The Queens of Queen City: A Documentary Project by Michael O. Snyder


July 29-August 19, 2023 • 11:00AM-5:00PM Daily • Free

The Allegany Arts Council and its Saville Gallery are pleased to welcome back native son and photographer, Michael O. Snyder for his exhibition, "The Queens of Queen City," to be exhibited July 29-August 19, 2023.

About the Exhibit

America is, by admission of most of its political leaders, a nation shaped by deeply held religious beliefs and cultural values.  And perhaps nowhere is this truer than in Appalachia, a mountainous swath of America’s eastern midsection, known for its Rust Belt work ethic and its Bible Belt conservatism.  Here, Cumberland, MD was once "The Queen City”, a hub of industry and culture, second only to Baltimore for the largest urban population in the state.  But the story of Cumberland has paralleled that of many once-great cities throughout the Appalachian region: the gradual departure of industry and, with it, a slow descent into economic stagnation and cultural decline.

But even here, flowers are growing in the cracked pavement: a queer community has banded together, created a thriving drag scene, and – against all odds - built the largest Pride movement in the region.  "The Queens of Queen City” is a documentary project exploring the courage, risks, and repercussions of openly expressing LGBTQ identities in rural, conservative America.  The project charts the course of this queer community over a period of years as they struggle with loss, bigotry, and acts of arson, to build an inclusive, vibrant community.

As a native to Appalachia and the Cumberland region myself, I have been deeply inspired by the courage of this community and have spent the last 10 years getting to know its members, hearing their stories, and making images with them. My hope is that, in shining a light on both the struggles and joys of this community, it will inspire individuals elsewhere in rural America to embrace and express their chosen gender identities.

The exhibit and accompanying publication has already received awards and accolades, including the:

  • Pulitzer Center Reporting Grant
  • Finalist, LensCulture Portrait Awards
  • Honorable Mention, ZEKE Award for Documentary Photography
  • Honorable Mention, Julia Margaret Cameron Award for Photography

About the Artist

Michael O. Snyder (b. 1981) is a documentary photographer and filmmaker exploring the dynamic relationship between environmental and cultural change. An environmental and climate scientist by training, Snyder uses his combined knowledge of visual storytelling and conservation to create narratives that drive social impact. His photojournalism work has been featured by outlets such as National Geographic, The Guardian, and The Washington Post, and has been shown at exhibitions and galleries around the world. He is a Portrait of Humanity Award Winner, a Pulitzer Grantee, a Climate Journalism Fellow at the Bertha Foundation, a member of the Society of Environmental Journalists, and a resident artist at the McGuffey Art Center in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Through his production company, Interdependent Pictures, he has directed films in the Arctic, the Amazon, the Himalaya, and East Africa. His films have been selected to over 60 festivals, have taken home numerous awards, have been sponsored by companies such as Sony and GoPro, and have been distributed by outlets such as New Day Films and Films for Change. Michael often lectures on visual storytelling and its potential as a tool for social impact. He has been a featured speaker at the United Nations Climate Conference and has lectured at universities such as Yale, Columbia, and the Alfred Wegener Institute. In 2022, the University of Edinburgh named him one of its most “influential alumni making a significant contribution to climate science and justice.”

An adventurer at heart, Michael has hiked the Appalachian and John Muir Trails, cycled across Europe, and ridden trains through Siberia. Originally from a small town in Appalachia, Snyder has lived around the world including long-term stints in Scotland, Japan, Hawaii, and New Zealand. He currently resides in the shadow of the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia with his wife and two children. Michael holds an MSc in Environmental Sustainability from the University of Edinburgh, Scotland, where he was a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, and a BSc from Dickinson College, Pennsylvania.

His journalism work has been featured by National Geographic, The Guardian, Vox, Roads & Kingdoms, The Washington Post, High Country News, The Wild Magazine, Condé Nast, NPR, Political Science and Politics, Social Documentary and Beautiful Decay.  His films have been selected to over 40 festivals and have taken home numerous awards.

He is a Rotary Ambassadorial Scholar, a Blue Earth Photographer, a Fearless Photographer, and the co-founder of two environmental organizations.  Mike has hiked the Appalachian and John Muir Trails, cycled across Europe and ridden trains across Siberia.  He currently resides in Charlottesville, Virginia with his wife and children.

A Public Opening will take place on Saturday, July 29, 2023, from 6:00PM-8:00PM. The event is free and the public is invited to attend.




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