Country Music Hall of Famer Kenny Rogers' photographs of America on view at The Booth Museum
Country Music Hall of Fame honoree Kenny Rogers once said, “Music is what I am, but photography would probably be second.” The country music legend was also an accomplished portrait and landscape photographer. Rogers passed away on March 20, 2020, at 81 years old. A collection of his works are on view now at the Booth Museum in Cartersville in an exhibition titled “Through the Years: Kenny Rogers’ Photographs of America.” The Booth Museum’s executive director Seth Hopkins joined “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes to share about Kenny Rogers’ lesser-known body of remarkable work.
Learning from one of photography’s luminaries:
“He had a box camera when he was pretty young, maybe middle school or high school, but he got serious about it in the ’80s,” explained Hopkins. “He was actually given as a Christmas present one year an in-home workshop with a gentleman named John Sexton, who was the last assistant to Ansel Adams before Ansel passed, and one of the greatest landscape photographers in the country, and also a great darkroom printer.”
Hopkins continued, “He came to Kenny’s house three days before Christmas in the mid-’80s and spent time with Kenny getting his darkroom organized and printing some of the photographs he had shot; also talking about different equipment to use in the field, and particularly large-format cameras, which are very difficult to use and are the kind of camera that Ansel Adams used. And Kenny took that as a challenge, to really learn to use that piece of it, and to produce great photographs with it, and then to produce great prints in the darkroom.”
What Kenny Rogers loved about the art of photography:
“Kenny said at various times that he was an ‘impulsive obsessive’ — that he impulsively took on new hobbies and then followed them obsessively. And he once said, I think, that photography was his drug of choice,” said Hopkins. “He also said that when he was in the field making photographs, he didn’t have to worry about what he was wearing, what his hair looked like, what his voice sounded like that day, so on. And so he was really able to put down his guard and really enjoy just being Kenny Rogers when he was photographing.”
The advantages of a musician’s tour schedule:
“[John Sexton said] Kenny was like the Energizer Bunny when they were working together … He would travel with them on the road, and they would seek out the most interesting places to go shoot during the day before the concert that evening. And Kenny was so obsessed, he would often be running late, and they were worried he was gonna miss his hand-off from Dolly Parton on that tour a couple of times because he was out shooting with John Sexton,” Hopkins recounted. “Sexton said, ‘Normally you’d load up in a car before sunrise to get out there and get the best images. But when you had Kenny Rogers, you had a helicopter standing by.’”
Intimate portraits of working Americans:
“Kenny grew up fairly poor in a federal housing project in Houston, Texas, and I don’t think he ever forgot where he came from,” Hopkins said. “Many people who worked for him essentially testified that he was a very down-to-earth person, cared about everybody who worked with him and for him — lots of stories about when parents got ill, or spouses had trouble or whatever it might be, Kenny was there for them. And so I think his humanity really comes through in those images of everyday working people, whether it’s the miners or the police officer, or the barber. And I think, truly, the landscapes are incredible. The celebrity photographs are incredible. But those images are the ones that speak most to me.”
The Booth Museum’s exhibit “Through the Years: Kenny Rogers’ Photographs of America” is on view through Sept. 10. More information is available at boothmuseum.org/kennyrogers.