Jen Hearn Photography

From Cleveland to Kentucky to New York: Discovering Shelby Lee Adams


(Shelby Lee Adams and model in NY Central Park Bethesda Terrace)


In 2014 I was selected to be part of an environmental portrait class with Shelby Lee Adams. The 5 day workshop was held in New York City through the International Center for Photography.

I discovered Adams' work when I watched the documentary "The True Meaning of Pictures". I was drawn to his images of Kentucky Appalachia. My father was born in Kentucky, so I recognized images of people living in hollers, the old granny's with corncob pipes and kids in their underwear playing in the dirt.


But those are cliches. What I recognized were a certain type of people. People who some see as trash or "hillbillies". I see them as good people trying their best living in poverty.


His images are controversial. Some critics think they are exploitative. What they are missing is the love he feels for his subjects. He grew up right outside the hollers. And while his family were privileged (his father was a doctor) he was drawn to those holler people. He wanted to know them and once he knew them, he wanted to share their stories.


We began an email correspondence before the class started. We shared stories of Kentucky and I eventually helped him edit a magazine article about his work. You can read it here.


The class was held at the International Center for Photography in Midtown Manhattan. We had a shoot at Bryant Park (with the carousel that has been featured in Law & Order!) We printed our images and then they were critiqued.

(Girl on Bryant Park carousel. Shelby and I playing with long exposures and rear-sync flash.)


(Photo of me by Shelby Lee Adams)


The next day we shoot in Central Park with paid models. We shot at Bethesda Terrace and then under a bridge. So much fun and also so much to learn. See all the images posted below for shoots with models and NYC street photography.