West Virginia Noah Bryant

My grandparents grew up and lived in McDowell County, West Virginia. As a coal miner, my grandfather led a very dangerous life and decided to seek something better for his wife and two daughters. Almost 50 years ago, they made the difficult decision to move out west in search of a better life away from the constant dangers and toxic dust in the mines.

This is the coal tipple in Gary, West Virginia that my grandfather worked at. McDowell County has consistently been one of the poorest counties in the United States.

My name is Noah Bryant and I have been a fine art photographer for 18 years and have been published and sold my work worldwide (www.noahbryant.net). I specialize in fine art nature photography but have worked in every industry of photography including marketing photography, weddings, photojournalism and portraiture.

In 2016, I travelled to West Virginia an hopes of documenting the state and especially the areas that they grew up. I had a custom hardback book published of the photographs and gave them the book for Christmas.

These are the photos.

This is a close up photo of the base of Cathedral Falls, a waterfall near the town of Gauley Bridge.

Cathedral Falls

Cathedral Falls is in south-central West Virginia and easy to find. It's just outside of Gauley Bridge on Highway 60. There's even a place to have a picnic there while you listen to the waterfall along the rock.
It was pouring rain as I was photographing Cathedral Falls and I had to make three separate trips back to the car to dry off my equipment.

Babcock State Park

Babcock State Park is in Fayette County also just off of Highway 60. Babcock is home to what is probably the most photographed building in all of West Virginia, the Glade Creek Grist Mill.

The present day Glade Creek Grist Mill at Babcock State Park is actually a replica of another grist mill that stood along the creek in the early 1900s.
More photos taken in Babcock State Park.

Central West Virginia

Droop Mountain Battlefield State Park in Hillsboro, West Virginia.
This maple leaf turns bright red to indicate the approaching winter photographed in the Greenbrier River Valley.
The beautiful rolling hills of West Virginia are one of the many things that make the state so beautiful. Many locals themselves don’t appreciate the beauty of the state, but there is far more to the wild and wonderful state of West Virginia than coal camps and abandoned industry.

Beauty

This old power plant stands alongside Kanawha Falls in southern West Virginia.
Fallen leaves float in the waters of the Greenbrier River.
Hawk's Nest State Park overlooks the New River.
Tug Fork in McDowelll County.
Blackwater Falls near Davis, West Virginia
The Number Six Hollow in Gary, West Virginia.

Industry

Scattered throughout the state you'll find signs of West Virginia's industrial roots. West Virginia's coal mines are prominent but you'll also find evidence of old logging mills, as well as metal manufacturing. Connecting it all is the criss cross of hundreds of miles of railroad tracks.

The rising sun reflects off this pair of railroad tracks in northern West Virginia. The first tracks were laid in the mid 1800s and it's likely some of the old lines will be forgotten forever.
An empty doorway leads to a derelict mill in eastern West Virginia.
Remnants of a more prosperous time.
The Mount Storm Power Plant converts thousands of tons of coal into 1,600 megawatts of energy for over two million people.

Decimation of Coal

For the past three decades the coal industry in the United States has been in decline. As renewable industry sources become more popular and federal regulations put a crimp on coal production and energy the cuts are felt hardest by the more than 120,000 coal miners and their families who have lost their jobs across the US but in West Virginia most of all.

As the country moves away from fossil fuels as a source of energy, thousands of West Virginia families who have relied on coal mining for generations are finding themselves impoverished. Despite how much West Virginians are suffering from the decline of coal, wind farms are popping up throughout the state just like this one outside of Town of Keyser.
West Virginia is riddled with a network of decades-old mining roads. Unmarked, and rarely found on maps, locals know the roads like the back of their hands. Set up decades ago during early mining exploration, you can often find a coal seam easily visible on the side of the mountain. Although thought to have died out in the United States, here, you can see evidence of a current bootleg mining operation. This surreptitious mining practice is both illegal and very dangerous. Taking place on land owned by coal companies, local miners who are short on income have resorted to this risky source of revenue. Rigging up their own augers out of ice fishing equipment the bootleg miners drill into the seam, fill the hole with black powder and blast the coal free from the rock. There is great risk of collapse and with the practice done in secret in the middle of the night the likelihood of surviving an accident is practically nonexistent.

Welch, WV

When my grandparents were were living in West Virginia, Welch was the big town that they would go to for shopping. As the McDowell County's seat, it's also got some history behind it. As coal mining began to boom in the early 1900s, Welch also began to boom once claiming itself to be, "The Heart of the Nation's Coal Bin." In 1960 presidential candidate John F. Kennedy made a stop in Welch during a tour of West Virginia meeting with many locals, one of them being my grandfather.

Apartment block in Welch, West Virginia.

Iaeger

Iaeger, West Virginia was another town frequented by my grandparents (as well as my mother and aunt). Iaeger is not near quite as big of a town as Welch but was where they went for groceries and to visit the Montgomery Ward for Dr. Pepper and RC Cola.

An RC Cola sign on the side of Iaeger's old Montgomery Ward store.
A metal outline of the state of West Virginia was mounted on the side of this old bank building.
The Iaeger Volunteer Fire Department was established in the 1960s and continues strong responding to emergencies with its 13 firefighters and five apparatus.

Gary

The small mining community of Gary was where my grandparents spent much of their life in West Virginia.

This building was once Gary's mining company store where my grandfather spent plenty of his coal earnings on fishing tackle.
Now the Coaldigger Museum, this building was once the Gary Bank.

Noah Bryant

For some people, a camera is a way to preserve memories. For Noah Bryant, it’s a way to inspire. He’s not just trying to inspire the countless people who gaze upon the wonders of the world he so brilliantly freezes in time, he’s hoping, with every shot he takes, to inspire himself.

From the time he was barely a teenager, Bryant has been drawn to the world around him – the majestic mountains that sprang out of the ground to the west of where he grew up, the drop of dew hanging precariously from the perfectly symmetrical spider web in his backyard, the ruffled feathers of a Bald Eagle soaring effortlessly against the clouds – the wonders of nature have always been right there in front of him, but it’s never been enough for Bryant to just witness them, he’s always been driven to share that splendor with the world that inspires him so much. The inspiration to see more. To do more. To be more.

Photographer Noah Bryant

More than the colors or the composition or the breathtaking beauty, it’s this element that is so readily apparent in all of Bryant’s images – the inspiration for all of us to live more of the glorious life that’s waiting for us just beyond the borders of our comfort zone.

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Noah Bryant
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