Tuesday, December 11, 2012

1974 - 2014 - Celebrating 40 Years of Photographing Back Home.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Home Page — Welcome

Shelby Lee Adams

Click on single images to enlarge.

Halloween, Mousie, KY, 2014

Oma, 2014

Barbara, 2014

Tina, 2014

Brice, 2014

Brice, 1974
[One of my oldest friends and first photo subject outside my immediate family.]

Hazard Mountain, 2014

View from Hazard Hotel, Summer 2014

Teresa, '14

Teresa's mother was in my photograph, "The Home Funeral," 1990. Teresa now has two children of her own, completing four generations of her family I have now photographed starting in 1988. Teresa and I have made photographs together throughout her entire life.

Melissa, '14

Happened to be visiting and photographing the horses on the farm with Melissa's grandpa, a friend, when I saw Melissa and her sister were preparing to go to their 8th grade prom night at the Willard School, nearby.
I asked her to pose in front of her grandpa's wild turkey plume, he had put on the wall last Fall. Another of Melissa's photographs is featured in my most recent book, "salt and truth," posing with her twin sister in,"Halloween Twins," made in 2006.

Boy's on Four-Wheeler, '14

Ronnie sitting in front of Four-Wheeler, '14

Martha and Grapevines, '14

Lue, '14

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

Jerry, '14

I have been photographing Jerry since the 1980's individually and with his entire family, now mostly gone. What we look like to other people is not always what we are. If we look inward at ourselves with awareness and compassion as we gaze outwardly at others, we can see with more kindness and connection.

Learion and Son, '14

Walter's Trailer, '14

Turkey, '14

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.



Candela Books of Richmond, Virginia announces the publication of "salt and truth." Photographs by Shelby Lee Adams," released October 2011.
120 pages, 80 tritones.
D.A.P./ Distributed Art Publishers

Salt and Truth is the fourth book from American photographer Shelby Lee Adams [1950-present]. This collection of 80 new photographs, taken over the past eight years, continues a project the artist has been working on now for over 30 years. Together these powerful images of the hollow dwellers of eastern Kentucky, represent a singular access to a world that is historically not very trusting of outsiders, by a photographer who is widely recognized as a master of the medium.

Gordon Stettinius, Publisher


Oma's Bible with Copper Spindles, '12

Additional new color work, "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."

Guggenheim Site View slide show

Please review both sites.
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
Published in, "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 - 2015 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.