Above: The Hog Killing, Spring 1990
When the Hog killing was made I was Head of the photography program at Salem State College in Massachusetts, then living in Salem, Mass. I always call and keep in touch with my friends in Kentucky throughout the year. During Christmas of 89 I had started talking to my friends about making a hog-killing photograph. My friend a preacher Wayne Riddle suggested the Napier Family as a good family to work with in making this photograph. He said, “They kill hogs the old timey’ way.” We both knew them and I had been photographing and visiting them for at least 5 years then. It should be noted that I have been photographing seriously in this area spending 2 to 3 months each year, some years trips made shorter, but for at least 6 weeks each time, ongoing for now 36 years. Everyone knows me in the community.
The idea and concept for this picture and many of my photographs comes from my Appalachian childhood memories. I write and sketch in my notebooks throughout the winter, when an idea comes and really excites me I call my friends and we discuss. Sometimes my Kentucky friends call me with their ideas. I consider this a collaborative relationship; some photographs materialize this way, from our sharing stories and discussing what is happening currently in the hollers. An important concern is to make pictures of people who have lived this life. Each person in “The Hog Killing,” photograph of that spring in 1990 had multiple experiences from childhood and throughout their lives of hog killings as a part of their natural life and means to survive. John Napier the man seated in the front of photo reminded us, we should hang the hog from a tripod wood frame like he had always done and his son’s volunteered and constructed this tripod frame, something they had done many times. For those not familiar with this ritual, a hog killing is usually an all day affair that utilizes every part of the animal in preparing months of food for a large family, other domesticated animals and the making of bi-products like soap. This photograph actually illustrates the middle of the process when the meat is cleaned, washed and ready to be cut into sections, to make pork chops and ribs; even the head in the pan is saved to be prepared for cooking later. Harry Crews has written an excellent book about the ritual of hog killings called, “A Childhood, The Biography of a Place”.
My early personal experience with this ritual was from my grandpa’s farm in Letcher County. From my childhood memories, this was the most exciting day of the year, up before daylight, making fires, boiling water, the crack of the gun shot, the smells, watching the men work so fast cutting the meat, hearing the sounds the knives made, scalding the hair off the animal and watching water and blood mix and the steam rise, all fascinating. Eating fresh made cracklings later was rewarding and delicious. The woman made soap from the fat, prepared hams and souse while preserving yet other meats. Everything was utilized in some manner. Mountain people consider this a joyous occasion and it is often a community event. If ill will had sprang up between neighbors during the year, on this day-the giving of meat to that neighbor renewed friendships and made solidarity. All of us in this group shared these same life experiences around hog killings.
– Shelby Lee Adams