Rich-Joseph Facun documents the lives of a small community in Appalachia, a place he now calls home
Having lived in the area for six years, Rich-Joseph’s new body of work captures the spirit of “loving, kind and proud people”.
- Ayla Angelos
- 19 August 2021
- Reading Time
- 4 minute read
Rich-Joseph Facun was born on a Naval base in Florida, before moving to Mississippi and eventually back to the coast of Virginia. It was here that he discovered the joy of skateboarding, documenting his friends’ tricks and spots with a 35mm film camera as they galavanted around the area. At the age of 17, he welcomed his daughter Amber into the world: “Skateboarding and photography took a back seat in my life as I focused on trying to graduate (I was failing out of high school) and earn a living in order to provide for my child,” he tells It’s Nice That. A few years down the line – plus a “tapestry” of jobs from door-to-door window sales to tree removal services – he ended up on a photography course out of sheer chance. He initially signed up to a sculpture class at the local community college, but as things turned out, or as fate decided, it was cancelled, and his interest in photography began to grow.
Rich-Joseph worked as a photojournalist for 15 years and as a photo editor for several publications around the country. Coupled with commercial projects and three years spent in the United Arab Emirates working for an English language newspaper, he gained a hefty amount of experience in the field. But as the workload grew, he began to question his next move. “Launch my own imprint? Make more books? Retire?” Well, as things turned out, he packed his bags to Appalachia. “I made a firm decision to allow myself to come up for air, to slow down and reflect on where I wanted to take my photography next.” Steering away from editorial commissions, he found himself hitting pause on picture taking altogether. “I needed time and I was in no rush to get to wherever I might be going.”
He’s now lived in the Appalachia region for six years and, after moving every two to three years for the past 15 years of life, he’s happy to finally call the mountainous lands his home. The photographer and his family now reside in a village that is the site of Ohio’s largest coal mining disaster, where the population is just over 300 people. Upon arriving here, he was a little uncertain as to what life would be like. His mother is Indigenous Mexican and his father Filipino, so he often asked himself whether he was safe and how the community would receive him. These concerns were particularly prevalent considering Trump had been President for a couple of years, the Black Lives Matter movement increasing, and hate crimes and violence were on the rise against BIPOC communities. In response, Rich-Joseph began taking photographs on his excursions around his new home, walking around and snapping daily life, in turn, formulating what would then become his latest photography project and book, Black Diamonds.
A spark was lit once again and Rich-Joseph finally returned back to his medium after a short hiatus, which was inherently driven by a meeting with one of his neighbours – a young man named Erik, with tattoos across his forehead. “I immediately knew I wanted to take his portrait,” he adds. “But I found myself sitting in my truck talking myself out of approaching him. Thankfully, I overcame my reluctance, grabbed my camera, got out of the truck and tapped on the window of his car. I introduce myself and gave him my pitch. He obliged.” The debut photograph of the project, Rich-Joseph had no initial plan for this to be the start of an ongoing series. “The portrait was exactly what I needed to rekindle my drive for image-making and to begin exploring life in Appalachia with my camera.”
Despite Rich-Joseph’s valid concerns about what life would be like in Appalachia, he was delightfully surprised and assured by his surroundings: “much of what was imposed onto Appalachia did not mirror my own personal understanding of the region,” he notes. “That being the case, I felt a need to celebrate the heritage, culture and history of this land and to also visually share my experience within this community.” While out on errands – walking or driving around – he’d notice things on the way and pull over to take a picture. He never spent too long with his subjects, usually between five to 20 minutes, but this adds a candid level of spontaneity to the imagery. He was honest and upfront about his motives, and resultantly stumbled across a community of “loving, kind and proud people”, whose similarities were greatly larger than their differences.
There are so many stories to be unearthed throughout Rich-Joseph’s Black Diamonds, having met a range of inspiring people in the process of shooting, like Gary, an “avid outdoorsman”, carpenter, skateboarder and the closest friend he’s made in Appalachia. Or Ms. Roberta, who at first was skeptical of being photographed, but eventually approved so long as Rich-Joseph would tell her stories with utmost truth and sincerity. Black Diamonds is a kind and honest documentation of the community he’s now part of. “I’d like my audience to view the book, in its entirety, with an open mind, heart and eyes,” he says. “I want the audience to know that those who live here in this micro-region of Appalachia receive the work as a recognition of my true admiration for this community that has given me a place to call home.”
GalleryRich-Joseph Facun: Black Diamonds (Copyright © Rich-Joseph Facun, 2021)
Rich-Joseph Facun: Black Diamonds (Copyright © Rich-Joseph Facun, 2021)
About the Author
Ayla was an editorial assistant back in June 2017 and has continued to work with us on a freelance basis. She has spent the last seven years as a journalist, and covers a range of topics including photography, art and graphic design. Feel free to contact Ayla with any stories or new creative projects.