These are questions I feel like these people might ask me, but instead I ask myself, just in their voice, because it’s a good exercise in processing an experience you recently had. Here is my intro for myself: I take pictures of many things. Recently it has been notorious genre-busting musician Hank Williams III aka “Hank 3.”
Pretend I’m comedian Jerry Seinfeld: “What’s the DEAL with your recent photos of Hank Williams III?”
Tara Israel: Hank 3 is a musician I adore, who navigates a number of seemingly unrelated genres of music with great success. I contacted him earlier this year because I wanted to do a photo essay that both looked at the stage clothes of country music legends and also explored at what I feel makes Hank 3 so special. I contacted him with an email only he would be crazy enough to respond to: “I have this great idea. I don’t know exactly what I want to do or even what I’m going to do with it but its going to be great. I’ll show up and you just change your clothes a few times. Easy breezy. Where do you live?” Two weeks later I was in Nashville knocking on the door to the Haunted Ranch (his home.) At the time I had no idea what Hank had access to but he took the time to collect what I styled into nine different looks. He pulled suits that had been made for his grandfather (Hank Williams Sr) and father (Hank Williams Jr), as well as one made for him in his youth, in addition to assorted stage looks he has worn, ranging from heavy metal inspired leather to his everyday look of a workshirt and boots. I admire Hank’s ability to pay homage to his family lineage yet not be limited by it.
Pretend I’m photographer Joel Sternfeld during a crit when you were his photo student: “What is a good photograph? Why are any of these good photographs?”
Tara Israel: What I try to achieve with my photos is to challenge my understanding of intimacy. Its not about hiding behind gimmicks like sexuality or relying on complicated production to create a false connection between the camera and the subject. The pictures are very simple, sometimes awkward or creepy, but always honest. Its about connecting with another person, which is often terrifying, and having fun with someone new. Its basically living in that electric moment before a first kiss or telling someone you love them for the first time, but because there are no words or kisses, it just becomes limitless potential. No fear of unrequited love, or bad kisses or the dreadful “now what?” when it starts to get stale.
Pretend I’m the I CAN HAZ A CHEEZBURGER cat: “Wut lessuns haz you lernd from this prossis? Do you evur feer that what matterz to you 2day will knot bee kulturally relevint toomaro?”
Tara Israel: I reject the need to create a linear path between the past and present, and I feel that Hank does the same. These images illustrate how he is able to simultaneously occupy all of these identities with ease, showing that he does not have to be one or the other, that one should not be restricted to genre titles or convention. Purist fans of country music need to accept that he is honoring the genre and his grandfather the best way he can- he just sometimes does it while wearing crazy costumes on stage and with a lot of headbanging. He is a living library of music references and anecdotes, allowing it to organically manifest throughout his art. I went to Nashville to shoot these portraits in June, on a particularly hot and oppressively humid week. One afternoon we planned on walking the trails behind his house to shoot him wearing his own suit made by Manuel. I suggested we wait until later that afternoon because I felt it was too muggy for him to go outside in a wool suit and hat. He looked at me and said, “My grandfather would tour in the back of a Cadillac wearing wool suits in the summer without air conditioning and perform on stage every night. I can handle standing around for an hour in my backyard.”
Pretend I’m your dentist at the exact moment he starts drilling a cavity: “So what else have you been up to lately?”
Tara Israel: I recently returned from a stint on the road with Hank 3, photographing his shows and behind the scenes. Despite his lineage, Hank is very much a DIY success story- from how he interacts with his fans to the recent release of three albums on his own label. He lives and breathes his music, from loading the gear onto the tour bus to signing autographs for every fan after he performs 3+ hour shows. I had never shot a concert before or even been on a tour bus, so it was learning how to accomplish what I wanted while staying out of the way of the 13 other people on the bus (and how to hold a camera still when you are balancing on a moving bus/ vibrating speaker/ using a taller person as a tripod).
Pretend I’m your mother Bonnie Schnitta: “Why am I so proud of you even though you never remember take out the garbage/ empty the dishwasher when you come to visit?”
Tara Israel: I just don’t know, Mom. I just don’t know. Sometimes you want to know you can count on people… Unfortunately you can only count on me forgetting these things. I’m consistent. You can count on that.
Pretend I’m your high school math teacher: “Please show your work”
Some of Tara Israel’s photos of Hank Williams III will be on view December 8 – January 3 at Keyes Art Projects, 551 W 21st St, 4th Floor, NYC.