Shelby Lee Adams: The 4th Generation Opens In The Atrium Gallery

Currently on display in the Atrium Gallery: The 4th Generation: Shelby Lee Adams 1974-Current re-introduces the Salisbury University Community to the  hauntingly beautiful and highly impactful photographs by artist Shelby Lee Adams. 

For nearly 40 years, award-winning photographer Shelby Lee Adams has captured the humanity of Appalachia through his lens.

Shelby Lee AdamsBrice and Crow on Porch 1992Silver gelatin print16” x 20”

Shelby Lee Adams
Brice and Crow on Porch 1992
Silver gelatin print
16” x 20”

In the fall of 2008 eight works by Adams were donated by The Randolph Collection to the Salisbury University Art Collection. Spanning nearly forty years, The 4th Generation builds off the works within our collection focusing on the Appalachian families that Adams choose to immortalize, including “Brice and Crow on Porch, 1992”, a photo featuring two members of The Caudill Family.

Adams was born in Hazard Kentucky, a small town at the base of the Appalachian Mountains. He was re-introduced to “Holler Dwellers”, the people of the Kentucky Appalachia, after graduating from the Cleveland Institute of Art while traveling the area with his uncle, a local doctor to capture its people and their lifestyle on film. The Caudills lived in the Appalachian valley community of Johnson’s fork, at the top of the mountain in the head of the same “holler” as Shelby’s grandfathers and their families. Reflecting on his work Shelby states, “Brice, 1974 was my first published 4×5 photo. Brice and I had grown up walking to grade school together on the dirt roads and later in high school; we rode the same school bus.” When Shelby chose to end his first book, ”Appalachian Portraits”, with Brice and Crow on Porch, 1992, the intent was to have the viewer see the established relationships throughout the book, not just examples of a project or condition.
Shelby continues to visit new members of the Caudill’s to this day, and has captured four generations of the family with his photographic practice.

Shelby Lee AdamsWedding Rehearsal, 2009Archival color inkjet print20” x 16”

Shelby Lee Adams
Wedding Rehearsal, 2009
Archival color inkjet print
20” x 16”

Since the beginning of Adams artistic career he has been true to the spirit of his people, artfully conveying the soul of his hometown clan. Shelby continues to use word of mouth as a vehicle to meet his subjects, as seen in his most recent photographs of Appalachia: Lee “Boy” Sexton, 2012 (taken on Shelby’s last trip to the holler in the summer of 2012), and Wedding Rehearsal, 2009.

About his current work, Shelby says: “It is becoming more difficult to find the authentic salt-of-the-earth people, who are now being overrun by a more sugar-coated society. The families who occupied this land for more than a couple hundred years are now interspersed with a new breed of Appalachian and land developers driving Hummers and Escalades, owning oddly shaped swimming pools and mansions built into the mountaintops after the coal is removed and the mountains reclaimed. It is a more varied and diluted world now. Salt preserves wholesomeness and prevents decay, but the people from the earlier, harder-formed age who bear that special look are now in decline.”

Shelby Lee AdamsPreacher Dillard, 2012Archival color inkjet print20” x 16”

Shelby Lee Adams
Preacher Dillard, 2012
Archival color inkjet print
20” x 16”

With that said, Shelby is still introducing us to new and out of the ordinary characters like Preacher Dillard, 2012. (Shelby’s most recent printed picture from Kentucky to date) Dillard, a recluse preacher of the gospel, refused to be

photographed without his gun, and gave Shelby a bible with a hundred dollar bill in it marking the passage Adams should read to find his path to redemption. So begins a new generation as seen through the lens of Shelby Lee Adams.

Works by the acclaimed artist, from the Salisbury University Collection, will be displayed in Atrium Gallery of the Guerrieri University Center: March 11-May 4.

A lecture by Adams will be held at 5 p.m. Thursday, April 25, in the Nanticoke Room of the Guerrieri University Center, followed by a reception in the gallery at 6 p.m.

Shelby Lee Adams works have been compiled into a series of books, most recently 2011’s Salt & Truth. A documentary about his career, The True Meaning of Pictures: Shelby Lee Adams’s Appalachia, was shown at the Sundance Film Festival, among others, in 2003.
Adams has earned photography fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. His works are part of many private collections, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., and the Museum of Modern Art and The Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.