They are creative and driven and determined to serve up their vision of the world in song, dance, humor, and narrative. To paraphrase folksinger Mayne Smith, “You might not like their style, boys, but you will know who they are.” For the photographers and technical geeks out there, I shot all the earliest pictures in with a 35mm camera, during stage performances or off to the side when performers were taking a break.
I fitted my trusty Canon EOS-1V with the fastest lenses I could, including a 50mm f/1 and an 85mm f/1.2, and usually used Fujipan 1600, to capture light in the dimmest possible spots.
And much of the country dialed in the Grand Ole Opry on Saturday night. I just thought I was fulfilling my final history assignment from my ex-teacher, the legendary E. And while that seems a tad pretentious, what can I say? In a way, it mirrored the approach of many of the musicians. Fred worked in a shoe store as a salesman much of his life.Over the years I’ve photographed many different types of subjects, even animals and the human form.But I’ve always returned to my roots as a documentary photographer. And I try to tell one in a direct way, with humor and a punch line if possible.That’s what my history teachers, Jesse Lemisch (at University of Chicago) and E. Thompson (at University of Warwick), taught me to do.These cultures and places might vanish, but it is a historian’s righteous duty to make sure that they leave a trace.One thing led to another, as so often happens in photography, and was born.To me, modern burlesque performers embody so many traits of true artists. Their style and method of delivery make burlesque popular art—not so much for the elite Art in America crowd. Living on the margins, the best of today’s burlesque artists have a signature vision, strong in message and execution.The world it covers is old-time, and a random mix of burlesque, drag, sideshow, and fetish in style.Its modern performers are young, nowhere near extinction.I also was very influenced by another teacher in Chicago, John G.Cawelti, who taught me (and doubting historians predating him) that popular culture should be taken seriously.