‘Their ancestral cultures have been oppressed and forbidden, and yet they rise up singing’ ~ The Washington Post

Lonnie Holley, 2017. (Timothy Duffy)

Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen, Hillsborough, N.C., 2015. (Timothy Duffy)

It is no great secret that many of the most talented and influential people in the arts (and other areas too, of course) often go unheralded. Who knows why some people garner recognition and others do not? There are any number of reasons, but there are some people out there trying to rectify that.

Today, In Sight is bringing attention to a book by photographer Timothy Duffy, who is attempting to bring a group of people who have labored in the shadows into the limelight with his new book, “Blue Muse,” published recently by the University of North Carolina Press in association with the New Orleans Museum of Art.

For at least 30 years, Duffy has been working alongside roots musicians from the American South. “Blue Muse” brings together a collection of tintype portraits of many of these musicians. Most of them are not famous; you have probably never heard of them. As Duffy says in his introduction to the book:

“Many of the musicians I photograph are not famous. In fact, most of them were not easy to find. Primarily, they are senior African American roots musicians born of the South. Their ancestors were among the earliest to arrive as unwilling immigrants to our country, and many of the musicians featured in this book claim a fair portion of native blood. They have some of the deepest roots in this country, but their America has never been the land of the free. Their ancestral cultures have been oppressed and forbidden, and yet they rise up singing.”

While the artists who are revealed in Duffy’s stunning portraits may not be well known to you or me, they, collectively, have continued a tradition of music that has influenced so many of the musicians who have gained wide recognition. Duffy’s portraits train our gaze on these artists who “want to be known and remembered.” After all, no matter what, they continue to rise up and sing. As the legendary photographer Sally Mann says about Duffy’s photographs, “His images movingly convey the soul of his subjects and of the places in which they live.”

Accompanying the publication of this book, there is also an exhibit of the photographs on view until July 28 at the New Orleans Museum of Art. More information about the exhibit can be found here.

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