Hillbilly Heroin, Honey is the award-winning monograph from swedish photographer Hannah Modigh. In 2010 it picked up The Swedish Photo Book Award with the jury describing the work as a “..strong, courageous and at the same time humble depiction of a for many of us unknown world. With help of a sensitive graphic design the photographer takes us beyond exotism and transform the coal dust into gold”.
Modigh spent two months durring 2006 in St. Charles, one of the poorest towns in the state of Virginia, USA, and a community which has been marked by generations of coal-mining below the earth’s surface. Today, like much of America, unemployment is high.
Photographing the people and places in and around St. Charles, Modigh exposes the unknown and unnoticed struggles of these people who are hidden away in the Appalachian Mountains. The title Hillbilly Heroin, Honey refers to a slang term used to describe the prescription painkiller Oxycontin, which, supposedly, is often used by miners, giving a heroin-like effect when taken in high doses. I find the choice of title somewhat strange, as it immediately places the work in a drug-related context without much explanation. Modigh doesn’t really tackle the issue directly, we do not see any images of drug abuse occurring (most likely out of respect to her subjects) but it is likely some images depict people experiencing the effect, which positions the work in a place of heavy suggestion and open to wrong assumptions.
However, amongst these dark themes and struggles, Modigh manages to find an abundance of beauty within the people and the place. Her photographs are raw and honest yet also highly appealing and frequently beautiful. In the end, the work seems to serve a therapeutic function to Modigh herself, stating; “By way of my photos, I’m trying to get rid of the feeling of timeless vacuum which hit me during my sojourn in St Charles”.