Mark Crabtree: The States Project: West Virginia
It’s evening in Morgantown, West Virginia. I am standing next to Mark Crabtree, who is digging through his archives – boxes and boxes of thousands of beautiful gelatin silver fiber prints that would give any photo nerd goosebumps. “Nope… nope… nope… nope…” he says as he digs through the photographs, dating back to around 1978, documenting the state of West Virginia, it’s musicians and it’s square dances.
I started seeing Mark’s photographs in houses all across the state of West Virginia before I met him. Mark is humble about his work. He has been committed to documenting the state since he first started using a camera. He made his living doing panoramic photographs using a Cirkut Camera. He was an active photojournalist for the Morgantown Dominion Post and the Beckley Post Herald.
I met Mark Crabtree as an old time musician before I knew him as a photographer. Old time music is a traditional form of music played here in Appalachia – rooted in the cultures of the immigrants who settled here, it usually features fiddle, banjo, guitar, bass, dulcimer, and occasionally, a flatfooter as percussion. He spent a lot of time with West Virginia’s great fiddle players, learning the fiddle tunes of Wison Douglas, Melvin Wine, Burl Hammons, James Reed, Lester McCumbers, Elmer Rich, and Ralph Roberts. Some of his photographs of these musicians are included here.
Crabtree has a great reverence for history and the history of photography. On visits with Mark, one of our activities has been to walk around Morgantown and find the vantage point of Walker Evans. He has also studied and rephotographed the FSA photographs of Marion Post, Ben Shahn, Lewis Hine, and Russell Lee. He is an archive of information, an archive of fiddle tunes, as well as an archive of images from the past forty years of the state.
Mark Crabtree is a West Virginia photographer and musician. His photography has ranged from gallery oriented work to journalism, plus a 30 year career based on panoramic photography done with an antique Kodak Cirkut Camera. In addition to his staff work for the Morgantown Dominion Post and Beckley Post Herald, he has been a long time contributor to Goldenseal Magazine. His work has also appeared in numerous other publications, including The New York Times and the Guardian. Wonderful West Virginia magazine published an article about his research into the Walker Evans and FSA work in northern West Virginia.
The work shown here comes from Mark’s interest in West Virginia’s traditional music and dance.
As a musician, Mark was privileged to have known and learned from some of the last of the old West Virginia traditional fiddle players, including Wison Douglas, Melvin Wine, Burl Hammons, James Reed, Lester McCumbers, Elmer Rich, and Ralph Roberts. In recent years he has become very involved with the local community dances still going on around West Virginia, and has learned to call dances in the “caller in the set” tradition from central West Virginia figure callers Doyle Gillum and David Russell.
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