Testify by Roger May is one of the first projects I backed on Kickstarter. I have mixed feelings about crowd funding but this was definitely one project that was worth backing.
I was originally alerted to Testify by Jim Mortram (a wonderful photographer and amazing person who I shall write more of in the future). Jim posted a link on his Twitter to the Testify Kickstarter page.
So what is Testify and why is it an inspiration? In Roger's own words Testify is a "Visual love letter to Appalachia" and it is a work built from love of an area of the US that is often forgotten and stereotyped. Although there are some obvious differences there are also parallels with my home land of Norfolk. Norfolk is stereotyped in a number of ways, through jokes about inbreeding to the typical images of beautiful countryside and a rural idyll which in places is very far from the truth. The beauty of Testify is that Appalachia is documented sympathetically, both its places and its people. Roger's work has reinforced in me that you can document a place in a number of different ways.
This is important as I'm not yet confident enough in my ideas or my technique (let alone my personal confidence) to start approaching people to make images of them. Through Roger's work I believe that you can still tell the story of people without necessarily including those people in the images. This isn't to imply that there are no portraits within Testify, there are and they are wonderful, but much of what I've taken from this work is about the place and the more fleeting images of people. I'll be taking much of this inspiration into a new project, which I hope will result in another self-published zine.
Testify is also an inspiration as it shows what can be achieved through working with independent publishers who are passionate about their work and product. The book is beautifully produced and bound by Horse and Buggy Press, from the hand printed letterpress cover (including a map of Appalachia) to the linen binding and beautifully printed belly band this is a work of love, in two volumes. This has shown me what you can achieve through selecting the best approaching to printing and presenting your work. I'd love to have achieved something similar with Japinhole but I don't currently have the resources to do that (although I am very proud of what I have achieved with that work).
So, there is lots to inspire in Testify and I'd definitely recommend you take a look if you can get a copy. I'd also strongly recommend you keep an eye on Roger's future projects. Currently he is working on Looking at Appalachia, which is a collaborative work that builds on Testify and has a vast scope. This is already looking like an incredible work and is definitely worth following.
Finally, I'd like to thank Roger for agreeing that I could use images of Testify in this post. All of the images from Testify are of course Roger's copyright and should not be used without his prior permission.