John Hartford
Bill Monroe
Doc Watson
Dolly Parton
Harlan Howard

I have always had a thing for black and white. LIFE Magazine, On The Waterfront, Blackboard Jungle, Rebel Without a Cause.  These were very powerful images for my young eyes.  Even in later years, black and white images had a way of staying with me longer and speaking to me louder than anything else.

Color was too literal.  You could get all the color you could ever want by just walking out your front door.  But when you create a black and white image, you are not just recording it on film, you have the obligation to bring your own vision and experience to the process. For me, black and white had a way of making simple, mundane things seem important, and I liked that.

Like many things in my life, the collection of photographs called  The Nashville Portraits began quite accidentally.  From a young age, I was drawn to hillbilly music, to the sounds, the emotion, the honesty, and then of course to the people who made it.  I can’t remember what I had for lunch yesterday, but I can still remember what the room smelled like when I walked in and heard Hank Snow’s voice coming from those ratty speakers at a Boy Scout camp in New Jersey, 1953.  Discovering country music changed my life in ways I couldn’t have imagined.

Unlikely as it sounds, I had the good fortune to spend a year in Vietnam at the beginning of that war.  I was twenty three and in the Air Force.  I barely knew how to use a camera, but my commanding officer volunteered me to fly around in a very small plane and shoot aerial photos with a beat-up 35mm camera.  I spent the rest of the year doing that and persuaded the local Vietnamese portrait photographer to show me how to develop my first rolls of black and white film in an old army tent. And that’s where it began for me.

My first job was in New York, working as John Foote’s darkroom slave for 65 bucks a week.  He photographed actors and Broadway singers in black and white.  He introduced me to the work of Richard Avedon, Irving Penn, Bert Stern and Wingate Payne, all working in New York at the time and all at the top of their game.  But when I saw Penn’s “Small Trades” series, it floored me.  He took simple, working people you would probably never notice in your daily travels and presented them in a way that compelled you to look at them, to appreciate them.

Over the past thirty-five years, I have had the good fortune to have met, photographed, and befriended many of my musical heroes.  The first musician portraits I shot are in this series.  John Hartford, David Bromberg, and Vassar Clements were the first...all shot late one night in 1972 after a gig in New York.  The hand painted canvas background I used that night was barely dry and is the same one used in all these portraits, even today.

Most of us have a drawer full of snapshots that remind us of the good times.  These are some of mine.


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All of the images which appear on this website are
Copyright © 1972-2007 by Jim McGuire.
Reproduction without the expressed written consent of Jim McGuire is prohibited, immoral, and downright dangerous.

the Ryman Auditorium during a lightning storm - the End of an Era