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Nashville legends photographs on display at Georgia Music Hall of Fame

Right away, the appearance of the Georgia Music Hall of Fame’s new exhibit, “Nashville Portraits: Photographs by Jim McGuire,” just feels different.

Unlike the hall’s previous award-winning exhibit dedicated to the life and career of Macon soul legend Otis Redding, which has filled the same space with a plethora of memorabilia for the past 18 months, the exhibit hall is extremely bare, save for the 60 portraits of musicians that McGuire has photographed over the past 40 years. Music from the represented artists accompanies the exhibit.

“Otis Redding is a hard act to follow, but this exhibit is so strong and appropriate because McGuire expresses the same love and passion for music through his photographs that Redding did through his singing,” said Lisa Love, the hall of fame’s executive director.

While “Nashville Portraits” opened Sunday, tonight marks the official grand opening for the exhibit. There will be a reception at the hall of fame with McGuire as the guest of honor from 6-8 p.m. The event is open and free to the public. The exhibit, which has gone on for two years and was most recently in Augusta, will be here through July 5.

Love said she came across the exhibit online looking up photos of musicians.

“I was thrilled to see that this was a traveling exhibit,” she said. “It was organized by the Morris Museum of Art in Augusta.”

Kevin Grogan, the Morris Museum’s executive director, put together the exhibit and is expected to attend tonight’s reception.

“There’s really no other work like it, to be honest,” Grogan said of the two-year-old exhibit. “The archive represents the history of modern country music.”

Grogan noted that some of the first portraits McGuire shot were of artists who performed at the original Grand Old Opry in the 1920s and ’30s.

“It’s a unique photo document, a time in music like no other,” he said.

McGuire has gained renown as one of the foremost photographers of musicians in Nashville. Though the bulk of the portraits are of country music legends such as Dolly Parton, Waylon Jennings, Vince Gill and Tammy Wynette, McGuire has also shot portraits of musicians in other genres, such as folk, bluegrass, soul and rock.

Each portrait is shot in black and white, and Love said McGuire uses the same backdrop for each photo.

On his Web site, www.nashvilleportraits.com, McGuire wrote: “Color was too literal. You could get all the color you could ever want by just walking out your front door. But when you create a black and white image, you are not just recording it on film, you have the obligation to bring your own vision and experience to the process. For me, black and white had a way of making simple, mundane things seem important, and I liked that.”

McGuire said his regular job is to create album covers. The portraits started when he asked some of the artists if he could shoot them after the cover work was done.

“I’d usually ask to shoot a roll or two of black and white for myself,” McGuire said. “These 60 photos are a cross section of what I have. The images span over 40 years.”

The images vary in how each subject is shot. Some of the photos are serious and solemn, while others are playful and humorous.

Some of the artists have been shot more than once by McGuire. For example, Johnny Cash appears with his country group The Highwaymen — which also featured Jennings, Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson — but is also photographed with the Rev. Billy Graham.

In addition to his Web site, McGuire has also published a book of the portraits.

Among the Georgia artists in the exhibit are Norman and Nancy Blake, Chet Atkins and Tut Taylor.

McGuire said his favorite images include John Hartford, the first portrait he shot. Other favorites of his include Bill Monroe and Marty Robbins, two of his music heroes.

After tonight’s opening reception, there will be an opening night party at the Hummingbird Stage & Taproom on Cherry Street. That event is $5 to hall of fame members and $10 to the general public.

The music hall was able to mount the exhibition entirely through local sponsorships and grants, Love said.

McGuire said he’s excited to visit Macon for the first time given its rich musical background.

“It’s really great when the show comes to a city that has such a great musical history,” he said. “This is the first time it’s been in a real music community.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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