American Ballads: The Photography of Marty Stuart is a 115 page book to accompany an exhibit of Marty’s photographs on display at the Frist Center for the Visual Arts.
This book with an introduction by Marty and a scholarly essay by Dr. Susan H. Edwards, executive director and CEO of the Frist Center is divided into 3 sections:
THE MASTERS While touring with Lester Flatt’s band in 1974, Marty discovered bassist Milt Hinton’s candid photographs of fellow jazz musicians in a Greenwich Village bookstore. He had been exposed to the medium’s ability to portray aspects of everyday life through his mother, Hilda Stuart, a skilled photographer, and realized that he could document the country music world with the same approach that Hinton had taken with jazz. He had access to the great figures of country music through Flatt, who took him under his wing at age thirteen. As Marty says, “Walking into the Grand Ole Opry with Lester Flatt was the equivalent of walking into the Vatican with the Pope. His endorsement gave me instant acceptance into the family of country music.” Being a trusted member of the inner circle has allowed him to capture the stars in moments of unguarded intimacy and honesty.
BLUE LINE HOTSHOTS Marty has been traveling on the road as a professional musician for over four decades. Along the way, he has been intrigued by the unique characteristics of towns he passes through, learning about the local history, architecture and music. He especially seeks out the quirky residents “who have enough Elvis in them to give America its spice.” Stuart lovingly refers to these people as “Blue Line Hotshots” because, at one time, the two lane highways and back roads of our nation were represented on maps as blue lines. Whether his subject is a devoted fan, passionate preacher, or gutsy Dolly Parton impersonator at a state fair, Marty respects their individuality and willingness to stand out in our increasingly homogenized world.
BADLANDS Marty first encountered the Lakota people in the early 1980s when he, as a member Johnny Cash’s band, played a benefit on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Stuart immediately felt a strong kinship with the tribe and began to make yearly pilgrimages to Pine Ridge in an effort to establish meaningful connections with its members. Twenty years later, Stuart was adopted into the tribe. As with the country music community, Marty has gained unusual access to and the trust of the typically guarded Lakota inner circle. His photographs of both everyday life and traditional ceremonies do not romanticize the culture nor overlook the tragic conditions often found on the reservation—poverty, alcoholism, and unemployment—but rather present honest portraits of dignity, strength, and perseverance.