Tuesday, December 11, 2012

1974 - 2023 - Celebrating 40 + Years of Photographing Back Home.
Updated May 2023

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Home Page — Welcome

New Book—Every summer for over 40 years, Shelby Lee Adams travelled to the mountains of Eastern Kentucky to take photographs. Now in his 70s, Adams has returned to his archive of unpublished images taken between 1974 and 2010. His aim was to print those which may have been previously overlooked, concerned that if he did not print them in his lifetime, the photographs would never be made. Nearly 90 of these unpublished photographs are included in his forthcoming book From the Heads of the Hollers—an 11 x 14 inch portfolio book, printed in Italy, published in September 2023 by GOST Books, London. Link to video description:   https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kCZ9obcSR1E

Shelby now has copies he can sell.
$80.00 per copy. Mailing cost included.
Media Mail in US only/outside US buyer must pay shipping.
Offers - signed copies.
Purchase with PayPal use e mail below.
Send full mailing address with PayPal payment or  e mail for PO Box address for mailing checks
 Short Biography - Shelby Lee Adams

Shelby Lee Adams, born 1950, in Hazard, Kentucky. He considers his photography to be a personal search for our interconnectedness, collaboratively working with his childhood friends and those introduced to him in the hollers of Eastern Kentucky. He becomes connected photographing again and again with those he loves and establishes relationships. He believes accepting and appreciating others, revisiting and creating new portraits over time leads to a more equatable way of seeing, bonding, and developing deeper relationships that break down stereotypes and misunderstandings revealing a more intimate view of our fragile humanity. Shelby holds photo degrees from the Cleveland Institute of Art, University of Iowa and Mass College of Art.

         His photographs are published and collected in more than 60  permanent museum and private collections; he has exhibited and lectured at numerous one-person venues and group exhibitions internationally since 1974. Just as importantly, his subjects display within their homes his photographs. In 1993 his first book was published, "Appalachian Portraits.” In 1998 his second, “Appalachian Legacy,” with text by the author. In 2003, “Appalachian Lives,” his third book with text by Vickie Goldberg, all published by The University Press of Mississippi. In 2011, “salt & truth,” was published by Candela Books of Richmond Virginia. GOST  Books of London has produced his most recent book, "From the Heads of the Hollers." His friends and subjects receive copies of his publications as they are produced.

Hardburley Porch, 2004

Shelby has been awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Photography Fellowship in 1992 and previously was selected as a member of an NEA survey project in 1978, photographing within his native region. In 2010 he received a photography fellowship from the Guggenheim Foundation. From 1989 – 92 he received support from the Polaroid Corporation, making location environmental Polaroids. A complete resume can be found at http://shelby-lee-adams-resume.blogspot.com listing additional venues, and publications. Shelby has exhibited his work, taught photography at the college level and conducted International photo workshops. 

          Connected to this site are 13 blogs that present different facets of his work, life and photography. Shelby's approach to photographing our humanity is presented, with personal writings and collected quotes by others. This is the only official site administered and updated by the photographer.


Series of 4 X 5 Polaroids, made throughout the 90's. I call my photography collaborative. When photographing, I show and give my subjects 4x5 Polaroids as we make photos, asking them how they like their pictures and what they would like to add or move into the composition. I have worked this way from 1974 through 2010 when Polaroid materials were no longer manufactured. 

Click on above image to view as slide show only
using arrow keys.

Lloyd  Dean grandfather to all the kids in photo posing with grandchildren holding 4X5 Polaroids we made that day in the early 90's. Camera in foreground. 

Visiting the Hollers

         It was never a conscious effort on my part to focus on the unseen people. But, the most soulful, honest, giving, and communicative people often are those living in the rural hollers. This became my quest and vision, to sensitively photograph those genuinely unaffected by modern society. To share with viewers, hopefully expanding our common concerns and understandings of each other. Embracing these folks, with acceptance and compassion is my commitment. If we continue to resist differences, because of physical appearance, racial variances, economic or otherwise, we continue to isolate each other.

                                          —Shelby Lee Adams




Facebook  Folios with Writings:

Click on 62 images below for Black & White Folio
Click on 20 images for Color Work

Brother's Praying, 1993

62 images Black & White
20 Images  Color Work

Official  Facebook Page


The Center for Creative Photography at Tucson is assembling a permanent collection and archive of my photographic works and related materials. Currently over 150 images are available to view at the link below.


                    "Art is both love and friendship, and understanding; the desire to give. It is not charity, which is the giving of Things, it is more than kindness which is the giving of self. It is both the taking and giving of beauty, the turning out to the light the inner folds of the awareness of the spirit. It is the recreation on another plan of the realities of the world; the tragic and wonderful realities of earth and men, and of all the inter-relation of these."
                                                                                                   —Ansel Adams


The Portrait

“And so I am trying to tell you what doing portraits meant to me, I had to find out what it was inside anyone and by anyone I meant everyone and I had to find out inside everyone what was in them that was intrinsically exciting and I had to find out not by what they said not by what they did not by how much or how little they resembled any other one but I had to find it out by the intensity of movement that there was inside in any one of them. And of course do not forget, of course I was interested in anyone. And in anyone I must or else I must betaken myself to some entirely different occupation and I do not think I will, I must find out what is moving inside them, and I must find out how I by the thing moving excitedly inside in can make a portrait of them.”

—Gertrude Stein


Mountain Musicians 

      My earliest memories of our musical heritage I listened to and watched my maternal grandparents, Lee and Berthie Banks, sing to each other at home. My grandparents also introduced me to a powerful and emotionally compelling music when they took me along to the services at the Old Regular Baptist Church. Their music and hymns express a deeply moving humility, spirituality, and soulfulness, that brings many to tears.

Excerpt from Appalachian Lives, 2003, The University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS

Roy, 2009

Lee "Boy" Sexton, 2012

Jack holding Banjo, 1988

Rose Marie, 1999

Della Mae, 1999

Pauline, 2000

Martha in Church, 1996

Marion and Hawk, 1985

Johnny and Banjo

Roy, '03

Brother Ish, 1994

George's Branch Porch, 1991

Scotty with Banjo and Tom, 1991

YouTube video of Scotty has had over 158,000 watchers.

Crafton Barger and Son's, 1999

Bert with Guitar, 1992

Brother Baker, 1999

Steve and Francis, 2004

Polaroids from Steve & Francis Photo session.




Photo by Heidi, 2023

    Hooterville is a small isolated community in Eastern Kentucky, the country seat and closest town being Hazard. Driving to Hooterville involves turning off the interstate onto a two-lane country road and going for five miles, past the new trailer park site and through some beautiful countryside. When the handmade sign reading "Hooterville Little Church" appears, you turn onto a single-lane road that changes from gravel to dirt and after a mile of this, you are in the middle of Hooterville. 

Excerpt from, Appalachian Legacy, 1998, The University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS

Hort's Corner, 1993

Ralph and Connie visiting Hort and Mimi, 91

Hooterville Little Church, 1990

Hort's Sermon

"People is mixed up so bad in the truth you can't tell them the truth, when you preach the apostle Doctrine to them.  They say what in the world is that man a talking about? They say that man is an Antichrist. That's what they call us. I don't care what a man calls me, I'm a Jesus man. I was baptised in the name of Jesus Christ and I thank God for that. Listen, people, if I can't talk to a brother, I sure ain't going to try to pour it down 'em. Brother, that water of life is a free thing. It comes free, but a man has to work for it. It says in the Bible, work out your own salvation, brother, by fear and trembling. Okay, then."

—Hort Collins

From:  Appalachian Legacy, by Shelby Lee Adams, published by The University Press of Mississippi, Jackson, MS, 1998

Jane, 1990

Hort's Back Porch, 1992

Girl's in Onion Patch, 04

Burchal and Family, 1994 [neighbor's]

This Question, 1991

Bee Jay, 1992
Printed 2023

Baptizing Them, 1992
Published in "Appalachian Portraits, 1993"

4x5 Polaroids made to share & give to community, 1992

Mimi, 1990

Granny with Jesus, 92

Brothers Praying, 1993

Brothers at Brother's and Mother's Graves, 1994

The Holy Van, 1993

Easter and Beejay, 1992

The Adoration, 1995

4x5 Polaroids Made in Hooterville, 1989-1990's

Oma, 1989, final print

Hort holding Shelby's first book open to his and mothers photos, 1993

Shelby & Hort, 2001

Hort's Homemade Sign

Hort's YouTube Video Link Below.

YouTube Video posted May 2016

Hooterville at Dusk, 1997




Post Office Sign, Krypton, Kentucky, '14

Post Office Sign, Mousie, Ky. '14

Church Sign, Hi-Hat, Ky. '15

All work - copyright ©Shelby Lee Adams 2015
Copyright statement at end of home page applies.




Oma's Bible with Copper Spindles, '12

Additional new color work see, "Shelby's Color Work" Section.


Sherman Jacobs with grandson's, '12

Sherman above [center] and his family have also been in all four of my photo books made now spanning over 37 years. It was a pleasure to give out over 2 cases of "salt and truth," the summer of 2012, in person to my many friends and subjects.

Martha holding book with Kizzie, turned to their two photos published together, '12


My work has strictly followed word of mouth and personal introductions for all these years. However, it is becoming more difficult to find the authentic salt-of-the-earth people, who are now being overrun by a more sugar-coated society. The families who occupied this land for more than a couple hundred years are now interspersed with a new breed of Appalachian and land developers driving Hummers and Escalades, owning oddly shaped swimming pools and mansions built into the mountaintops after the coal is removed and the mountains reclaimed. To go into the woods nowadays can be dangerous and surprising. One has to be watchful not to stumble upon a booby-trapped marijuana field or abandoned meth houses, or be surprised by a bear or a coyote, or even the striking appearance of a wandering, imported elk herd. It is a more varied and diluted world now. Salt preserves wholesomeness and prevents decay, but the people from the earlier, harder-formed age who bear that special look are now in decline.

Shelby Lee Adams
From: "salt and truth"

             Shelby is honored to receive International recognition when awarded the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Photography Fellowship for 2010. This recognition helped lead to the publication of "salt and truth."


YOU TUBE Video - Scotty Stidham

Video of Scotty was made in 1993 in S-VHS format. The quality of video suffers here, but the culture and life style is apparent. Scotty lived to be over 100 years old. He lived and farmed his land in Barwick, Ky. He shares his music, views on religion and politics in video. He was and is still endeared and loved by many.

Vimeo Video Format- Scotty Stidham

Photography with the Slones, Summer 2008

Artist Statement

           Every summer, traveling through the mountains photographing, I am somehow able to renew and relive my childhood. I regain my southern, mountain accent and approach my people with openness, fascination, and respect; and they treat me with respect. My psychic antennae become sharpened and acute. I love these people, perhaps that is it, plain and simple. I respond to the sensual beauty of a hardened face with many scars, the deeply etched lines and flickers of sweat containing bright spots of sunlight. The eyes of my subjects reveal a kindness and curiosity, and their acceptance of me is gratifying. For me, this is rejuvenation of the spirit of time past, and I am better for the experience each time it happens. These portraits are, in a way, self-portraits that represent a long autobiographical exploration of creativity, imagination, vision, repulsion and salvation. My greatest fear as a photographer is to look into the eyes of my subject and not see my own reflection.

               My work has been an artist search for a deeper understanding of my heritage and myself, using photography as a medium and the Appalachian people as collaborators with their own desires to communicate. I hope, too, that viewers, will see in these photographs something of the abiding strength and resourcefulness and dignity of the mountain people.

Shelby Lee Adams
 "Appalachian Portraits."



                 We need an unprejudiced mind to see what-is; we cannot see what-is and respond to it if the mind is trying to change or suppress it. We resist what-is because we are afraid of the unknown, or because what-is contradicts what we have been conditioned to believe, or because it threatens us. The resulting fear prevents from us accepting what-is. Resistance to what-is may look like strength, but actually arises from fear, whereas it is powerful and freeing to accept what-is.

                   Surrender means allowing life to happen rather than opposing the flow of life, accepting the present moment without resistance. The necessary action will then arise, but when we act out of acceptance rather than resistance, we act without negativity or judgment. Action that arises out of acceptance is different from action that arises out of rage and hatred. Action that arises from a state of surrender is less contaminated with judgment and the need to hurt others. We simply do what needs to be done without labeling the situation as good or bad according to the ego’s criteria.

Lionel Corbett
Psyche and Sacred

The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of a copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is punishable by fines and federal imprisonment.

All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1978 - 2023 Shelby Lee Adams, legal action will be taken to represent the photographer, the work taken out of context, subjects and integrity of all photographic and written works, including additional photographers published and authors quoted. Permissions - send e mail request with project descriptions.