Matt Eich

BY Jean Dykstra, November 1, 2016

The plight of former industrial towns across the country has received plenty of air time recently, though often in the abstract, as a debate topic that gets bounced back and forth. Because there is no easy fix. The coal mining companies are not coming back to the towns they began vacating in the 1960s. The problems that were seeded by their departure have only grown: poverty, drug use, joblessness, hopelessness. In his series Carry Me Ohio, Matt Eich casts an empathetic eye on those towns, photographing families in a rural Ohio region that was once a land of relative prosperity stemming from what are known as the “extractive industries.”

Eich’s images range from the atmospheric (a haunting view of an empty road half hidden in fog) to the specific (a blond toddler and a tiny dog peering out of a window crisscrossed with duct tape, or a young man burning trash behind a trailer). One of the most poignant images shows a girl, maybe seven, who seems to be sliding off the shoulders of her tattooed young father, her grip on his hand slipping, her expression fearful. It’s hard not to read it as a metaphor for all of the things slipping from the grasp of these communities: jobs, security, a worry-free childhood “Kids grow up fast there, because they have to,” says Eich. “They don’t have the luxury of a slow childhood.”

A Virginia native, Eich went to college in southeastern Ohio and began this series in 2006, as  an assignment to make a picture story for a photography class. He wanted to explore the community around the school, small towns in economic decline. Now, ten years later, the work has recently been published by the Swiss photo-book publisher Sturm & Drang, and a selection of images are on view at jdc Fine Art in San Diego through November 30. “They’re wonderful people,” says Eich of his subjects. “They love their families, they’re trying to do the best they can. Most of them got dealt a really shitty deck.”