Appalachia pulls at me like a haunted memory. There is an ineffable force that compels me to suspend reality and embrace superstition and myth. It is a longing to hold on to my culture and history in spite of the modern world. The nebulous forests, enveloping moss and dark corners seem to tell a purer truth.

Storytelling in Appalachia has a long-standing tradition, and it infuses the region with mystery. Using lore, pseudo-scientific study, and personal experiences as a compass, I see this place through idealized eyes of wonder, and these images become my personal folklore. They bring to life the fantasies and memories I carry with me. This is a place where you can wash away sin in cool stream waters, where corpse birds come to ferry away souls to the next life, where rocks burn and kudzu conceals. This is the place where the prevailing winds whisper old stories to those who know how to listen.

Exploring the enigmatic undercurrents of Appalachia was central to the concept of this work. I needed to understand why things like oral histories, old remedies and myths were important. I wanted to know why we say and believe the things we do. At the heart of it all I had to know: what does it mean to be Appalachian? This is a question I will never be able to fully answer, but put simply, I believe being Appalachian is marked by a particular kind of pride. For me, Appalachia is a place that hovers between reality and myth, and when the subtle specters of tradition present themselves, I take note. It is my pride in my heritage that allows me to live in the myths, dialects, and old truths while simultaneously existing in the modern world.

Photographing this mythos when it bubbles to the surface gives me the ability to play with ideas such as inheritance, ancestry, and identity. Ultimately it allows me to live in the ineffable feeling that I encounter when I am tucked away in the hills—a feeling like the outside world does not exist, that I am in a blissful, Rockwellian delirium where unearthly things may be possible. A place where burying a lock of hair in the ground can cure a headache, where benevolent creatures may appear if accidentally summoned, and where the wind can carry a message of hope to loved ones. It is not always rational, I know, but love and passion rarely are.

—Aaron Blum

If you’re interested in seeing more work like this, we’d recommend the following articles: a close look at Blum’s previous series, Born and Raised, as well as an in-depth interview with the photographer; a wide-ranging interview with master of the form Alec Soth, and Dirt Meridian, a series that captures the “severe magnificence of the dirt and emptiness” of the American midwest.