Mining Avella

  • Photography and Text  Doug DuBois

My grandmother insists she doesn’t dream. I don’t believe her. When she wakes up from her nap she tells stories. I’ve heard them all before, yet they change each time. If she doesn’t dream, she must write stories in her sleep.

In 1990, I began recording my grandmother’s stories about the years she lived in Avella, a small coal-mining town about forty-five miles southwest of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. I took my first trip to Avella that summer in my aunt’s small black Ford, with a microphone stuffed in a Kleenex box and my grandmother sitting next to me, giving surprisingly detailed and accurate directions. It rained every day of our trip. I saw Avella through a fog of moisture and listened to my grandmother over the wheeze of the window defroster. It was like driving through my grandmother’s dreams. Cross Creek overflowed during that trip and flooded Browntown Road, the street where my father grew up. But I returned to Avella the next summer and many summers after that to visit and photograph the families still living there.

When I leave her to make pictures in Avella, my grandmother always says,
“What the hell you see in that place?”

I say, “It’s your fault — you and your stories.”
She says, “If you tell anyone what I say, I’ll kick your pants.”


Dave After Work, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1994
Main Street 1, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1992
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Larry Fixes His Motorcycle, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1994
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Main Street 2, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1992
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My Grandmother Points to Her Old House, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1990
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Tour-Ed Coal Mine, Tarentum, Pennsylvania, 1990
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Stage Curtain, Slovan Club, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1991
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Tracy on Her Bed, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1995
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Sign Outside the Washhouse, Shannopin Mine, Bobtown, Pennsylvania, 1991
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Donna and Devon, Main Street, Avella, Pennsylvania, 1992
[/caption]All images are archival prints.
All images © Doug DuBois