‘Carry Me Ohio’ opens at Gage Gallery as tribute to impoverished communities of Southeast Ohio
By Stephan Deku
Famed photographer Matt Eich came to Roosevelt University’s Gage Gallery to discuss and share his newest project, “Carry Me Ohio.”
The exhibit explores rural poverty in towns of Southeast Ohio that were economically hurt by extractive industry.
Eich said he was inspired to photograph these places and their people because he felt a connection to them. From rural Virginia himself, Eich attended Ohio University and studied photojournalism.
Eich has worked with clients from National Geographic to Esquire. His work has been displayed in the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, the Portland Art Museum and others.
Born in 1986, Eich has only just begun his already impressive career. The Torch interviewed Eich before his presentation at the Gage Gallery.
Q: How did you get started in photography?
A: I started with a road trip with my grandfather when I was nine or 10. He [lent] me his camera, and I photographed as we were traveling around. That was the first time I really realized a photo could encapsulate the feeling of a place.
Q: What inspired you to do “Carry Me Ohio?”
A: This is something I started to do in school. I was just really interested [in] communities that existed outside of the campus. I started photographing a couple of families, and they introduced me to other people, and it started growing from there. I honestly didn’t even know I was working on a body of work until later.
Q: What other projects have you done?
A: This was the first. I graduated in 2008 and felt a little lost at first, until I stumbled into a community in Mississippi for an assignment. I fell in love with the place and kept going back — it was very similar with similar themes.
Q: Would you say your passion had brought you to paid photography?
A: Yeah, to some degree. People started calling me because they really liked my work.
Q: What future projects do you currently have in mind?
A: I just came back from Mississippi. It’s the 14th time I’ve been there, so the Mississippi project is still ongoing. I’ve also got a project in Virginia, and there’s just other things in the air. And they’re all slow-burn projects that develop over time.
Q: Are you excited to be presenting at Roosevelt?
A: It’s always exciting just to get to show your work and talk to a different audience to see what they have to say. They may see something in the work that I did not see.
Q: What is a tip you can give to aspiring photographers?
A: It’s hard to boil it down to one, but I think just constantly producing. Make it an extension of yourself where you’re constantly shooting. People will see it’s yours, and that’s the way you see things. It just takes practice, practice, practice.
The opening of Eich’s personal statement about the project reads: “Once known for its bounty of coal, salt, clay and timber, Southeastern Ohio was stripped of its resources by the mining corporations that thrived from the 1820s to the 1960s. When they had mined all that they could, the corporations left, leaving the communities with little but their cultural identity, which is in large part a product of poverty. In this community abandoned by industry, it is not only the daily struggles, but living without the opportunity for economic advancement which has a lasting emotional resonance. These images are my love song to Southeastern Ohio.”
When asked by an audience member, “What would you say drives you?” Eich responded with, “compulsion,” a suiting attribute for a renowned photographer.
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