Sunday, March 4, 2007

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New Book Release, The Book of Life
By: Shelby Lee Adams
Publisher : Steidl
Four generations of Appalachian families

           The Book of Life presents Shelby Lee Adams' color photographs of four generations of the Appalachian people. Adams began photographing the inhabitations of the rural Appalachian mountain range in 1974, using black-and-white film and Polaroid materials. In time he also worked with color Kodachrome film, invariably returning to the Eastern Kentucky region where he was born. By 2010 Adams was photographing exclusively in digital color, and this book marks the first time he is sharing his color work.

Preacher Dillard, 2012

              Adams has consistently focused on the valleys and homes of Kentucky families, relatives and neighbors in a predominantly seven-county region. He has often revisited individuals and families many times over decades, distributing his photos and books while creating new pictures. This personal approach has led to the creation of genuine and deep relationships between photographer and subject, in which the subject is often involved in unusually creative ways, verbalizing the emotions they would like to express during the shoot, and where and how they would like to be depicted.

Lloyd Deane and Great Grand Baby, 2010

             Born in Kentucky in 1950, Shelby Lee Adams attended the Cleveland Institute of Art where he encountered the photographs of the Farm Security Administration; these inspired him to take photos of the people of Appalachia, an ongoing project that has shaped his life’s work. Adams’ awards include a survey grant and fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978, 1992), grants from the Polaroid Corporation (1989–92) and the John Simon Guggenheim Photography Fellowship (2010). His work is held in collections including The Museum of Modern Art, New York, and Musée de l’Elysée, Lausanne, Switzerland. Adams exhibits and teaches internationally, and is currently developing his archive with the Center of Creative Photography in Tucson, Arizona.

John and Truck, 2017

Product details
·       Hardcover: 184 pages
·       Publisher: Steidl 
·       Language: English
·       ISBN-10: 3958294189
·       ISBN-13: 978-3958294189
·      Shipping Weight: 1.7 pounds 

·      Pre Order Price: $45.00

Amazon Pre-order Book


The Book of Life, Finding Heaven in a Holler

"Those making up my environmental portraiture have also contributed greatly to my spiritual and emotional fulfillment. Over the years our conversations have opened and revealed intimate and confidential life histories. Their stories are direct and personal. I try and understand the actions, behaviors and the diverse polarities within our families and communities, its sufferings, enjoyments and contradictions. Absorbing some of their feelings, experiences and witnessing their situations, I try and bring forward something from their inner being, sharing their joys and tensions."

—Shelby Lee Adams

Pages from 2018 Steidl Catalogue of forthcoming books.


 Photos from  October 2016

Sherman and Dog, 2016

Pauline, 2016

Martha and Dog, 2016

Jane and Richard, 2016

Below is Earlier Work made with Friends Above.

Sherman Holding Hog's Head, 1992

Pauline, 1985

Martha in Church, 96

Jane, 2007


Leona, October 2016


Color Work  October 2015 and earlier.

Barwick Bridge, 2015

Debbie holding Rooster, 2011

Lonnie holding Baby, 1985
[Kodachrome Digital Transfer]

Alma holding Baby, 2002
[Kodachrome Digital Transfer]

Adam Dean, Just Married Truck, 2003
[Kodachrome Digital Transfer]

Susann and Son, 2014

Halloween, 2015

Cemetery Blankets, 2014

Corrine and Selina, 2015

Three, 2013

David and Joey, 2015

Learion, June 2015

Ronnie with 4-Wheeler, 2014

Walter's Trailer, 2014

Self-Portrait with Martha, 2015

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 

Roy, 2009

Lee "Boy" Sexton, 2012

Jack holding Banjo, 1988

Rose Marie, 1999

Della Mae, 1999

Pauline, 2000

Martha in Church, 1996

Jerry and Bob with Friends

Johnny and Banjo

Roy, '03

Brother Ish, 1994

George's Branch Porch, 1991

Scotty with Banjo and Tom, 1991

Crafton Barger and Son's, 1999

Bert with Guitar, 1992

Brother Baker, 1999

Steve and Francis, 2004

Polaroids from Steve & Francis Photo session.





Hort's Corner, 1993

Ralph and Connie visiting Hort and Mimi

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

Hort's Back Porch, 1992

Burchal and Family, 1994 [neighbor's]

Baptizing Them, 1992

Mimi, 1990

Brothers Praying, 1993

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

The Adoration, 1995

4x5 Polaroids Made in Hooterville, 1990's

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

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.



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 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
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 - 2017 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.