Growing up I spent a lot of time with my grandparents in rural North Carolina. With my mother’s parents I spent endless days hoeing weeds and planting vegetables. Once the chores were finished, my grandfather and I would walk to the nearby country store to sit by the potbelly stove, tell stories, and drink bottled Coca-Colas.
My mother’s parents taught a hard work ethic, but my father’s parents taught me how to enjoy farm life. They were farmers too, but they had farm animals: horses, chickens, ducks, and plenty of cats and dogs. My grandfather had a garden which he plowed with his horses but let the weeds go untended. Instead, we would go horseback riding through the woods or make chores into games like who could gather the most eggs. My grandmother would ring the dinner bell when it was time to eat.
My parents were divorced and often let my grandparents keep me after school and on weekends. Looking back at those times, they were the best days of my childhood. My parents didn’t live this way. They got their groceries at the store and didn’t bother with farming. The satisfaction of hard work was not present, nor were the adventures of the simple life on a farm.
What got me into photography over ten years ago was these traditional ways of life I spent with my grandparents. I witnessed one of the last generations of farmers who were self-sufficient and lived like their forefathers did. I wanted to capture what I could find before I thought it would completely disappear.
Once I became a photography student at Appalachian State University, I started combing the back roads looking for anyone who carried on traditional ways of life. The people I met changed my life in a number of surprising ways. The wisdom they shared was not taught in school; their hospitality was always warm, and entertainment came from within.
I have tried to keep in touch with the people I met as a student and have continued to visit them over the years. Some of them I had only met once and have lost in touch with. Others feel like family and treat me likewise. Others like my grandparents have passed away but will not be forgotten.
I hope these images give you the sense of excitement that I was feeling when I took the pictures. On every visit I forgot my worries and what time it was getting to be. I just enjoyed the moment.
Clayton Joe Young