get documentation, and get out.  What caused you to start making work that was much more immersive?  Or have you always worked that way?   

That is a huge compliment because when I am allowed into someone’s home my goal is to photograph them with the same intimacy that I would my own family. That is partially to distance myself from the “othering” that documentary photography is often guilty of, but even more it is because I feel a genuine love and respect for people that open their homes to a stranger like me. My working method is driven by questions that usually don’t have answers. It takes a long time for relationships to develop and for the questions to play out. That is how it has always been for me when it comes to photographs. It took a while to figure out that pattern so now I try to have patience and respect the cycle.



Swamp Logging, North Carolina, 2013  © Matt Eich


A Grevy's zebra named "Elvis" stomps in the snow of his outdoor pen at The Wilds in Cumberland, Ohio on February 27, 2007. Situated on 10,000 acres of reclaimed strip mine land, The Wilds is a research and conservation facility for rare and endangered animals. During the warmer months animals are allowed to roam freely but in the winter are kept in heated indoor pens.

Elvis the Zebra, Cumberland, Ohio, 2008  © Matt Eich

I find the photographs of your family to be just as intriguing as the photographs you make outside your home.  Do you approach photography with your family any differently?  Which do you find more difficult, making photographs in your home or someone else’s?  In all of your work, I find a beautiful honesty.  Are there things you have encountered in your home or in others’ that you have made a conscious decision not to photograph? 

When making photographs at home, I feel like I am given a free pass because my compulsion is so entrenched that my family accepts it and I don’t have to waste time justifying my actions or articulating why. The truth is that the interactions around the family photographs are more nuanced, and family members are just as curious about what I do as the strangers I meet. My wife will often say out of the blue, “I don’t understand you.” In a lot of the recent portraits I am making there is a direct confrontation between the subject and the viewer, where the question seems to be “Why?”

It’s easy to make trite justifications for making a picture, but I find it immensely difficult to articulate the underlying compulsive desire to render the world in a photograph. When I am photographing a stranger, it is easier for me to fully commit to what I am doing, whereas I am always torn in three different directions when I am making work about my family. The hope is that we all become stand-ins for larger ideas and more universal emotions and experiences. I think most everything in the world, both good and bad, deserves to be photographed. That said, in photography timing is everything. Part of making good work is staying attuned to the situation unfolding and the emotional tenor of your environment. You have to know when to put the camera down and just be a father, a husband, a human being.



Fire hose baptism, Newport News, Virginia, 2013  © Matt Eich

Police officers arrest a young protestor who was hiding behind members of the media in a police-imposed "media-pen" outside of which, members of the media were arrested for doing their jobs. After hours of marching and being told they could not rest or stand still, protestors took shelter behind media. Police officers began making arrests after a few plastic water bottles were hurled in their direction on August 20, 2014 in Ferguson, Missouri.

Ferguson Arrests, Ferguson, Missouri, 2014  © Matt Eich

Rebel plants a second bullet in the head of a gator that kept moving after being hauled into the boat while hunting for alligators near Shell Island, Louisiana on September 20, 2009. Each gator is then tagged before being piled in the bottom of the boat.

Double-Tap, Shell Island, Louisiana, 2009  © Matt Eich

Tylor Woodrum, 16, holds a box containing his father's ashes on January 30, 2007 in Carbondale, Ohio. Dave Woodrum was killed in August of 2006 in a high-impact 4-wheeler accident. Dave's family had his body cremated and his favorite cock-fighting rooster mounted on top of the box.

Tylor holding his father’s ashes, Carbondale, Ohio, 2007  © Matt Eich

(L-R) Jabari Wilson sits next to his cousin Korwin "Quan" and mother Ellen in the dining room of the home he shares with his mother, sister Nikki and her girlfriend Dominique in the Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood, Mississippi on Saturday, November 6, 2010. Jabari and his sister Nikki both work to support their mother who has a number of health problems and is unable to work. Quan (center) lost his mother in a car accident as a child and has been raised by his grandmother ever since.

Jabari, Quan & Ellen, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010  © Matt Eich


My grandfather’s 89th birthday, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 2011 © Matt Eich

Melissa Turk, 19, lays in my bed on April 1, 2007 in Athens, Ohio. We discover she is pregnant in January and the months that follow are full of uncertainty mixed with joy and love. This has always been one of my favorite pictures of Melissa. The softness of the light and the softness of her skin, the way the color of her cheeks matches the color of her bra, the wrinkle of the sheets and the curls of her hair. The shape of her lips and the look in her eye.

Melissa, Athens, Ohio, 2007  © Matt Eich

Melissa Eich plays with her daughter Madelyn's hair in the morning while eating breakfast on November 20, 2011 in Norfolk, Virginia.

Madelyn and Melissa in the morning, Norfolk, Virginia, 2011  © Matt Eich

The funeral of Kelly Valentine, 13, at Catholic Church of St. Stephen Martyr in Chesapeake, Virginia on Tuesday, April 26, 2011. After the service, the family buried Kelly at Hollomon-Brown Funeral Home on Cedar Road. Valentine died after a tragic accident where she was hit by a car on Cedar Road while retrieving a dropped cell phone.

Kelly Valentine’s funeral, Chesapeake, Virginia, 2011  © Matt Eich

A young man lit only by the dim glow of street lights stands on the corner of Young and Pelican late at night in the Baptist Town neighborhood of Greenwood, Mississippi on Thursday, November 4, 2010.

On the Corner, Greenwood, Mississippi, 2010  © Matt Eich

Lacey Sellers wanders out in the middle of the street to examine the skidmark her daddy left as he drove away. She and her identical twin Kacey were both born deaf and live in the impoverished town of Chauncey, Ohio.

Skid-Mark, Chauncey, Ohio, 2007  © Matt Eich

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