“Through the Years: Kenny Rogers’ Photographs of America” opens Feb. 17, 2022, in Cartersville at the Booth Western Art Museum. The exhibit highlights a little-known facet of a multi-talented man, shedding new light on the seriousness of Rogers’ pursuit of his hobby of making great images. “Through the Years” presents a selection of 60 of Rogers’ stunning color and black and white photographs of America, its celebrities and working people. Although Kenny Rogers wrote and sang “You Can’t Make Old Friends,” the worldwide music icon, multiple Grammy Award-winner and Country Music Hall of Fame Member made many new friends in the process of creating hundreds of celebrity portraits. Eighteen of these, many inscribed to Rogers by the subject, are among the highlights in the exhibition, which will remain on view through July 10, 2022. The Booth is the first to show the stunning results of his pursuit since his passing in March, 2020.
When Kenny Rogers decided to take up photography, he went all in. He hired some of the greatest photographers in the world as his teachers, including former Ansel Adams’ assistant John Sexton. Master portrait photographer Yousuf Karsh not only gave him tips, but also wrote the forward to a book on Rogers’ images. Sexton often joined him on the road, especially if there would be a day off near an interesting location.
Crisscrossing America on his travels and concert tours he took every opportunity to get out and shoot pictures, documenting unique views of North America and the people he met. He made friends with many of them, and they subtly informed his art along the way. Photography gave Rogers a creative outlet apart from the fast-paced life of an entertainer. When photographing landscapes Rogers has said, “While I am finally away from the glitter and the lights, there is a rare moment of privacy when I can relax and not worry about how I’m dressed, or how my hair looks or the way my voice sounds.” He also enjoyed capturing portraits of friends, celebrities and the everyday lives of people. Rogers was an exceptionally talented portrait artist, showing his peers not as unknowable celebrities, but as seemingly old friends in the distinctly human way he captured these intimate moments. Conversely, his street photographs of common folk seem to instill noble qualities in the subjects.
“One of the things that impresses me about Kenny’s passion for learning photography is his obvious reverence for the great photographers who helped popularize the genre and make it a true artistic medium,” said Booth Museum Director Seth Hopkins. “His beautiful images of iconic Western lands show he understood the art history side of things, and he honored those art pioneers by wanting to put his tripod in the same spots they did. He was creating similar images, but each one has a little part of the artist in it, making each unique.”
A revered photographer, Rogers received an Honorary Masters of Photography from the Professional Photographers of America in 2014 and in 2017, he was honored with the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Photography Hall of Fame and Museum in St. Louis, Missouri. Rogers published three books of his photography: “Kenny Rogers’ America” (1986), “Your Friends and Mine” (1987), and “This Is My Country” (2001).
“Through the Years” is being organized by the Booth Western Art Museum under the direction of Photography Curator Dr. Samuel Gerace. He says the opportunity to delve into Rogers’ wide range of subjects and track his life through his photographs is very rewarding. “The best part of my duties at the Booth is managing the Picturing America Gallery,” says Gerace. Kenny Rogers’ work perfectly intersects Art, Americana and the gallery’s mission to present ‘the collective memory of the American people.’ Rogers’ success as an artist, both in music and photography, is a testament to his understanding of the American perspective. This collection a testament to his legacy, reflecting his unique life and travels across the country; always exploring, always making new friends along the way.”
All photographs in the exhibition are on loan from the artist’s estate or the Country Music Hall of Fame and Museum in Nashville, Tennessee. The estate hopes the exhibition will travel to several other important venues in the next few years.
Booth Western Art Museum is located at 501 Museum Drive in Cartersville. Hours are Tuesday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Thursday: 10 a.m. to 8 p.m.; Sunday: 1 to 5 p.m. Closed Mondays, New Year’s Day, July 4, Thanksgiving and Christmas. For more information visit www.BoothMuseum.org.