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Honky Tonk

Ramada Inn, Boston, Massachusetts, 1976, By Henry Horenstein

Henry Horenstein was raised in New Bedford, Massachusetts, where his love of country music began at the local music store, the Melody Shop. It was there that he was instructed by the store owner to buy his first LP, Johnny Cash Sings Hank Williams.

Horenstein began his university education as a historian, studying at the University of Chicago. Many of his professors, including Jesse Lemisch, taught that the most important role of a historian is to record stories of people and cultures that are not “successful.” It is the “successful” that are often remembered. The disappearance of unrecorded stories creates an untruthful history. Horenstein’s interest in photography grew, and he sought to utilize his photographic skills as a historian. He enrolled at the Rhode Island School of Design to continue his photographic education. His professor, Harry Callahan, guided him with the statement “Tell your truth and be yourself.”

This led Horenstein into music shows, concerts, country music parks, and honky tonks throughout the United States. Over the years he photographed such legends as Dolly Parton, Del Reeves, and Doc Watson. Horenstein also photographed the visitors of these local performances, recording their stories and histories.

Horenstein sees this culture as disappearing over the years, but his photographs will allow these stories to continue living. He hopes that along with Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, we will remember the smoke-filled honky tonks and their patrons that once dotted the nation.

Photographs by Horenstein have been exhibited at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, George Eastman House, Fabrik der Kunste in Hamburg, Boston Museum of Fine Arts, and are included in the collections of the Library of Congress, Houston’s Museum of Fine Arts, and Atlanta’s High Museum of Art. Horenstein is the author of over 30 books, including several monographs and highly successful photography textbooks, which have been used by hundreds of thousands of students across the country. Horenstein is a professor of photography at RISD. 

Join us for a special reception with the artist Henry Horenstein on Thursday, September 4, 2014 from 5-8pm. We will also be hosting a look-a-like contest during the reception. Come dressed as either Porter Wagoner or Dolly Parton for a chance to win a “best dressed” prize.