Tim Duffy spent 20 years amassing photographs of blues and roots musicians.
There was Neal Pattman, who sang gospel songs while waiting for airplanes to take off. John Lee Cole, who lived in an old shack with one light bulb. And Dr. G.B. Burt, who called Duffy from his deathbed looking for a gig.
As founder and executive director of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, a North Carolina-based nonprofit, Duffy snapped photos while helping musicians make ends meet. The photos and captions in his new book of his black-and-white photography tell a rich and vivid history of the life and music of these artists.
At least in the beginning, Duffy says he spent hours behind a viewfinder and in the darkroom in hopes of landing great shots to use for an album cover, or to promote his musicians. What he lacked in formal training, he says he made up for with time and dedication.
“You have to really get lost in the milieu of hanging out with these artists, and spending time, inordinate amounts of time,” Duffy says. “Then there’s that moment — that moment of you together, sitting on a park bench in Lugano[, Switzerland] — you did the festival, and you’re about to go home, and you’re proud … click. That’s how I take pictures.”
“We Are the Music Makers!” a collection of 20 years of photographs, written by Duffy and his wife Denise, was published this month.
Listen to some of the songs Music Maker artists have produced over the years. Below is a playlist of a handful of musicians we heard perform near Durham, North Carolina recently.
The photographs are currently on view at the ArtsCenter in Carrboro, North Carolina until Oct. 31, and will be at the B.B. King Museum in Indianola, Mississippi, from Oct. 23 until Nov. 20.
Check out more of Tim Duffy’s photos below and stay tuned in the coming days for the PBS NewsHour’s full report on the Music Maker Relief Foundation.
Editor’s note: This piece was updated on October 17.