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By KIMBERLY ELLEN ANDERSON
Until April’s end, connoisseurs of both visual and written art can witness how a renowned writer sees the dreamy morning landscapes of rural Kentucky or the humble, rustic and brilliant personalities of the state’s authors, such as Wendell Berry and Bobbie Ann Mason.
James Baker Hall, author of The Mother on the Other Side of the World, retired creative writing director at the University of Kentucky and prolific poet, reveals his first love for photography in an ambitious exhibit at 21c Museum in Louisville. Photo/Synthesis: James Baker Hall features 70 works spanning 50 years of the artist’s life, accompanied by eight of his poems printed by Larkspur letterpress.
Hall became a photographer and writer at age 11, performing darkroom work and assisting in professional shoots for a commercial studio. The work included photographing the University of Kentucky’s men’s basketball team, known as Rupp’s Fabulous Five, and Coach Bear Bryant’s football team—what could only be a dream for thousands of Kentucky boys, especially before television aired college games. Until age 15, Hall snapped glimpses of the idolized teams in action, then traveled the state to show the films and narrate a play-by-play of the games.
“Talk about heady stuff! I’ve been taking pictures ever since,” Hall said.
In the late ’60s and early ’70s, Hall taught photography, exhibited his work and was a contributing editor at Aperture, a worldwide magazine for photographers and enthusiasts. His writing was focused mostly on the art until 1973, when he accepted a tenured professorship in writing at the University of Kentucky. He made the written word his priority for the next 30 years but continued taking photographs.
Now retired, Hall has returned to his childhood sweetheart, collaborating on exhibits and creating picture books that have included A Spring Fed Pond (Crystal Publications, 2000) and Tobacco Harvest: An Elegy (University Press of Kentucky, 2004), as well as his Orphans in the Attic and Appear to Disappear series.
“I’ve never quit shooting, and most of my life have had a beloved darkroom, but it wasn’t until I retired … that I had the time to gather together my art work in photography,” said Hall, who lives in Sadieville, Kentucky, with his wife, novelist Mary Ann Taylor-Hall.