Monday, April 25, 2011

New Posts October 2019

 Portraits and Writings

It has always been my approach to see openly,
experiencing more in a state of awe and wonder,
 accepting without labeling or judging.
As an artist portraying our fragile mortality, 
acknowledging whomever is before my camera,
without categorizing.
This has always been my pursuit. 

—Shelby Lee Adams

Grandpa Banks With His Brother George, 1974
[Polaroid 4x5 film.]

In Our Holler

In our holler, we grew up bonding or rejecting each other with varied and inconsistent emotions about our families, neighbors and specific individuals. The denying part, by some of our people to our less positioned folk is what erodes and replaces our authenticity. We really can’t hide our roots, we are here for that depiction, to accept all. Everyone needs and desires acceptance and affirmation with respect that defines a complete human being. Each of us is here ever so briefly, to struggle, envision and clarify, finding in our hearts more common ground or remaining split-off forever. At all levels of our society to save ourselves, we need to be integrating and making in-roads with our diversified yet deeply linked humanity. At least, that is my intentions with my photography, overcoming superficiality by embracing the people straightforwardly, demystifying and dissolving stereotypes, exposing regional and national misunderstandings and prejudice against rural peoples and all peoples in general.

—Shelby Lee Adams

Clothsline, 97

To view images as slide show or to enlarge any image, click on photos and use arrow keys.
 100 photos on this site.

Richard's Porch, 2000

           A man in Rocky Hollow  said to me, "Living here - its' like the difference between salt and pepper, water and fire. To us Jesus and Satan are real. Both to test, praise, bring peace and put suffering on you and your kin. You have to learn, them who help, those who hinder and some who do both. Our blood flows through the generations sent by way of original sins and determined redemptions, with many behaviors and manners unknown some plum wild. God knows it's man here keeps us this way. One's name and kin determines who works, not who needs or even starves. Here invisible inherited lines you can't see make it nearly impossible for some to get hired, even seen or talked to. A number down themselves, they feel they come from the wrong blood. That's why they stay in the mountains resisting society. Government handouts and welfare don't change that."


Dan & Flossie, 01

 Changing with Photographs

         When one is stuck saying, “That’s the way I am and that’s the way I see the world,” then your examination of things is going to almost always be pessimistic, because your cutting yourself off from a part of life. Truly, perceiving involves looking with more of a felt sense and concern, discovering what can bring about a positive and more inclusive change.

         Visualizing to clarify and improve one’s self is optimistic. It is based on the very affirmative expectation of change. Seeing differences embraced doesn’t envision a human being as a fixed structure whose shape can be analyzed once and for all. It envisions a person as part of a process, capable of continual change and forward movement.  The “tribulations” inside one’s self are often those parts of the self that have been stopped, and the aim of focusing and seeing clearly is to unstop them and get your overall vision moving again.  When you are seeing fully and engaged, you not only expect change; you create it in the very act of looking.

         Instead of trying to analyze a difficult portrayal, we should begin by getting in touch with the felt sense of it, all of it, the whole picture at once. The image can open or trigger a special kind of receptivity in which your senses can physically shift, changing your perspective.

         You can never conceptualize all the myriad details in a specific photograph or moment in time. But, having felt the image or images wholeness, you can get in touch with your core self, and then with what lies beneath that, and so on. You focus step by step, until your stumbling block arises; now it’s not the same, you're seeing things more tolerable.

         With a more inclusive view you feel a physical shift in your body and a clearer understanding emerges—which is another way of saying you have changed.

               Inspired by the writings of Dr. Eugene T. Gendlin, PHD. specifically, by his book Focusing.

                                                            —Shelby Lee Adams

4  X 5 Polaroid, Callie After Catching Wedding Bouquet, 2002

Making Polaroids in the hollers with it's people for years encourages and creates a visual sensitivity and perception which is intuitive, imaginative and immediate. For those participating in making these images again and again a collaborative partnership is often established.
                                        Shelby Lee Adams 

Final Print, "Callie After Catching Wedding Bouquet," 2002

Preacher Shelby and Family, 97

The Beauty of a sunset, if you are watching it sensitively, is shared by all human beings. It is not your settings in the west, east, north or south; it is the sunset that is important. And our consciousness, in which is included our reactions and actions, our ideas and concepts and patterns, systems of belief, ideologies, fears, pleasures, faith, the worship of something which we have projected, our sorrows, our griefs and pain—all this is shared by all human beings. When we suffer we have made it into a personal affair. We shut out all suffering of mankind. Like pleasure; we treat pleasure as a private thing, ours, the excitement of it and so on. We forget that man—including woman, of course, which we needn’t repeat—that man has suffered from time beyond all measure. And that suffering is the ground on which we all stand. It is shared by all human beings.


Aunt Dorthy, 1975

Grandpa [Lee Banks], 1978

92 Year Old Man Looking through Screen Door, 1974

Many Folks know my photography and come to share a part of themselves before my camera, as if to say, “This is what I am, and all I am.” They offer an unflinching, honest view into their lives and world, seeking neither to judge nor be judged, only accepted for who they are. I have discovered, also, that in varying degrees and forms, this rural way of life exists in many other places, communities and cultures around the world.

                                                               Shelby Lee Adams
                                     Published in Photo District News
                                                                       Feb. 2012

Chloe, Saul, KY, 2000


For some of us looking at pictures just isn’t enough to bring about expanding attitudes in how we see the poor or disabled. We need to identify our holdbacks and change within, the way we see and think. A letting go, a dropping of the reins so to speak is necessary, something bodily felt and moved inside has to happen to open us to a more inclusive life. Overcoming our fears of those different both economically and in the flesh is one purpose of my photography, while broadening our acceptance of others and learning to tolerate diversity throughout our lands. Anger is a big blocking devise we use when we don’t wish to face differences or difficulty. If we looked and listened more to those we feel that shame us, we could discover the richness basic folks have to offer. The old ones say we return to the dust nonetheless, so why resist one another?

Shelby Lee Adams

Coal Miner, 1993, Little Leatherwood

In those days everybody knew
everybody else, and knew what he was 
doing, and what his father and grandfather 
had done before him, and you even knew 
what everybody ate; and when you saw
somebody passing, you knew where he
was going, and families didn’t scatter all
over the place, and people didn’t go away
to die in the poor house.

Giovanni Verga,
The House by the Medlar Tree

From James Still’s Book, Patterns Of A Man & Other Stories


Anne with Pigeon, 1995

Anne with her son Richmond, 1989

Anne, 1985

Anne and Richmond in Kitchen, 1992


        "It is not too much of a stretch to say that you can almost see their souls."

—Rick Bragg
 Author, All Over but the Shoutin’


Sam Mullins and Wife [Sam was 102 years old when photo was made], 1988

"Your pictures, they are about culture, showing how different people live, how one person is just different than another. You got to learn how to deal with all people. It's just like black people and white people. You know some racist, they look at it different. Not me, I look at it totally different. That's what your tryin' to show people, to me.

 That's a part of our church and everything here, in Eastern Kentucky, about God. There's love and kindness in all things and take a man, as who he is. I'm more accepting of all peoples, denominations in church, races and whatever you want to call it. I see good in all people. I've seen your ways, from growin' up under you; you're tryin' to teach people. 

 I've watched you. You're showin' they's somethin' good in all of us, as individual people. It don't take a well knowledge'd person to understand the feelin' of love and kindness, when you see it in someone and their works, you feel it."

—Terry Riddle, Viper, KY, October 2007

Rachel, Jerry and Hooch-A-Pap, 1987

 Portraits from the Mountains

                     Rachel Riddle, one of his best holler friends, who he's known and photographed for about 28 years, describes the financial and moral support Adams has provided, whether it's helping to drill a well or replace a stove that's burned up. 

         "He's not trying to make something that it ain't. Makes it come out just like it ought to be. I really appreciate everything he's done for me. He's helped me out many different ways. He's like family. He's always been that way. One of these day's, I'll be a part of history. Long after I'm gone, the photographs will still be here."

—Rachel Riddle
Black & White Magazine, 2010

Newsome Boy, 4X5 Polaroids, 1989

         This video illustrates in part how I work with my people. The program ends with my friend Hort Collins singing a spiritual hymn in the authentic mountain tradition. Link Below.

Hort Collins, Photographs and Mountain Music

Kizzie, 2008

               Kizzie, blind from the age of 16 loves being photographed, and when I call and arrange a visit she is always dressed and ready, her sister Martha assists her.  I never tell her what to wear or how to pose, sometimes I indicate where she should stand and Martha helps position her or poses with her. She likes to wear glasses and a watch, as she did before her blindness occurred.  Listening to my voice, she often decides how to pose. She is an ideal model. Martha describes to Kizzie in detail each Polaroid as we make them and we move, build and create an image together.

Martha and Kizzie in Mirror, 2005

Merle, 1985

                "But still, there is something which isn't yet clear—which I can't get with. Although there is real and warm love within families—there is something extremely opposite that—which manifest itself in feuds, shootings, cuttings, etc."
                                                             —John Cohen
                                                           Capturing The South

John and Teresa, 2008

Angie, 1992

Teresa and Family, 03
As published in Salt & Truth

                  Teresa and her 3 sons had lost their father in the Afghanistan War. When I asked to make a family portrait, to my surprise the boys ran for a stuffed raccoon from the mantel and began to argue about who should hold it, as it held their fathers dog tags. To them the raccoon immortalized the last image of the boy's father. After making several Polaroids in varied ways we exposed the  film below with the 4x5 camera. The bottom left image is the one I selected to print.

4x5 contact sheets
Will post original 4x5 Polaroids when they are found.

Linda, Girl with Big Eyes, 1982

        “Shelby Lee Adams’s subjects peer at the camera with an immodest curiosity. The viewers peer back, creating a circular scrutiny, an unsettling intensity—an education, as we turn page after page [scroll] of portraits which evoke fear, anger, compassion, empathy, and finally, a deeper connection to the brotherhood of Man.”

Quote from Appalachian Portraits endorsement, photographers first book published 1993.

—Robert Coles
Author Children of Crisis series 



Rosa Lee and Junior, 1986

The Jacobs Boys, 1984

Paul and Jerry, 1985

Paul with Mother and Bucket, 1985

Darlene [Mrs. Jacobs], 1985

             We took pictures of the boys, who fought over the Polaroids, ruining several. I photographed Rosa Lee with her baby, with Junior, with her father. Mrs. Jacobs refused to let me photograph her on the first visit, saying that she would have to get to know me before she would have her picture made. When I returned in January of 1984 and gave the family several photos made that summer before and on a Christmas visit, Mrs. Jacobs asked me to take a picture of her and Baby Jerry. From then on, we have made family portraits.

Published in Appalachian Legacy, 1998, The University Press of Mississippi.


           "I'm building me a house on Short Creek. Tell Adam Claiborne that. The reason I've just come from Bee Tree. Bee Tree is the next hollow to Short Fork, and Short Fork is over yonder ridge. Well s'r, I was over on Bee Tree and saw another woman. A widow woman She's older'n me, five to seven years. She didn't tell me but she has the looks of it. She says, 'I want to get married,' and I says, I do too.' So I'm building me a house and I'm going to put her in it."

—James Still
Encounter on Keg Branch*

Girl under Tree, 1985

Shauna Faye and Stephanie Lynn, 2001 


         “Most mountain people, among ourselves are just open and loving to each other, we expect everyone to see us as we do—more caring, but some never here before, misunderstand, label and see us all unfairly.”

—Rachel Riddle, Leatherwood, Kentucky

Coalminer, 1988

Coal Pile, 2005

The Porch [Photo made in North Georgia], 1993

untitled [Photo made in East Texas], 1995

Haywood, 2000

Bobby, 2003

          "That's all any story is, you catch this fluidity which is human life and you focus a light on it and you stop it long enough for people to be able to see it.

—William Faulkner


The Slone's

Leddie, 1983

Lonnie and Leddie [Sisters], 1985 


Dan, Krissy and Leddie, 1993

Bert, 1989

Lonnie and Bert, 1990

Leddie, Lonnie and Bert, 1988

Lonnie, 1985

Leddie, 1986

"Leddie with Children," 1990, Published in 1993 cover image for first book.

Wanda Lee and Stacy [Dan's daughter and granddaughter], 1985

The Old Home Place, 1997
[Slone's old home, now gone, where we made many photographs.]

           I coat and give some 4x5 Polaroids to everyone. I have not photographed Roland Johnson [man center on porch] before and do not expect to see him again. I ask him if he will sign a model release for me so that I could use this picture in one of my books. I always hate this part of my work, but Roland surprises me. He slaps his knees and says, " I was hopin' you'd get a picture of me for one of your books. I know all about you. I studied your pictures in the pen. You're like Danny Lyons, Bruce Davidson, and all them guys. I studied photography when I was in the La Grange State Penitentiary, and I know a lot about your pictures. "He continues, "What you are doing is expressin' yourself and showin' how you feel about us. Not everybody can do that! You'd do what you're doin' even if it cost you money, because you're interested in doin' what you love. You can see that in your pictures. Yeah, let me sign one of them model releases, I'd love to be in one of your books." I am somewhat taken back by this response and would later try to reproduce it as accurately as possible. I was not to meet Ronald again; Wanda Lee would later tell me that he was back in prison for breaking parole.

Published in Appalachian Lives, 2003, University of Mississippi Press.

Leddie, 2002


           Is it not one’s socio-economic-political status in life that grants one’s visibility as something more important or less significant? In portraiture and human representation, faced with the inconsistency or incompleteness of a person’s form, some feel entitled to say dispassionately, that face is unsightly and unimportant, especially those who look poor. If given a chance, cannot any form of humanity be elevated, redeemed and transformed by a faithful artistic portrayal?

—Shelby Lee Adams

Belinda and Martha, 2007

Vedessa and Robert, 2005

Ted and Friend, 2004

            "Any but the most casual of viewers will be drawn into relationship with Adams' friends. Their eyes reveal that, unlike ordinary portraits, these "subjects" are looking through the window of the camera into our own faces, plumbing our depths, searching our cores to know what we are really like. And who, indeed, are we? Perhaps they know more than we."

           "A book to be lived with, not merely scanned, Appalachian Portraits is both art and documentary. It is an unforgettable book, as Harvard's Robert Coles says, of "unsettling intensity."

        —John B. Stephenson, president of Berea College
              Lexington Herald-Leader, December 12, 1993

Reece and Martha Cole, 1999

Blind Preacher, 1997

Minerva and Jimmy

Prayer Before River Baptism

The New Bicycle, 2004

Polly, 1997

Dan and Jip, 1991  [father and son]

Dan and Jip, 2012

Granny with Jesus, 1992

Leonard's Back Porch, 1992

Brenda in Pistol City, 83

Aunt Glade, 1975

Travis, 2004

David, Bad To The Bones, 1985

Bobby, 1982

Dressed Up Stove Pipe, 1994

Photoworkshop 1995, Groningen, The Netherlands 
Environmental Portraiture 

"Just name a thing you want...I'll bring you a pretty."

—James Still
Pattern Of A Man & Other Stories*

Tools, 1994


Singularly, sight alone can be taken for granted, it often bounds our feelings and restricts our relationships to those so like ourselves, because we don't always want to work exploring our diverse cultures and peoples, remaining in our comfort zone.

The experience of an affirmative touch, a reassuring look, one's scent, a supporting hug all creates positive bonding—developing relationships, no 
matter what one's appearance, color or clan.

Acceptance begins with sight, then touch and an expanding heart together, all unifies us, making whole.

Yet, many resist when they see arduous differences. I have experience overcoming fears of the different, learning to keep myself flexible in the presence of others diverse. It takes practice sometimes with those more difficult.

Remaining indifferent and distancing implies the inability to connect with or acknowledge how another is, feels or perceives.

—Shelby Lee Adams


Copies of salt & truth are still available.

Published 2012, Candela Books, Richmond, VA.

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

CCP/SLA Archive



Kelly and Armeldia, 1983

Armeldia, 1983

Armeldia, 1993



              “The Stories get past on and the truth gets passed over. As the sayin goes. Which I reckon some would take as meanin that the truth cant compete. But I don’t believe that. I think that when the lies are told and forgotten the truth will be there yet. It don’t move about from place to place and it dont change from time to time. You cant corrupt it any more than you can salt salt. You cant corrupt it because that’s what it is. It’s the thing you’re talking about. I’ve heard it compared to the rock-maybe in the bible-and I wouldn’t disagree with that. But it’ll be here even when the rock is gone.”

“You were doin something for folks that couldnt do it for theirselves.” 

“I think the truth is always simple. It has pretty much got to be. It needs to be simple enough for a child to understand. Otherwise it’d be too late. By the time you figured it out it would be too late.”

Cormac McCarthy

No Country For Old Men*



Tammy, 1977

Tammy with Shucky Beans, 1983

Roxanne Doorway, 1983
[Tammy in doorway]

Tammy, 1987

Tammy, 1996

Tammy, 2003

             Describing the home in which Tammy was born, her brothers said, "It was a two-room wood plank shotgun house with a door at each end and three windows, was all it had. The walls were covered with roofing paper, cardboard was nailed up over that, and then wallpaper was put on to cover that and to look nice. Before Tammy was born there were five of us children living with Mommy  in that house. The house only had one stone fireplace in the middle. Our mother used that to keep us warm and cook with. She used an old metal grill, like out of an old refrigerator, to put pots and pans on to cook with in the fire place. We used wood and coal for fuel. Six months before Tammy was born our mother had just got our first electric cooking stove."

Original story published in 1998 in Appalachian Legacy, by The University Press of Mississippi, author Shelby Lee Adams.


Melony, 1985

Troy [age 95] 2003

        "I stilled my own whiskey, raised my own bread and meat, growed the tobacco I chew, done a mite of everything, and not to much of anything."

—James Still
Pattern of a Man and Other Stories*

Claude with Rooster, 2005

Ronnie Holding Jeremy, 08

William and Breanna, 2003

Girl at Kingdom Come Creek, 1987

Estill, 1990, 4x5 Polaroid above.

 All photo sessions began by sharing and giving my subjects Polaroids, from 1974 - 2010 this was my procedure. By 2010 4x5 Polaroid film was no longer available, then I began working with a digital camera so I could still show and share images visually with my subjects as we made photographs. Except with a few new subjects my manner of working was well established.

The Granite Man, 1979
From series: Stenger's Cafe

      In the mountains when someone opens their door to you, they open their hearts to you forever. This is part of the drawing power of the mountains and its people, that makes this process an Eternal Returning. This drawing power perhaps not accessible to all.
—Shelby Lee Adams

Johnny, 1988

Hall's Family Porch, 98

Boys at Hog Pen, 1981

Grandpa's Chair, 1971

Vicco, 1997

Arnold's Living Room Wall, 2002


Below not a mountain writer but an important message by 
Robert F. Kennedy.

All photographs and text copyrighted - © 1998-20 Shelby Lee Adams, legal action will be taken to represent the photographer/writer, work taken out of context, integrity of all photographic and written works to be maintained, including additional photographers published and authors quoted. Permissions - send e mail request with project descriptions.
Robert F. Kennedy Library Copyrighted. *McCarthy quote from No Country For Old Men, chapter V, Knopf edition, 2005, NY *James Still, Pattern Of A Man & Other Stories, Published by Gnomon Press, Copyright 1976 James Still, Still lived and wrote most of his work in the same area I do my photography. His writing and use of diction and descriptive phrases are true to the peoples dialect.
Appalachian Legacy, Shelby Lee Adams, published 1998, University Press of Mississippi, Excerpts from Tammy story and the Jacobs. Additional excerpts from Salt & Truth, 2012, Candela Books, Richmond, VA