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Country: Portraits of an American Sound

The Annenberg Space for Photography's exhibit Country: Portraits of an American Sound presents images of the pioneers, poets and icons of country music.  It is free to the public and on display from May 31 through September 28, 2014.  Guest curators for this exhibit are Shannon Perich of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and Tim Davis and Michael McCall of the Country Music Hall of Fame® and Museum.

Dolly PartonCountry: Portraits of an American Sound uses historical and contemporary photographs to explore how images shape the public identity of country music performers and of the genre itself.  Celebrated performers such as Johnny Cash, Dolly Parton, Keith Urban and Hank Williams—as well as deejays, fans, executives and musicians—are seen in the works of photographers who documented multiple generations of this popular history.

The work of the featured photographers spans from post-World War II America into the new century.  The photographers include the late amateur photographer Elmer Williams; the late studio photographer Walden S. Fabry; veteran Grand Ole Opry staff photographer Les Leverett; the late Los Angeles-based photographer Leigh Wiener; Boston-based documentary photographer Henry Horenstein; iconic entertainment photographers Henry Diltz, Raeanne Rubenstein and Ethan Russell; and contemporary photographers David McClister and Michael Wilson. Through their work—a variety of documentary, studio, promotional and fine art images— guests visiting the Annenberg Space for Photography can see and experience the power of photography to portray American ideals that country music embodies.

Johnny CashIn addition to over 110 prints, the exhibit will feature an original half-hour documentary commissioned by the Annenberg Space for Photography and produced by Arclight Productions.  The film explores the image of country music and its 80 year evolution and highlights the role of photography in documenting its history, capturing its culture and portraying its uniquely American sound.  The film features photographers Henry Diltz, Henry Horenstein, Les Leverett, David McClister, Raeanne Rubenstein, Leigh Wiener and Michael Wilson.  Over a dozen country music artists also appear, including Roy Clark, Merle Haggard, Lyle Lovett, LeAnn Rimes, Marty Stuart and Lee Ann Womack.

Also on display will be country albums and film posters, a slideshow of digital images, archival artifacts from musical instruments to stage costumes and a jukebox containing rare audio files.

Woven throughout the Photography Space will be screens presenting short videos including one by Shannon Perich and The Biscuit Factory that gives an overview of the origin of country music; a short film by Henry Horenstein about the legendary Texas music hall the Broken Spoke and additional archival videos.


See upcoming Iris Nights Lectures


 

David McClister

Nashville-based photographer David McClister grew up in the South and began his career as a filmmaker and music video director. At the urging of his wife, he picked up a still camera and began photographing several local bands and musicians that he admired. McClister fell in love with the medium and eventually photographed Ryan Adams’ album “Heartbreaker.” Fourteen years later, he has worked with many major record labels and his photographs have appeared in Rolling Stone, GQ, Esquire, Garden & Gun, The Wall Street Journal, TIME and Billboard.

Henry Diltz

After founding the Modern Folk Quartet, Henry Diltz formed many friendships with recording artists of the California rock community in the 60s and 70s. Immersed in this world, he accidentally discovered a passion for photography, which turned into an obsession and occupation. In a memorable six-year partnership with design legend Gary Burden, Dilzt shot album covers for many artists including The Doors, The Eagles, Crosby Stills Nash & Young, Jackson Browne, America, Steppenwolf, James Taylor and Mama Cass. He was the official photographer at the Woodstock and Monterey festivals, and his work has appeared in The New York Times, The LA Times, Life, People, Rolling Stone and Billboard.

Walden S. Fabry

Walden S. Fabry was a studio portrait photographer working in Peoria, Illinois in the 1940s when country comedian Minnie Pearl persuaded him to move to Nashville. After establishing a new studio in downtown Nashville, Fabry became a favorite of country music stars, taking iconic images from the late 1940s through the 1960s. “He made us look glamorous,” Pearl said of Fabry. “He didn’t treat us like a bunch of ignorant people from the sticks. Instead, he treated us like Hollywood stars.” The Fabry collection of approximately 6,340 images and 2,286 prints is now part of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Frist Library and Archive.

Henry Horenstein

Henry Horenstein has been a professional photographer, teacher and author since the 1970s. He studied history at the University of Chicago before turning to photography, earning his BFA and MFA at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD), where he is now a professor of photography.  Horenstein’s work is collected and exhibited internationally, and he has published over 20 books, including Black & White Photography: A Basic Manual and Digital Photography: A Basic Manual, used by many university, high school, and art school students as an introduction to photography. He has also published several monographs of his own work, including Show, Honky Tonk, Animalia, Humans, Racing Days and Close Relations.

Les Leverett

Les Leverett worked for Associated Photographers in Nashville from 1952 until late 1956 and started the photographic department at The National Life Company in 1960. Leverett’s photographs have been seen on hundreds of album covers, and his many honors include a Grammy for best album cover photography for Porter Wagoner’s 1966 album “Confessions of a Broken Man” and Billboard’s Best Country Cover for Dolly Parton’s 1973 album, “Bubbling Over.” Leverett was presented with the Distinguished Achievement Award by the International Bluegrass Music Association in 2001 and the first Distinguished Achievement Award by the California Bluegrass Association in 2006.

Raeanne Rubenstein

Photo by Jerry Atnip

Raeanne Rubenstein’s clients have included People, Life, TIME, Rolling Stone and The New York Times, as well as TV networks and record labels. Among the many celebrated musicians she has photographed are musicians John Lennon and The Beatles, Johnny Cash, Rod Stewart, Pete Townsend, The Rolling Stones and Garth Brooks. She has authored ten books of her work, and has contributed photographs to many more. In 2006, luxury book publisher Black Dog & Leventhal published a cocktail table book entitled Country Music: The People Places & Moments That Shaped the Country Sound which features over 200 of her photographs.

Ethan Russell

Photo by Andy Caulfield

Ethan Russell is an author of three books and a Grammy nominated photographer and director. After working with The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, he received his first Grammy nomination for photographing The Who's 1973 album “Quadrophenia.” Russell went on to photograph artists such as Jerry Lee Lewis, Janis Joplin, Eric Clapton, Linda Ronstadt, Rickie Lee Jones and Rosanne Cash. Russell also directed the music video for Hank Williams Jr.’s "There's A Tear In My Beer," which earned him his second Grammy nomination. Most recently, Russell launched an ongoing blog for The Huffington Post: “Music, Words, & Photography.”

Leigh Wiener

During his 50-year career as a photographer and photojournalist, Leigh Wiener photographed every U.S. president from Truman to Reagan, Hollywood legends from Marilyn to Marlon and musicians from Miles to Sinatra. After moving to Los Angeles in 1946, Wiener went on to become a staff photographer at the Los Angeles Times before shooting freelance for Life, Time, Fortune and Sports Illustrated. He created and co-hosted the Emmy-winning television show "Talk about Pictures" on KNBC. Wiener's photographs are in the permanent collections of the National Portrait Gallery. He passed away in 1993, leaving behind a rich archive of images that uniquely captures the second half of the 20th century.

Elmer Williams

Originally a restaurant owner, Elmer Williams began supplementing his income by taking photographs for insurance companies, weddings and family portraits. In 1952, the publisher of a Nashville magazine hired Williams to take candid photos at music industry gatherings and backstage at the Grand Ole Opry. Williams’ casual, easygoing approach helped him develop a friendship with many country artists. In the 1990s, Williams donated his archives of more than four thousand historic photographs – many unpublished – to the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum’s Frist Library and Archive.

Michael Wilson

A freelance photographer since 1987, Michael Wilson’s work in the music industry is his most recognized. Wilson has photographed artists including Lyle Lovett, B.B. King, Waylon Jennings and Doc Watson, and his clients have included Nonesuch Records, Warner Bros. Records, Sony Music and Capitol Records. In 1985, Wilson published his first book of photographs and writing entitled, Heads Bowed Eyes Closed (No One Looking Around) and is currently working on his fourth book. His work has been featured in exhibitions at the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Contemporary Arts Center and the Weston Gallery.