Controversy over out of state photographers in McDowell Co. - WVVA TV Bluefield Beckley WV News, Weather and Sports

Controversy over out of state photographers in McDowell Co.


Phone calls, emails and Facebook messages were sent to us here, at WVVA by parents concerned for their children's safety.

People reported seeing a man and woman traveling through McDowell County this week, snapping photographs as they drove through each town. And those people wanted to know why.

"I received a call that there was a suspicious vehicle, a light brown Volvo station wagon, Massachusetts plate, and there was a male and female in the Raysal area taking pictures of some children," says Chief Deputy, Roger Deel.

Jennifer Adkins, the mother of three kids, and a resident of Raysal, is the one who contacted Chief Deputy Deel. She also confronted the photographers, with a group of others.

Audio recording captured the encounter.You hear a McDowell resident say, "And there are no pictures of any children on there?”

“No. And you can check it, not of your kids. I can show you. Jesus Christ. We didn't stop and approach like, yeah; you guys are making us out to be like crazy pedophiles. You guys are making us out to be people that we are not,” says Marisha and Jesse Camp “Have you looked at yourself in the mirror? You all don't look like upstanding citizens," says Jennifer Adkins.

Adkins says she did it as a concerned parent, stating, "The way they are approaching it is discouraging. Their appearance is not of a documentary part. They were only asking adults that we seen, but our kids were photographed without consent."

A statement that Jesse and Marisha Camp say is far from the truth. Jesse says, "How dare she accuse me of having malicious intent. How dare this woman accuse me of wanting to hurt children? I mean is she out of her freaking mind?"

More of the audio recording reveals a McDowell resident saying, "Y'all get in whatever the (expletive) you're riding." While Adkins says, “No they're not leaving until I see a camera and the pictures on there.”

Marisha responds by saying, “We're not taking pictures of kids.” Followed by a man saying, “The man says you're not leaving, you're not leaving."

The brother and sister duo says McDowell County is just one of their many stops on a nationwide trip. Marisha is a portrait photographer working on a documentary."

Jesse says, "We were working on an online show where we go to different parts of the country that interests us."

"We were in this area because we genuinely love this area and these people and we were only trying to do well," says Marisha.

In the recording, you can hear Marisha clicking through her photos. "Here's a lady at the church,” she says.

A man says, “There's just too much going on with kids getting hurt and Y'all might be cool, I'm not saying you're not.” “And this is back at the church," she finishes.

The Camps say a WV State Trooper did arrive and escorted them away from the scene. They are no longer in West Virginia and are now finishing up their nationwide tour.


WEB EXTRA: Marisha Camp, unedited.  Her own account of what happened follows:

My brother and I are currently on the last leg of a cross country road trip that began in California and has encompassed a number of states and communities. We love to document our travels and people we meet along the way. As a result, we were traveling through McDowell County yesterday (3/23) with cameras, telltale "you're not from around here" accents, and out of state plates. I'm not naive in regards to insular cultures and an attendant inability to understand outsiders, but a "misunderstanding" does not, CANNOT justify being held hostage and having one's life threatened. While I was happy to escape physically unscathed, I find it much harder to overcome the fear, the inescapable sense of vulnerability... the trauma of yesterday.

While traveling between Bradshaw and War, where we had planned to attend a church revival, we drove through a residential area that may have encompassed most or all of the town of Raysal. We were in this area for a few minutes, where I captured some imagery of houses and the surrounding landscape from the road. We then traveled quite some ways down the road and stopped at a gas station, where we crossed the street and interviewed and took posed portraits of several young adults.

Someone was screaming from the parking lot of the gas station, and I turned around to find a middle aged man and woman beckoning to us. Their minivan was parked right behind our car, effectively parking us in, as it were, but at the time I thought that maybe they'd accidentally bumped into our car. I began to cross the parking lot, still not entirely able to make out what they were saying, and then... Convinced that we had taken photographs of their teenaged sons, this couple had tracked us down and they were not leaving without our camera. I refused to hand it over. At this point, the woman opened the door of the minivan, pointed to a backseat, said that she had her gun right there, and we were not leaving until the police arrived. A hostile mob was beginning to gather, spurred by phone calls and the couple's loud insistence that they were just trying to protect "the kids" without having actually witnessed a crime or presented any tangible evidence of actual wrongdoing.

I spent the next forty minutes crying, shaking, and begging in every way possible for everyone to calm down. With no cell phone reception, and under threat of being beaten or shot if I tried to go into the store and use a landline, I nervously sent text after text, silently praying that somehow, against all odds, something would go through so my mother would know where I was and wouldn't spend weeks not knowing what had happened to her children.

It's important to note that photographing from a public place is not illegal, so we were being held hostage for 1. something that isn't a crime in the first place and 2. something that we had not, in fact, done.

An especially violent man with a kerchief on his head joined the mob early on, "You don't live around here. You don't need to take a picture of even a G-d damned rock. Y'all get in whatever the f-ck you're ridin..."

Wife: "No, they're not leaving until I see that camera and I see if it's got my kid's pictures on it."

Husband: "They've got pictures of our kids, they might have pictures of your kids."

Kerchief: "The man said you're not leaving. You're not leaving."

I showed the husband all of the images on both of my cameras, and while he was able to ascertain that we did not have any photos of his children, this wasn't enough, "I mean there's a five year old child in Pulaski that's been missing for two weeks." Now I felt like we'd truly passed a point of no return, that we could be accused of anything and everything and the mob was free to determine our "punishment." Everything was fair game because, to quote the wife, "Have y'all looked in the mirror? You don't look like upstanding citizens." The man in the kerchief continued to menace us, "Tell you what, you know what someone should do? Take all your f-cking cameras and beat 'em in the f-cking ground... This ain't no place to get loud. Shut up, Squeaky. I can beat you into the f-cking ground."

I was overjoyed when a state trooper finally arrived. Here was salvation. Except I'm now approaching this man with tears streaming down my face, "sir, we really need your help," and all he can say is "Have you been drinking?" As we were separated from the mob at this point, I don't know what they said to justify having held us captive for so long, but the resolution in the end was our being escorted out of the area. At no point were we given the opportunity to discuss being held hostage. In fact, we were left with a lecture about not making mean videos about the good people of West Virginia, which, while distasteful and at odds with everything we believe in, also isn't illegal.

Ironically, up until this point, we had been deeply moved by the warmth, generosity, and openness of everyone we encountered and befriended in West Virginia. But now, of course, we're just left with this tremendous fear... I've been a photographer for a long time. I view most of my work as collaborative, involving the active participation of my subjects, not just their consent. I make ethical decisions and come from a place of compassion in choosing how to approach and depict people and give great thoughts of issues of representation that stretch far beyond what's merely legal. I didn't need the lecture. I needed the fact that I was held against my will and repeatedly threatened to be acknowledged and addressed. We need to maintain some sense that we live in a world where a stranger can't decide to hold you captive on a whim, even if they sincerely believe they're doing the right thing. I admire the outlaw spirit of McDowell County, and I recognize that with 18 active police officers spread over a large area and several shifts, residents have grown accustomed to handling things themselves. But a line needs to be drawn somewhere. I was asked repeatedly what would happen if I saw strangers with cameras on my street, and, well, I've spent most of my adult life in New York City, so quite frankly I don't think about it, but I would also know that terrorizing strangers and false imprisonment carry ramifications.

At this point, I would like to know which form of recourse I can pursue. It's easy enough to sweep this under the rug, to believe, as the husband did, that "The worst thing we done is held you up and upset you," but it isn't this simple. Making people fear for their lives robs them of something- the very foundation of their reality is shattered. You don't know when you'll truly feel safe again. Whatever fear we may have engendered by not looking like locals cannot begin to compare to instigating something like this. Feeling that a state trooper, with his unabashed bias, local loyalties, and brazen insensitivity, can be complicit is absolutely devastating.

In terms of trying to combat negative stereotypes of the region, this behavior is just absurd and about as counterproductive as it gets. It is for everyone's benefit that incidents like this are taken seriously. Again, I would have been encouraged to press charges anywhere else rather than be run of town like a "long haired hippie."

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