Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), Saltville, Virginia, 1964; photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson (b. 1936), Saltville, Virginia, 1964; photograph; Courtesy of the artist

Bruce Jackson Being There: Saltville, Virginia

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Throughout the run of Being There: Bruce Jackson Photographs 1962-2010, the artist is sharing some of the stories behind his photographs.Being There is on view until June 16, 2013. The catalog accompanying the exhibition is available at The Museum Store at the Burchfield Penney.


I was in Saltville, Virginia, the very bottom of the state, in 1964, visiting a musician I'd met a little earlier that summer at the Newport Folk Festival, Hobart Smith. Hob introduced me to the musicians in his family, one member of which was John Gallagher, a great guitar picker. John had arthritis, so he was only using a cherry-red six-string Gibson he had recently acquired. He gave me a 12-string Stella he said had been given to him by an itinerant musician named Blind Lemon Jefferson in 1918. The neck of the 12-string was bowed and it was almost impossible to play, but because of the putative history, I was happy to have it. Later that day, I was in a local garage for an oil change on my Chevy 6 and a policeman there gave me and my car a once-over. My car had Massachusetts plates and I was obviously not a local, and he had those impenetrable shades. All my caricatures of southern cops and sheriffs went into play. Then he said, "What's that on your back seat?" "A 12-string John Gallagher gave me," I said. "Can I try it?" he said. "If I can take your picture while you're doing it," I said. "OK," he said. So he did and I did.

His name was Sam Holmes. Every Sunday his family got together to have afternoon dinner and make music. "You gonna be here on Sunday?" he said. "Yes," I said. "You come out to our family's house," he said. I did. There was a lot of banjo and guitar picking and fiddling and singing. And the food was good. The recordings I made that lovely afternoon are now part of my collection at the Library of Congress.

-Bruce Jackson