Appalachian Ghost by Raymond Thompson Jr

In this article, Artist taking part in the Digital Residency over June 2024, Raymond Thompson Jr, walks us through some of the most influential photobooks he has encountered. He also introduces us to his own photobook recently published, Appalachian Ghost.

Photobooks have been such an essential part of my photo education. I spent countless hours in the Borders or Barnes and Noble bookstores in my twenties, combing through the photobook sections. I rarely bought photobooks because I could not afford them at the time. It’s hard for me to choose favorites, but I prefer a few books I want to share today, along with my own book, published just this past March.


Afronauts, by Cristina de Middel, is definitely a photobook that has influenced me. The book is about the attempts to create a Kenyan Space program, which never advanced past initial plans and training exercises. The book impacted me in several ways.

Middel started her career as a photojournalist and expanded beyond that silo to blend documentary storytelling with fine art. So I felt a kinship connection because I, at the moment I discovered her work, was searching for a new way to work that would stretch, bend, or break my traditional training as a photojournalist.

This book was the first time I had seen a photographer use archive materials to inspire the creation of creative non-fiction. She bends her own staged reenactments with other archive materials to recreate a world that history has passed by. Most importantly, this book was a guide for how I would approach my photography practice later.

Afronauts by Cristina de Middel

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer

Another book that has been important to me is The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer by Amani Willett. The book is about a man’s search for clues about a mysterious hermit who lived on his property two centuries ago. This book came to me at an essential moment in my photography development. It was a masterclass in place-based storytelling. The work taught me that landscape photography can do something that, up to that point, I didn’t think it could do. It could weave both past, present, and future together and open the connection between humanity and nature in meaningful ways.

Turning through the book’s pages feels like I’m going on a journey through this specific part of the world looking for signs of the mysterious hermit Joseph Plummer. However, the story is a personal project for Willett, where he is searching for his own connection to his family history through this lone figure. He masterfully weaves together landscapes, archival photographic and text-based materials, archival objects, and Willett’s new images.

The Disappearance of Joseph Plummer by Amani Willett

True Colors: (or, Affirmations in a Crisis)

The word that comes to mind after flipping through Zora J Murff’s collaborative book True Colors (or, Affirmations in a Crisis) is polyrhythm. Polyrhythm is a musical term defined as the simultaneous use of two or more rhythms that are not readily perceived as deriving from one another.  Murff’s work applies this musical term to photography in new ways.

In Murff’s own words, the book is “a manual for coming to terms with the historical and contemporary realities of America’s divisive structures and privilege caste.” The weave of the Black diaspora’s influence on American culture is complex and requires an expanded set of tools and ideas to give its telling justice. The book is a collaborative work that features Murff’s original photographs, various archival materials, and contributions from other photographers and writers.

The magic of True Colors shines through its innovative use of cinematic visual sequences. The images from different sequences appear at various moments in the book. This technique creates throughlines that interweave narratives that may seem disconnected. It also generates movement that feels musical. The work disrupts traditional reading patterns by employing page numbering systems that mimic time codes. The book has multiple layers to unpack, and each viewing offers me new discoveries.

True Colors: (or, Affirmations in a Crisis) by Zora J Murff

Appalachian Ghost

Finally, my book Appalachian Ghost is a visual speculative archive about the Hawks Nest tunnel disaster. In the 1930s, an estimated 3000 workers curved a 3 1/2 mile tunnel through a mountain. They hit a section of silica rock during the construction. Many workers were exposed to deadly dust because they used improper drilling techniques. It’s believed that 764 workers lost their lives because of silicious.

It’s hard to talk about my work. I may be too close to see it without bias. The book is the culmination of 5-years of work. Now that it is out in the world, I can see the book finding its life outside my ego and concerns. Appalachian Ghost is more than a photography book; it combines photographs, archival images, text, original essays, and poetry to expand Black American labor history.

Appalachian Ghost by Raymond Thompson Jr

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