Adams, Shelby Lee 1950-

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ADAMS, Shelby Lee 1950-

PERSONAL: Born October 24, 1950, in Hazard, KY; Education: Cleveland Institute of Art, B.F.A., 1974; University of Iowa, M.A., 1975; Massachusetts College of Art, M.F.A., 1979.

ADDRESSES: Home and offıce—3 South Church St., Pittsfield, MA 01201. Agent—c/o Author Mail, University Press of Mississippi, 3825 Ridgewood Rd., Jackson, MS 39211.

CAREER: Freelance photographer. Cincinnati Art Academy, Cincinnati, OH, instructor, 1978-79; Northern Kentucky University, Covington, instructor, 1978-79; freelance photographer, Pittsfield, MA, 1980-87; Illinois Central College, East Peoria, head of photography instruction, 1981-84; Salem State College, Salem, MA, professor and head of photography department, 1985-92; freelance photographer, Pittsfield, MA, 1992—. Bennington College, artist in residence, 1996-97; Cincinnati Museum of Art, lecturer, 1998; Dallas Museum of Art, lecturer, 1998. Exhibitions: Works included in permanent collections at the Art Institute of Chicago, Los Angeles Contemporary Museum of Art, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Museum of Fine Art, Houston, TX, the Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY, and others. Solo exhibitions include Southern Light Gallery, Amarillo, TX, 1984; Harvard Fogg Museum, Cambridge, MA, 1989; OK Harris Works of Art, New York, NY, 1993 and 1995; Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, CA, 1993; Northern Illinois University, DeKalb, IL, 1994; Etherton Gallery, Tucson, AZ, 1994; Catherine Edelman Gallery, Chicago, IL, 1994; 292 Gallery, New York, NY, 1994; Robert Koch Gallery, San Francisco, 1994; International Center for Photography, New York, NY, 1994; FotoGalerie, Amsterdam, Holland, 1995; Cleveland Museum of Art, 1995; Cincinnati Art Academy, 1995; and Arles International Photography Festival, France, 1999.

AWARDS, HONORS: Fellowship, National Endowment for the Arts, 1978 and 1992; artist support grant, Polaroid Corporation, Cambridge, MA, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992; artist support grant, Elizabeth Firestone Graham Foundation, Akron, OH, 1990.


Appalachian Portraits, narrative by Lee Smith, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1993.

Appalachian Legacy, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 1998.

Appalachian Lives, introduction by Vicki Goldberg, University Press of Mississippi (Jackson, MS), 2003.

SIDELIGHTS: Photographer Shelby Lee Adams spent much of his childhood on his grandparents' farm in eastern Kentucky, and every summer beginning in the mid-1970s he returned to Appalachia to document the lifestyle of the area's residents through photographs.

He took special care to portray well-rounded images of his subjects and avoid the negative and one-sided stereotypes of Appalachia that he often found in the media when he began his work. His first book, Appalachian Portraits, is a collection of fifty black-and-white photographs that depict the harsh realities of extreme poverty. Douglas Balz, in Tribune Books, found Adams's photographs to be "fair, honest portraits of people others might see as freaks." David Streitfeld in the Washington Post Book World noted that Adams's images, such as that of a retired coal miner with one eye or the slaughter of a hog, "can seem at first glance rather brutal," but quoted Adams as saying that if a "'freak show'" is "'all people see, they have a problem, not me.'" A reviewer for Publishers Weekly felt that Adams's photos "reveal a grim, hardscrabble dignity" and "provide intimate glimpses of mountain people cut off from the modern mainstream." However, the reviewer also remarked that the narrative would have benefited from the inclusion of "more concrete information" about the subjects of the photographs.

In Appalachian Legacy, Adams continues to document the lives of the nine families he photographed in his first volume. A reviewer for Kirkus Reviews noted that Adams uses "lengthy notes" on his subjects to "stress his conviction that for far too long, poor rural southerners have been the victims of one-dimensional depictions." The reviewer noted that Adams portrays "resilience and grace" among the "effects of longstanding poverty and malnutrition" suffered by residents of the area. David Bryant in Library Journal felt that Adams "brings a respectful but always honest eye to his photographs," and that despite the hardship of the area, in Adams's work "it emerges as a place of frail dignity and enduring natural rhythm."

In Adams's third collection, Appalachian Lives, published in 2003, he again focuses on the families he has been photographing for nearly a quarter of a century. In text accompanying eight chapters of black-and-white photographs, Adams describes the relationships he has forged with his subjects over the years. A reviewer for Publishers Weekly praised Adams's use of text to further illustrate the photographs, and noted that "rather than interfering with the photos, the texts add layers of meaning." This collection also documents the development that has taken place in Appalachia since he first began photographing the region. Adams commented on Appalachia's changing landscape to Sarah Milroy in the Globe & Mail, stating that the "traditional Appalachian families, working twelve hours a day, growing their own food, making their own furniture, singing their songs in church . . . that is gone." David Bryant in Library Journal also noted the transformation that has occurred since Adams first began his work, and observed that in this collection, trailers have replaced wooden shacks, satellite dishes abound, and many of the subjects are now wearing T-shirts with sports logos or pop-culture designs. He felt that Adams's photos continued to capture the true essence of the area, and that they present a "blunt, perfectly composed reality of a distinct American place and people."



Artforum International, November, 2002, Bob Nickas, "Portfolio: Shelby Lee Adams," pp. 157-161.

Art in America, March, 1999, Felicia Feaster, "Shelby Lee Adams at Yancey Richardson," p. 117.

Globe & Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), Sarah Milroy, "I Do Not See Poverty in my Pictures: Are Shelby Lee Adams's Documentary Stills of Rural Kentucky Insightful or Exploitative?," interview with Shelby Lee Adams, p.1

Kirkus Reviews, June 1, 1998, review of AppalachianLegacy, p. 804.

Library Journal, September 15, 1998, David Bryant, review of Appalachian Legacy, p. 68; May 1, 2003, David Bryant, review of Appalachian Lives, p. 108.

Life, April 15, 2000, "The 2000 Alfred Eisenstaedt Awards," p. 38+.

Publishers Weekly, October 18, 1993, review of Appalachian Portraits, pp. 59-60; July 7, 2003, review of Appalachian Lives, pp. 66-67.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), December 5, 1993, Douglas Balz, review of Appalachian Portraits, p. 3.

Washington Post Book World, January 9, 1994, David Streitfeld, review of Appalachian Portraits, p. 15.


Catherine Edelman Gallery, (March 22, 2004), author biography.

Fahey/Klein Gallery, (August 6, 2003), press release for artist reception, with author biography.

Kentucky, (September 21, 2003), Janet Worne, "True to Their Lives," review of Appalachian Lives.

University Press of Mississippi, (March 22, 2004), synopses of Appalachian Legacy and Appalachian Lives.*

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Adams, Shelby Lee 1950-

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