Country Star Marty Stuart Displays Moody B&W Photos

This appeared in The Dallas Morning News - June 20, 2014

A poignant photograph of Johnny Cash in profile, his formerly raven hair now thin and white. Bluegrass legend Bill Monroe sitting in a barn, strumming in silhouette. Willie Nelson and Waylon Jennings, chatting and laughing.

These portraits and informal shots are among the more than 60 black-and-white images in American Ballads: The Photographs of Marty Stuart, on view through November 2 at Frist Center for the Visual Arts in Nashville. The show is displayed in the museum’s Conte Community Art Gallery, an admission-free area.

Five-time Grammy winner and Grand Ole Opry member Stuart began taking photos of his fellow musicians as a young member of Lester Flatt’s band. In 1974, Stuart saw a collection of photographs of jazz musicians by bassist and photographer Milt Hinton.

As soon as his mother, Hilda — also one of his photographic influences — sent his Kodak Instamatic, Stuart began documenting rehearsals and downtime, themes he’s explored over the years.

The stories behind the shots are as fascinating as the images themselves. That photograph of Stuart’s neighbor and former father-in-law Cash, for instance, was taken four days before his death. The one of Monroe came about while Stuart was setting up another shot.

Stuart took some of his approach from Les Leverett, the Grand Ole Opry’s official photographer for more than 30 years. At a museum event earlier this month, Stuart called Leverett — who was in attendance — the Ghost, because “you never knew when he would come into the room, make you smile and take your picture.”

But this show isn’t just about music legends.

American Ballads is divided into three areas: performers in the Masters; fans and other colorful characters, including Stuart’s late Aunt Waldine, in Blue Line Hotshots; and American Indians at Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, in Badlands.

Some of Stuart’s most impressive work is in that last section, including an image of a lone tree on a bare expanse and one of a group of horses on a hillside. Other photographs depict members of the Lakota tribe, including a cinematic shot of Orville Looking Horse wearing a distinctive feathered headdress.

An exhibition catalog accompanies the show and features an introduction by Stuart and a critical essay by Frist Center director Susan Edwards.

By MiChelle Jones

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