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Press Release: State of the Blues
October 25, 2002

For Immediate Release

Photographs Of The Great Blues Musicians Of Our Times

October 25 – December 8, 2002
FotoFest Headquarters Downtown Map
1113 Vine Street
Houston, Texas

HOUSTON, TEXAS (October 7, 2002) – FotoFest and Project Row Houses are proud to announce the Houston presentation of over 100 photographs portraying some of the most influential and famous Blues musicians of our time. Alongside the powerful portraits, State of the Blues traces the origins of the Blues from the Mississippi and Arkansas Deltas to northern Louisiana and eastern Texas.

The intimate sepia toned black and white images by award-winning photographer Jeff Dunas will be exhibited at FotoFest’s Downtown Headquarters at Vine Street Studios from October 25 – December 8, 2002. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturday 11 a.m. – 6 p.m. The exhibition is free and open to the public.

The opening of State of the Blues, Friday October 25th, at FotoFest Headquarters, 1113 Vine St., 7 p.m. – 10 p.m. features a Blues performance by Joe "Guitar" Hugues and Trudy Lynn, and Barbecue with the exhibition. In addition to the opening performance, FotoFest and Project Row Houses are presenting a series of public Blues concerts during the month of November 2002 in conjunction with the exhibition. These performances will take place at the locally famous Barbecue music venue, Miss Anne’s Playpen, in the historic Third Ward.

The exhibition, musical performances, and related educational programming are a tribute to Blues music, one of the great traditions in U.S. culture. They follow the route of the Blues Highway, a heritage trail through the American South to Chicago, New Orleans, and Las Angeles. Aperture, a not-for-profit organization devoted to photography and the visual arts, has organized this traveling exhibition and produced the accompanying publications.

The Houston presentation of State of the Blues is co-sponsored by FotoFest and Project Row Houses. Major funding has come from Gulf Coast Entertainment, The William Stamps Farish Fund, and the City of Houston and Texas Commission on the Arts through the Cultural Arts Council of Houston/Harris County. Special support comes from Margaret Regan and Fletcher Thorne-Thomsen, Jr., Continental Airlines, and Carola Herrin.

Between the 1940’s and 1970’s, Houston was an important stop on the Blues Highway. The city nurtured some of the country’s best-known African-American Blues musicians; it was a place where the best of the country’s Blues performers could be seen and heard. Today only a few clubs remain, among them Miss Anne’s Playpen. Houston, however, is still called home by some prominent Blues performers such as Trudi Lynn and Jewel Brown, who have gained international recognition.

The State of the Blues exhibition highlights Project Row House’s ongoing renovation of the historic Eldorado Ballroom in the Third Ward. The ballroom was one of the South’s premier Blues centers, attracting both nationally renowned and local Blues acts to Houston. Project Row Houses is among a growing group of organizations and venues working to revive the Blues tradition in Houston and its African-American heritage. FotoFest’s collaboration with Project Row Houses makes it possible to bring to Houston the internationally acclaimed exhibition on the Blues and its African-American heritage. It is a public centerpiece of this effort combining the visual and performance arts with educational programs on the Blues for the general public and students.

Los Angeles based photographer Jeff Dunas began making portraits of Blues musicians in 1994 in a room adjacent to the stage at the Los Angeles House of Blues restaurant. The subjects of the portraits, musicians long admired by the photographer, were caught minutes before taking the stage at the venue. The images became the basis of a “Hall of Fame” at the restaurant. In 1998, they were published by Aperture in the book, State of the Blues, which accompanies the exhibit.

In the book’s introduction, well known scholar and former director of the National Endowment for the Humanities, William Ferris, calls the Blues “a music that is truly a metaphor for the twentieth century…Blues artists chronicle the long difficult journey traveled by blacks, and the familiar, plaintive sound of their music summons powerful memories for all Americans.”

Photographer Jeff Dunas is a long-term student of the Blues and has been listening to it since he was a teenager. It was through the influence of a friend, famed disk jockey Wolfman Jack that he first became aware of the Blues. Although Dunas currently splits his time between Los Angeles and Paris photographing for fashion and culture magazines, he has a deep passion for the rural heritage of the Blues and the need to document its history.

Dunas’ images are lush with deep blacks tones and shimmering highlights warmed by the soft brown tint of sepia toning. Many of the portraits are historic, showing legendary musicians John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy, Bo Diddley, and B.B. King.

Texas musicians shown in the book are Charles Brown, Pete Mayes (“Texas” Pete Mayes), Harrison Lamotta Nelson, Jr.(Peppermint Harris), Henry Qualls, Carol Fran and Clarence Hollimon, Clarence Smith (Sonny Rhodes), Joe Hughes (Joe “Guitar” Hughes), David Kearney (Guitar Shorty), Wesley Curley Clark (W.C. Clark), Johnny Watson (Johnny “Guitar” Watson), Roy Gaines, Floyd Dixon, John Dawson Winter III (Johnny Winter), Lou Ann Barton, Angela Strehli, and Marcia Ball.

In his photographs, Dunas chooses not to include the musician’s instruments, focusing instead on the face and the person. His images bring a face to names that are known primarily through the sound of their guitar, harmonica or voice. B.B. King is shown without his signature guitar “Lucille.” His close-up profile shows a strong and confident face whose enigmatic smile reflects years of experience on the road.

Dunas also photographs younger artists, like guitarist Keb’ Mo’, to show the future of the genre. Today, many young men and women consider the Blues passé. Bluesman Jon Lee Hooker laments this fact saying, “Most young blacks are into rap, funk, rock – not the Blues. I’d like to teach ‘em, the music is for all people.”

But the place of the Blues in American culture, both in the African-American community and in the wider society, is strong. Blues music is a flexible medium that has, over the years, chronicled the changes in American society, rural and urban. From the plantations of the 19th century to the streets of Chicago, the Blues has reflected the lives of its practitioners. The great northern migration of African-Americans from the rural south to cities like Chicago, New York and Kansas City in the first half of the 20th century was accompanied by the Blues which, like the people themselves, was changed, becoming faster and more sophisticated.

In the midst of the 1960’s Civil Rights movement, Blues music and its progeny Rhythm and Blues actively reflected the frustrations felt by a young generation of African-American men and women. The 1960’s also saw a change in the demographics of Blues musicians and their audiences. White youth, turned on to Blues through the music of Rock and Roll groups like the Rolling Stones, began seeking out the origins of this music. White musicians like British born John Mayall and Johnny Winter began playing the Blues.

The collaboration of two nationally prominent arts organizations, FotoFest and Project Row Houses, brings unusual breadth to the State of the Blues programs in Houston. FotoFest brings two decades of internationally acclaimed expertise in innovative photography programming and public outreach. Project Row Houses brings the experience and constituency of 20 years of urban revitalization and art programming in Houston’s Third Ward, one of city’s oldest and most important African-American neighborhoods. Project Row Houses has earned national and international acclaim for its groundbreaking African-American art, education, and community development programs.

The Houston exhibition of State of the Blues opens October 25 and runs through December 8, 2002. Gallery hours are Monday – Friday, 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. and Saturdays 11 a.m. – 6 p.m.

For information and visuals, contact:
Vinod Hopson, Exhibitions Coordinator
Jenny Antill, Press Coordinator
(713) 223-5522 ext. 18 or ext. 13
Fax 713-223-4411
Andrew Malveaux, II
Project Row Houses
(713) 526-7662