"Europe has always loved the blues and blues culture. They have always honored the musicians and that has been so important to their musical careers."
James Fraher: Tidhigh An Phorta
In a career spanning over 30 years, photographer, musician and author James Fraher has had his images published in Downbeat, Guitar Player, Irish Arts Review, Juke Blues, Soul Bag, and Texas Highways, and on more than 150 record covers. His work can be seen in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, the Chicago Blues Archive at the Harold Washington Library Center, and the University of Mississippi Blues Archive. His photographs have been exhibited in museums and galleries in the United States, Ireland, Scotland, Italy and France.
Among James’ many awards are the Keeping the Blues Alive Award, presented by the Blues Foundation of Memphis, and Cultural Advocate of the Year, awarded by the Houston Institute for Culture. Outside of music photography, he has co-produced a number of blues recordings and produced “Walk On!” an acoustic blues record with John Jochem on harmonica and James on guitar.
He is the author of The Blues is a Feeling: Voices and Visions of African-American Blues Musicians, published in 1998. James has also collaborated with Houston writer Roger Wood to produce two books published by the University of Texas Press, Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues and Texas Zydeco. At home in Ireland, James’ scenic photographs have been featured in two unique books, Stories from a Sacred Landscape and Lumen Christi. James currently resides in Skreen, County Sligo, in the Republic of Ireland and is co-founder of Bogfire. A place from design and photography to traditional music and cultural exhibits is dedicated to creativity as expressed in culture, history, music, literature and visual art. It represents the creative endeavors and special projects of co-founders Connie Scanlon and James Fraher.
Interview by Michael Limnios Photos © by James Fraher
What do you learn about yourself from the Blues culture and what does the “Blues” mean to you?
I’ve learned that if you follow your passion and interest in something that resonates with you that it will lead to many rewarding experiences. The blues is a feeling, that’s what so many blues musicians explained to me and I share their words.
How do you describe Fraher’s images & project and what characterize your music and artistic philosophy?
I chose to pursue making photographic portraits of blues musicians in addition to making performance photos. I always feel that making a portrait is a collaboration between my subject and myself. It’s an honoring experience that I enjoy doing over and over.
I learned from Jimmy Dawkins that he sometimes picked his guitar strings with a 25 cent piece. More than one musician said to “take your time”.
"The blues are the roots of so much great music and I hope that people will always remember the blues and incorporate blues songs into their playing styles."
Which was the best and worst moment of your career? Which is the most interesting period in your life?
Having so many musicians trust me to do a good job at taking their photograph. I choose not to remember any of the worst moments of which there would not have been many. The most interesting period of my life has been when I was photographing in Texas.
You have come to know great bluesmen. Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?
I think all of them were important each in their own way. I value the time spent with Willie Kent, Otis Big Smokey Smothers, Johnnie Mae Dunson, Jimmy Lee Robinson and photo sessions with Honeyboy Edwards, Robert Lockwood Jr, and all the musicians in Houston, Texas and Kansas City.
Which memory makes you smile? Are there any memories which you’d like to share with us?
Going to pick up Jack Owens at his home outside of. His music partner Bud Spires who was blind was giving myself and Larry Hoffman directions to Jack’s house. We got there no problem. Seeing Johnnie Mae Dunson perform on the main stage of the Chicago Blues Festival. Co-producing recordings with Johnnie Mae Dunson and Jimmie Lee Robinson.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? How has the blues industry changed over the years?
All the musicians who have passed on. Not sure how the industry has changed.
You should ask the bluesmen and blues women this question.
"The blues is a feeling, that’s what so many blues musicians explained to me and I share their words."
Photo: Louisiana Red © by James Fraher
Why did you think that the Blues culture continues to generate such a devoted following in Europe?
Europe has always loved the blues and blues culture. They have always honored the musicians and that has been so important to their musical careers.
What's the legacy of Blues in the world culture and civilization? What are your hopes and fears for the future?
The blues are the roots of so much great music and I hope that people will always remember the blues and incorporate blues songs into their playing styles.
What has made you laugh lately and what touched (emotionally) you from the Blues circuits?
I enjoy seeing younger musicians coming onto the scene.
What from your memorabilia and things (books, records, photos etc.) would you put in a "time capsule"?
Photographs from the books of Raeburn Flerlage and the recordings of Mississippi Fred McDowell and Willie Kent.
What are the lines that connect the legacy of Blues with the Celtic folklore and culture?
I have been asked this before and I am really not sure. One thought is that each culture has a unique way of expressing their feelings and composing songs that tell a story.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
To Houston, Texas or to Chicago where there is plenty of music, food, friends and fun!
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