Andrew Brinkhorst has photos from a local music event that took place a little over two years ago. Coralee and the Townies were playing, and a lot of people were there. When Brinkhorst first looked at the photo, he didn’t know much of anyone in it.
Today — after spending nearly two years in bars, theaters, at the front of the stage, backstage and even in musicians’ kitchens in the wee small hours of the morning — Brinkhorst knows pretty much everyone in the shot. The photographer’s two-plus years of photographing a community of Lexington-area musicians has culminated in the photo exhibit This is the Thing, which has been on display in the Loudoun House galleries of the Lexington Art League all month, and culminates in a Fourth Friday party this week before the exhibit closes May 29.
The project found Brinkhorst when he was looking for a photo endeavor to focus on, but he didn’t know what he was looking for.
“I got inspired at the Night Market one night,” Brinkhorst says, referring to the near-monthly Bryan Avenue celebration. “It was a perfect September Lexington, Kentucky evening ... the music sounded great, the food was good. Everyone was friendly. I met a bunch of people and said, ‘Wow, this is kind of neat. The whole neighborhood’s working to build itself up with music and small business, fine arts, all here.’
“I said, ‘I should document this. It’s like a renaissance here, right under my nose.’”
Lexington musician J. Tom Hnatow was performing that night, one of many characters that would pop up again and again in Brinkhorst’s photos.
Through the few connections he made that night, Brinkhorst started reaching people through Facebook, posting photos and asking people he had met to tag everyone they knew. He went from being “who’s that guy with the camera” to a photographer artists welcomed to document them on stage and off.
One of the photos featured in advertisements for the exhibits features a shot of Coralee from behind as she is searching for the stage at the first Moonshiner’s Ball — a musician-run event in Berea which celebrated its third year May 20-22. Some of the images in the 40-plus photo exhibit have an off-stage intimacy reminiscent of great rock photographers such as Annie Leibovitz or Jim Marshall.
Brinkhorst’s presence was obvious to his subjects. He did not keep his distance with telephoto lenses that are standard tools of the concert photography trade. He used smaller rangefinder cameras and wide to normal lenses that mean if you see an image like Emily Hagihara and fellow musicians filling the frame during a rendition of Patti Smith’s Gloria at the Green Lantern Bar, Brinkhorst was really close. And that’s how he wanted to work.
“Is it close physically, is it close emotionally, is it close relationship-wise?” Brinkhorst says. “I tried to accomplish all that in this project.”
And that is what attracted Art League director Stephanie Harris to the work.
“The work is exquisite,” she says. “You’re getting these wonderfully dynamic, engaging photos, but there’s also the story about the people in the photos, and your relationship to them, their relationship to one another, and how collectively they built this really beautiful and vibrant community.”
Harris and Brinkhorst first connected over a photo he took of the downtown installation for the Art League’s Winter 2014 light exhibit, Luminosity. Eventually, at an Art League event, Brinkhorst started telling Harris about his photography project.
“You know, just one of those conversations where you can just tell that someone is pouring their heart into something creative, and you want to be helpful and give suggestions where you can and be accessible,” Harris says.
The conversation continued, eventually leading to the suggestion of an exhibit, which was not anything Brinkhorst originally conceived with the project. What he was doing was documentation, he said. The aim was a book, or books, on music, business and art in the area (an aim Brinkhorst still has). But, while Harris acknowledged Brinkhorst’s images were documentation, she also saw art.
“My first words, I think, were ‘I don’t think I can fill that space,’” Brinkhorst recalls. “With some encouragement and guidance, it was, ‘Yeah, I think you can.’”
In a way, Brinkhorst’s process lends itself to the exhibit format, because while photography has become a digital medium, largely processed in a computer, Brinkhorst still prints out sheets of thumbnail images, much like old-fashioned contact sheets from the film days, and picks choice frames with the circle of a pen. Then small prints are made to decide what is worthy of becoming a larger display print. The process is mapped out for This is the Thing visitors on a corridor wall where the workflow from thumbnails to large prints is displayed.
And throughout the galleries, the images jump off the walls — an artist and a subject that did not fancy themselves the stuff of art gallery walls. But as you stand looking at the photos, you can hear the music.
If You Go
‘This is the Thing’
What: Exhibit of photographs of Lexington musicians by Andrew Brinkhorst presented by the Lexington Art League
Where: Loudoun House, 209 Castlewood Drive
Exhibit: Through May 29. Gallery hours 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tues.-Thurs., 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Fri., 1-4 p.m. Sat., Sun. Admission is free.
Fourth Friday: Party featuring music by The Landers. 6-9 p.m. May 27. $5.