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Nashville Portraits: Photographs by Jim McGuire
March 6 - April 26, 2009
Nashville Portraits: Photographs by Jim McGuire, organized by the Morris Museum or Art, opens to the public on March 6, 2009, at the Morris Museum's annual Gala. This highly acclaimed touring exhibition includes sixty of McGuire's most engaging photographic portraits of leading figures in country, bluegrass, and Americana music-among them Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash (with Billy Graham), Emmy Lou Harris, and Ricky Skaggs. (right: Jim McGuire, Johnny Cash and Dr. Billy Graham, 1978. Courtesy of the artist.)
"Jim McGuire is one of country music's most celebrated photographers," said Kevin Grogan, director of the Morris Museum of Art and curator of the exhibition. "These sixty silver gelatin prints were selected from thousands of portraits shot over a period of more than thirty-five years. Since Jim moved to Nashville in 1972, his photographs have graced the covers of more than six hundred recordings, and, in Nashville, he has grown to be nearly as famous as his musical subjects."
As McGuire himself has pointed out, "Over the past thirty-plus years, I have had the great good fortune to have met, photographed, and befriended many of my musical heroes. Most of us have a drawer full of snap shots that remind us of the good times. These are mine."
This exhibition began its national tour at the First Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville, Tennessee where it appeared from May to September 2007. It has since traveled to the Art Museum of Western Virginia in Roanoke, City of Lake Charles in Louisiana, and Huntsville Museum of Art in Alabama. After its appearance at the Morris Museum, the exhibition journeys to the Georgia Music Hall of Fame in Macon, Dane G. Hansen Memorial Museum in Logan, Kansas, and the Museum of the Southwest in Midland, Texas. The exhibition was organized by the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta, Georgia, and its tour was developed and is managed by Smith-Kramer Fine Art Services, an exhibition tour development company in Kansas City, Missouri.
Nashville Portraits: Photographs by Jim McGuire remains on display at the Morris Museum of Art through April 26, 2009. For more information, please visit the museum's web site at http://www.themorris.org/
This exhibition is accompanied by a book entitled, Nashville Portraits: Legends of Country Music. Compiled and edited by Morris Museum of Art director Kevin Grogan, the book includes an essay by former National Endowment for the Humanities chairman William Ferris, as well as more than sixty of Jim McGuire's black and white photographs of Nashville's finest, accompanied brief biographical sketches of each artist and quotes from their peers and admirers, appraising them and their contributions to the music scene. The book is available at the Morris Museum of Art store or online at http//.store.themorris.org.
Born and raised in New Jersey, Jim McGuire was an unlikely country music-lover, but one song changed all that. McGuire was twelve years old on the day he heard Hank Snow's "Spanish Fireball" for the first time, and he instantly fell in love with country music forever. Music has since been a huge part of McGuire's life -- a muse for his photography. (left: Jim McGuire, Dolly Parton, 1974. Courtesy of the artist.)
He became a photographer at the request of an Air Force captain who "volunteered him" for an aerial reconnaissance mission in 1964, which entailed photographing Vietnamese villages while hanging out of a single-engine plane. McGuire then enlisted the help of a Vietnamese portrait photographer, who showed him how to construct a makeshift darkroom in an old army tent, process film in muddy water, and make bad black and white prints that were actually used by helicopter pilots to plan missions. He became the camp photographer and began a photographic document of the war that he continued until his honorable discharge in 1965.
Realizing photography might serve as a suitable career, McGuire moved to New York to explore the photography opportunities and learn his craft. There, he landed a job assisting fashion photographer John Foote, who introduced McGuire to the strongest photographic influence of his life, Irving Penn.
"Penn's small trades series was the most honest and powerful visual thing I had ever seen...still is...transporting real, working people to stand in front of a timeless canvas in their 'work clothes' and with their 'tools' was such a simple and honest approach it opened up a whole new way of looking at people," commented McGuire.
He was so taken by the power of those plain images that he had to try it myself. He painted a canvas that looked like Penn's backdrop and invited a local teenage bicycle gang to come in for a portrait -- exactly copying one of Penn's photographs. Thirty-five years later he is still using the same, hand-painted canvas backdrop for his Nashville Portraits.
After a one-year stint as a corporate photographer for TWA airlines, McGuire made the decision to go freelance, which gave him the freedom to travel and photograph the bluegrass and folk festivals that were then making their way east as part of the folk revival of the late 1960s. This led to a stint writing reviews of new records and live concerts for The Village Voice. It was during this time his interest in music and photography merged as he spent more and more time at festivals and writing reviews of New York's emerging country music scene.
Then, in 1971, McGuire caught a performance in the Village by John Hartford and the Aereo-Plain Band -- consisting of Hartford, Vassar Clements, Tut Taylor, and Norman Blake. With the help of friend and record producer David Bromberg, he was able to get them all back to his Gramercy Park studio for some late night, impromptu portraits. The portraits of Hartford, Tut and Vassar shot that night, were the beginning of what evolved into the Nashville Portraits.
The "Nashville connection" began with Travis Rivers. McGuire met and became friends with Rivers, who at that time was the manager and producer of Nashville blues singer Tracy Nelson. Rivers invited McGuire to Nashville to shoot some photographs of Nelson at her farm, which ended up being McGuire's first Nashville album cover. It was soon after that he packed up and moved to Nashville, the year was 1972.
That is what Jim McGuire has been doing ever since-photographing his heroes,such icons of bluegrass and country music as Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Tammy Wynette, Steve Earle, and John Prine. The list goes on and on.
(above: Jim McGuire, Bill Monroe, 1989. Courtesy of the artist.)
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