DAVIDSON — As a photography student at Appalachian State University, Clayton Joe Young went in search of a little piece of home. He found a family who encompassed traditional rural, farming life and captured them through a project that took more than a decade to complete. This month, the photographs are on view at Davidson Town Hall.
Now a Davidson resident, Young grew up in Rowan County, spending the majority of his time with his grandparents. During his time there, he gathered eggs and worked in the fields. Young said his grandparents taught him the importance of a good work ethic. After the chores, he recalls walking to the country store to drink bottled Cokes and eat peanuts around the potbelly stove while talking to everyone who came by.
Young was cognizant of the rough life with little money.
“But I try to teach my kids and my students to show who we are and where we come from,” he said.
And he does it with a camera lens.
Initially, Young attended Appalachian State University for a business degree. But after graduation, he drove out West with a secondhand camera and fell in love with photography, he said. Young returned to Appalachian State University for a bachelor’s degree in photography.
While there in 1997, he combed the backwoods in search “of the way things used to be,” he said. He found a community on Beech Creek, the other side of Beech Mountain, where he met folk storyteller Ray Hicks and the rest of his family. He stopped by once, and then again, and soon became a regular.
“Everyone took me in as a family,” he said. “But I had to gain their trust until they were expecting me to come.”
His compilation “Mountain Folk — Traditional Ways of Life in Watauga County and Surrounding Areas,” at Davidson Town Hall through Feb. 28, depicts the people he met over the years in their element.
“It’s about the nostalgia,” Young said. “You feel like you are stepping back in time. People are dissociated with things – they buy them at a store then throw them away. These are things that are made to last.”
Among the photos is a man riding a plow behind a horse. There’s also a woman making flowers from cornstalks and a man playing a handmade dulcimer.
Young tells of Levy, who worked on a farm, could predict the weather by the clouds, patched his clothes and never learned to drive a car. Then there is the one of the Hicks men playing cards outside the barn and another of a woman embracing a sheep as though it were her child.
“This is a lifestyle,” he said, adding he doesn’t do this to make fun of them. “I look up to people who live like this.”
After graduating and becoming a photographer for several newspapers, Young continued to visit his Beech Mountain "family," keeping their legacy alive while remembering his own roots.
The blend of keeping tradition with modernization is what drew Young and his family to Davidson.
He is currently the lead photographic technology instructor at Catawba Valley Community College and is working on his master’s in fine arts degree from Savannah College of Art and Design.
Want to learn more? Joe Clayton Young showcases his latest photography exhibit, "Mountain Folk — Traditional Ways of Life in Watauga County and Surrounding Areas,” this month at Davidson Town Hall, 216 S. Main St., Davidson. Details: www.joeyoungphoto.com. Artists interested in showing their work at Davidson Town Hall should e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.