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Some rousing visions of music are rocking the walls at Newport Art Museum in Rhode Island. Two solo exhibits – Larry Fink’s Somewhere There’s Music and Henry Horenstein’s Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music – are music to the eyes, playing throughout the upcoming Newport Jazz Festival and into September 2017.
Both Larry Fink and Henry Horenstein are masters of documentary photography. In adjoining solo exhibits, each proclaims his passion for music of a different genre, Fink for jazz and Horenstein for country music, with deliciously distinctive styles. Though they each evoke an entire subculture in images captured on B&W film, their shared technique paradoxically seems only to further highlight their individual artistic approaches.
Somewhere There’s Music is Larry Fink’s ode to a vibrant and persistent jazz culture, achieved with unguarded zeal and impressive emotional range. There’s chronological range, too, in imagery shot over five decades from 1957 to 2016. (Fink’s book of the same name contains photographs from 1957 – 2006). His early work in dark clubs is gritty and grainy, with Fink straining his camera and film like a sustained high note. In a fraction of a beat, he channels the rapture of musicians transported to a sublime state.
With portrayals as pounding or as soulful as the music impelling him, Fink captures a soloist’s focused absorption in a smoky spotlight, a group’s ecstatic blur in concert, or the dizzy, adoring crowds just as lyrically as he plumbs contemplative private moments. His images pulse to the music – impassioned, intuitive and infectious. On one gallery wall, there is a quote by the late jazz violinist Leroy Jenkins, “I want the brutal beauty of our times reflected in my music.” With equally fervent devotion and a keen eye, Fink plunges us into the cacophonous harmony of the jazz world with all his heart and soul.
Where Fink celebrates the enduring continuity of jazz, Horenstein’s Honky Tonk longs to conserve an ethos of country music in the decade between 1972 – 1981, when both the musical and American cultural scene were undergoing irreversible changes. Horenstein says, “All along, in my historian’s mind, I saw this disappearing world that I wanted to preserve on film.” Well, there are historians and there are Historians. Horenstein’s special combination of unabashed curiosity and equally obvious empathy give his images intense emotional punch.
Whether shooting a backstage Dolly Parton, taking a bemused look at audiences or composing an exterior view of a desolate dive, Horenstein isolates his subjects in the frame. The effect is stark and exposing, intensified by the hard flash he often uses to light dark venues. He seems to catch people unguarded, sometimes in reverie, but always aware of his presence. This endearing knack for revealing the humane in humanity stems from Horenstein’s direct portrait style. But for all his frontal clarity, the emotional tenor in his photographs is surprisingly subtle and moving. Horenstein’s sweet, sad ballads reverberate long after the song is over.
Join Larry Fink for “Notes on Jazz”, a Q&A with Jay Sweet and Danny Melnick at 5:00pm on Wednesday, August 2nd, 2017 at the Newport Art Museum. Free, but seating is limited. Reserve now: http://www.newportartmuseum.org/Programs-Events/Artists-Talks-Demos
For more information about these exhibits, go to: http://www.newportartmuseum.org/Exhibitions/Now-on-View
Feature Image: “Roswell Rudd and Steve Lacy, July 1964” from Somewhere There’s Music © Larry Fink (courtesy of the Artist and Marvelli Gallery, New York City).
Copies of Honky Tonk and other books by Henry Horenstein are available for purchase at the Newport Art Museum. Somewhere There’s Music by Larry Fink is out of print and only available on the secondary market.