Honky Tonk Portraits


Country Western Bar and Grill, Highway 41, Nashville, 2008. Photograph by Henry Horenstein.

The Boston Globe reviews an exhibition of photographs by New England photographer Henry Horenstein that has a Nashville connection. The exhibition is drawn from the photographs in Horenstein’s book, Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, runs through Oct. 17 at Endicott College’s Heftler Visiting Artist Gallery in Beverly, Mass. Honky Tonk is a collection of photographs taken between 1968 and 2010 that document the changing world of country music and its fans.

“There are multiple portraits of singers and instrumentalists among the nearly 30 black-and-white photographs in the show. Most of the images are from the 1970s; the latest was taken in 2008. Some of the musicians are quite famous: Loretta Lynn, Doc Watson, Waylon Jennings, Emmylou Harris, Mother Maybelle Carter,” the Boston Globe says. “But what appeals to Horenstein — and what lends Honky Tonk an appeal even to someone who wouldn’t know Conway Twitty from Kitty Wells — is the world of country music. And for all that he loves the people who inhabit that world — the fans and little-known performers no less than the stars — it’s the whole shebang that fascinates and delights Horenstein.”

Born in Massachusetts, Horenstein was on a path to becoming a historian when he discovered photography, according to the college website’s page on the exhibition. “Captivated by the work of Robert Frank and Danny Lyon, Horenstein entered the Rhode Island School of Design where he studied with Harry Callahan and Aaron Siskind. After completing his Master of Fine Arts Degree, Horenstein’s first major project was a documentary survey of the people and character of country music. As a long time fan, Horenstein recognized that the culture of country music was changing, losing the homey, down-to-earth character of ‘hillbilly’ music, and adopting the slicker nature of contemporary country music. His goal was to preserve a vanishing culture by capturing it in photographs, and for nearly a decade, he traveled throughout the United States documenting the artists and audiences at honky-tonk bars, outdoor festivals, and community dances. The body of work that Horenstein created is a remarkable portrait of a distinct period in American cultural history.”

I rather like this Horenstein chap. I majored in American history for three years in college before switching to journalism (after first contemplating a switch to photojournalism). And, like Horenstein, I’m photographically fascinated by the history and culture of country music. I’m going to track down a copy of his book – and wish his exhibition would come here.