Marty Stuart’s Portrait Photography

Most people know Marty Stuart as a country music singer, musician and songwriter.

But he’s a gifted photographer as well.

An exhibition of his work will prove that at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts when it opens in Nashville on May 9. On display will be 64 of his photographs taken behind the scenes in country music halls and in the homes of stars, along with intimate portraits of the Lakota tribe of Native Americans, who cared about Stuart enough to make him an honorary member.

Also included are four images taken by his mother, who inspired Stuart to take up a camera.

“He was not formally trained as photographer, but his mother was a skilled amateur photographer,” says curator Katie Delmez. “His great uncle was a professional photographer, and through him, his mother learned. Stuart watched her document everyday life in Philadelphia, Mississippi.

Among the images are informal portraits of Johnny Cash, George Jones, Lester Flatt, Earl Scruggs, Emmylou Harris, Willie Nelson, and Waylon Jennings. Most are relaxed and out of the spotlight.

He found his inspiration in the dean of American jazz bassists.

“When he was in New York City, traveling with Lester Flatt, he discovered the photos of Milt Hinton,” she says. “He’d do photographs of backstage life with jazz musicians, and Stuart realized he could do same with country musicians, behind the scenes.”

He seems determined to show that he can tell a story with a camera as well as he can with a guitar, a mandolin or the lyrics to a song. And he succeeds at it where formal photographers can’t.

“These are more intimate glimpses backstage, in the recording studio or even in their homes,” she says. “They’re portraits, but not staged or posed. They capture the essence of the person, and not just the physical likeness.”

The exhibition runs through Nov. 2.

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