Sunday, March 4, 2007

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Artist Statement for Exhibition with
 The Paul Paletti Gallery 
 Oct. 2nd — Dec. 31st, 2017
Louisville, KY

Photo above, photographer Shelby Lee Adams photographed with his first Chromaluxe print test, new colorworks to be premiered at the Paul Paletti Gallery, Louisville, KY. Prints made by Unique Imaging Concepts, also in Louisville.
Photo by - Paul Lewis

Title of Exhibit:   Finding Heaven in a Holler

As Requested: Artist Full Statement.

I think my grandmother’s blindness was the source of my visual arts pursuits. She was going blind when I was just 7 years old and by the time I was 12, she was totally blind. I loved my grandma. Our experience’s together affected me deeply and I’m certain this eventually lead to my becoming a photographer. Grandma had an optic nerve disorder where her eyesight slowly dimmed into total blindness; nothing could stop this. At that time, I drew in sketchbooks and painted with watercolors. My mother encouraged my artwork from an even earlier age. We stayed with my grandparents often; they lived on a farm in Eastern Kentucky with cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and fields of corn and potatoes. Later, my grandma became the first person I photographed.
We would walk together, strolling around the farm, gathering hen eggs, feeding the chickens, watering the cows, and doing other farm chores. When something caught my attention, I would stop, look intently, sit and then start sketching and drawing. Grandma was very patient with all of this. When back home, she would lie down on her bed to rest and ask to see my drawings. I would get a lamp and hold it over my sketchbook so the light was bright. She so enjoyed my artwork. I thought then, if I just learned to draw better, become a skilled artist, then maybe that would save my grandma’s eye sight. My mother continued to buy me art books and supplies. I remember once copying Michelangelo’s angels, everyone enjoyed seeing those drawings, but grandma still went totally blind.
As a child, I focused on making art as a way to heal those impaired in any way and to touch others sharing compassion. That stayed with me. When I attended art school at age 19, I discovered photography. Returning home, my first photo essay was about my grandma and her life on the farm. I’ve always believed that photography serves a purpose beyond just recording or documenting.

—Shelby Lee Adams

 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

Martha's Bathroom, 2015

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

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.