The Annenberg Space for Photography is presenting Country: Portraits of an American Sound now through September 28, 2014. The exhibit presents images of the pioneers, poets and icons of country music, Guest curators for this exhibit included Shannon Perich of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History, and two Nashvillians – Tim Davis and Michael McCall of the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum.
Country: 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.
In addition to over 110 prints, the exhibit features 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. More than 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: 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 are 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.
Final note: I contacted Michael McCall of the Country Music Hall of Fame and inquired whether Country: Portraits of an American Sound might eventually come to Nashville, and his response was that it might – but not before 2017, the 50th anniversary of the opening of the CMHOF’s first museum. He indicated other museums have expressed interest in it, and it might pop up in other cities, even possibly in Europe, after it closes at the Annenberg.
Annenberg Space for Photography show frames country music in new light – Los Angeles Times, May 18m 2014
Portraits Of An American Sound – Cowboys & Indians Magazine, July 2014
Sixty Years of Country Music’s Greatest Icons – Slate, May 23, 2014