Shelby Lee Adams interview with Brooks Jensen in LensWork

The newest issue of LensWork features the work of Shelby Lee Adams and an extensive interview with Brooks Jensen. Brooks and Shelby discuss the roots of his work, his personal “rule” when making portraits and the publication of his fourth book, Salt & Truth (published in 2011 by Candela Books).

LensWork #98 Jan-Feb 2012
LensWork #98 Jan-Feb 2012

Brooks addresses Shelby’s connection to the Appalachian people he is photographing. Brooks says, “You’re from there – an insider to the community – and you’re photographing your roots, your people, and the place you grew up. What you end up showing us is something that is anything but stereotyped – what we so often get when an outsider goes into that area.” But after the release of Shelby’s first book, Appalachian Portraits in the early 90’s, critics questioned his intentions behind the photographs. Returning year after year to photograph the families, in some cases through multiple generations within one family, has helped shed these concerns. Shelby says in the interview, “Photographs capture surfaces, but at the same time I’m capturing my people – they’re real human beings – and there’s a depth of character, a depth of culture, and a relationship that I have to these people that’s very significant.”

Loyd Dean’s Pool Table, 2006

In the interview, Shelby also discusses his personal “rule” when making portraits. He will not allow himself to make any new images until the individual has a copy of an image from his previous visit. It is a rule he strongly encourages his students to get in the habit of doing as well. Through seeing the portraits from the previous session, a new dialog begins. A detail may be noticed for the first time and this detail may conjure up an idea for the next photograph. Shelby shares some of these moments, his peers and subjects looking at the photographs he has taken of them, on his blog.

The Napier’s Living Room, 1989

CEG will be exhibiting a selection of Shelby’s work in May 2012. The show will focus on several generations of families photographed by Shelby. Until then, be sure to read the full interview in LensWork.