Rob Amberg and Sam Gray
I-26, Corridor of
Change: A Work in Progress
Sam Gray is a regional historian
and Curator of Mountain Gateway Museum in Old Fort, North Carolina. Working with the
Appalachian Consortium Museum Committee, Gray began in 1994 to document the impact on
regional cultures of the construction of Interstate Highway I-26. Based on this work, he
was co-recipient, in partnership with Rob Amberg, of the 1999 Paul Taylor/Dorthea Lange
prize in documentary studies. The Taylor/Lange prize is an international award given
annually to a photographer/writer team doing significant work in documentary cultural
Rob Amberg, graduate of the University of Dayton in Ohio, is a self-taught
photographer. He moved to North Carolina in 1973, and in 1976 started the Southern
Appalachian Photographic Archives at Mars Hill College. He has worked as staff
photographer and writer for the Rural Advancement Fund. His work has appeared in many
publications and in group and one person exhibitions. In 1990 he was awarded a John Simon
Guggenheim Memorial Fellowship. A book of his photographs and writings is currently in
production at the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
Amberg and Gray will continue to photograph and write about
the construction of the I-26 Corridor until its completion in 2002. Images from their work
in progress have been shown at Western Carolina University in Cullowhee, N C in 1997 and
were presented in August of 1999 at the North Carolina Museum of History in Raleigh, N C.
This homemade sign was erected at the Little Ivy Church Cemetery, Mars
during removal of graves to make way for the I-26 right of way.
© Rob Amberg, 1996
Mike Smith, Professor of Photography at East Tennessee State University, writes about
Amberg's photographs: "North Carolina is on the brink of dramatic and irreversible
changes resulting from highway construction in its most remote and mountainous region.
Like any community facing such a force, those living in Western North Carolina feel mixed
reactions; the anticipation of progress set against powerful emotions driven by fear and a
protective love of tradition. Rob Amberg understands both reactions."
(Catalogue of Exhibition, WCU, Cullowhee, NC, 1996)
Amberg's powerful photographs record the painful loss of
farms, forests, homes, orchards, and graveyards. As the landscape is irrevocably altered,
so is the culture of the people who live there.