Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Shelby Lee Adams

If you get a chance, you might want to check out the documentary on Shelby Lee Adams, "The True Meaning of Pictures." Adams has spent the last thirty years befriending and photgraphing families in rural Kentucky. He has published books of photos on Appalachia. The film is interesting for me in the exploration of the artist as a documentarian. He calls himself one, yet his pitcures are lighted and posed. He also seems to photograph the poor and some more gruesome elements of people's lives. And seems for the most part to ask them not to smile, which I was intrigued by. Also included are Mr. Adams' own documentary footage.

The subjects have a chance to talk, as do talking heads. This is one of the more complex films about how art is received that I've seen. The dialogue of the artist, critic, and subject is fascinating. Some call him exploitative, some believe he is documenting. He seems to me a bit manipulative, changing his accent depending on who he is talking to, and refusing to talk about his pictures in any other light than the terms of classical art. Certainly a talented photographer, and a great technician. Check it out for the thrilling and uncomfortable nexus of poverty, art, exploitation, and class in the United States. Still thinking about it, and still disturbed. You can pick it up on Netflix or a local video store.

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