My buddy Josh plays American Primitive fingerpicking guitar, a style pioneered by John Fahey in the 1950s. It's seen as a blend of minimalist avant-garde classical with traditional country blues sensibilities. At first listen you'd be forgiven for mistaking it as run-of-the-mill bluegrass instrumental music. But listen closer and you start to notice pattern and nuance, like the fractals of fern leaves. The music is intricate yet earthy, heady yet heartfelt.
Josh wanted some portraits for an upcoming release, so we visited the woods near Chapel Hill, NC, where he drew inspiration for the pieces while walking his newborn son, Simon. Wanting to capture the physicality and tradition of the music, I shot with a 1954 Kodak Retina IIIC, a camera that had its heyday right around the time Fahey was inventing his fingerpicking form. Shooting on Tri-X 400 in low light gave us monochrome images that look like we dug them out of the dirt.
I picked up the Retina IIIC a few months ago and have been enamored with this little guy. It's fully mechanical (even the light meter, which uses a Selenium cell) and has some thoughtful German-engineered touches. The whole lens mount collapses in on the body when closing the lid, protecting the lens and making it nearly small enough to fit in a jean pocket. It uses a simple, single-element 50mm lens, which you can screw right off the body and hold in your palm. At full aperture it gets this lovely swirl bokeh, which you can see in the shot above.
Josh was planning to risograph print J-cards for a cassette release, a printing process similar to screenprinting often used for printmaking. Since risograph ink blends images into the paper fiber, I also shot with a Fuji X100F to get crispy lines for the cassettes.
We spent the afternoon of the shoot walking the path that Josh walked Simon, where these songs came to him. Like Fahey's before him, Josh's songs meander with purpose, more journey than destination. But they take you somewhere. Give it a spin: