Visual Arts

Lexington Singers' music in tune with Archambeault images

Making photographs is a solitary process for James Archambeault.

The iconic Central Kentucky photographer will set out in his car with a destination in mind, find images along the road, then get out his cameras.

When alone, "I usually have a song going on in my brain," he says. "Not that I create the music, but usually I am listening to a song in my brain."

In his photography career of more than 30 years, no one had set Archambeault's images to music, until this weekend.

The Lexington Singers annual fall concert Saturday night will feature A Bluegrass Tapestry, 11 songs performed while Archambeault's images are projected above the stage.

"I've always enjoyed serious photography as an art form," says Nick Nickl, president of Lexington Singers. "These are both art forms that transport me to another place, and it seemed natural to put them together."

It seemed like a great idea to the Singers' music director, Jefferson Johnson, to add another dimension to the choir's performances.

When the idea of a photography project was discussed, Johnson says, Archambeault was the only name mentioned.

"Nick Nickl called one day out of the blue and said, 'Mr. Archambeault, would you like to be a collaborator with one of our concerts in November?'" Archambeault says. "I said, 'What does that mean?'"

The Singers gave Archambeault recordings of the songs they intended to use and asked him to present images he thought went with the pieces.

The songs include the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts, the spiritual Zion's Walls, and selections by Aaron Copland. All were orchestrated by Singers assistant director Johnie Dean.

The collaboration led Archambeault to go back through more than 30 years of photos, including some images he never thought he'd have use for.

"Most of these images have been seen before, but some of them will be seen for the first time," he says.

Archambeault and his wife, Lee, became part of a creative team, loading his pictures onto a light table and going through them, matching images not only to songs, but to moments.

Johnson says this will be much more than just showing pictures while songs are sung. They wanted to create a multimedia experience.

"I tried to pick pieces that were evocative of landscapes and/or Kentucky and/or the Bluegrass region and Appalachia in general," Johnson says. "I was thinking of Archambeault's photos that I knew, that I had seen and almost everyone has seen — these iconic Kentucky landscape photos. But I was also faced with the artistic task of creating a lengthy piece, a multi movement piece that had flow."

The biggest fans of the Singers' selections are the Archambeaults.

"The Singers are amazing," he says. "What's really wonderful is they are all just people from the community who love to sing."

As he talks, the Singers' music pours out of the living room, where it's being played on the stereo, onto the back porch of their Scott County home on a picturesque piece of property. The experience has prompted him to invite family and friends to Saturday's concert. Now, when he goes out to shoot, he has some specific songs in his mind.

"Shenandoah is one of my favorite songs, and since I started listening, it's in my head all day long," Archambeault says. He breaks into song: "Oh, Shenandoah, I long to see you ... ."