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Appalachia: Photographs by Shelby Lee Adams, 1989 - 2009

January 28 – May 13, 2017

South Two Gallery

Berthie with John photograph
Leddie with Children photograph

Poignant and powerful, Shelby Lee Adams’ (American, b 1950) imagery of Appalachia—its people and its culture—are raw, rivoting, compassionate and genuine. Adams approaches his subjects from the perspective of an insider. He was born in the hollers of Eastern Kentucky, and as a youngster, accompanied his uncle, a family doctor, on home visits throughout the region.

Working with a 4 x 5 view camera, a wide angle lens, and lighting, Adams image-making process is one of collaboration, respect, and integrity. His crisp monochromatic photographs reveal details in striking clarity in compositions that are complex and direct, simple and poetic. Returning to the same hollers year after year, his work is a biographical and autobiographical, exploring generations of families—births, deaths, marriages-- and the changing culture and place of Eastern Kentucky’s mountain people as the modern world encroaches.

Adams has a national exhibition record and is represented in such prestigious collections as the Museum of Modern Art, Whitney Museum of American Art, Art Institute of Chicago, the Smithsonian American Art Museum, among others. He is recipient of a survey grant and photography fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts (1978, 1992) and four artist support grants from the Polaroid Corporation (1989-92). He was born in Hazard, KY, attended the Cleveland Institute of Art. His documentation of the people and culture of Appalachia began in 1973. His work has been published in four monographs –Appalachian Portraits (1993), Appalachian Legacy (1998), Appalachian Lives (2003) and Salt & Truth (2011). He has received numerous grants and awards, most recently a Guggenheim Fellowship in 2010. He is represented by Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago and lives in Pittsfield, MA. 

  • MLK Days of Dialogue- Evening Conversations with Curators, Tuesday, January 31, 5:30 – 6:30pm

  • Film Screening, True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’ Appalachia, Monday, March 27, 5:30 – 7pm 

  • Funded in part by UW Art Museum Gala Funds


Left: Shelby Lee Adams (American, b. 1950), Berthie Napier with Pipe and John, 1992, gelatin silver print, 16 x 20 inches, courtesy of the Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago

Right: Shelby Lee Adams (American, b. 1950), Leddie with Children, 1987, 16 x 20 inches, from the collection of Susan Moldenhauer

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