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Three chords and the truth

The faces of country music from the 1970s, preserved by the photographer Henry Horenstein    
Toni L. Querol
Dolly Parton at Boston Symphony Hall in 1972.
 
From the ruckus of the horse races in Saratoga (NY) to the nightlife of Buenos Aires, the Cajun community in Louisiana, baseball players in the South American leagues, camel breeders in Dubai or all his relatives in Massachusetts. For the past four decades, the documentary maker and photographer Henry Horenstein has captured all kinds of stories in over 30 books, showing a special preference for cultures and places that are slowly disappearing. But if there is one area where his work has become an iconic and encyclopedic point of reference, it’s the world of country music. The genre where, in the words of songwriter Harlan Howard, whom Horenstein likes to quote, you only needs "three chords and the truth" to make a good song.
 
After finishing his art studies in 1973, Horenstein began his professional career collaborating with magazines like Country Music, Bluegrass Unlimited or Muleskinner News. He would often drive out to Nashville, where he took portraits of artists and fans at venues like the Ryman Auditorium or the legendary Tootsie’s Orchid Lounge. For years his summer plans included visiting music parks, ranches, and country and bluegrass festivals scattered across the country. He had a special affinity for “honky tonks”, bars of questionable repute where country music was played live. The best of all his work and road tripping can be found in the book Honky Tonk: Portraits of Country Music, a real piece of Americana.
 
“All along, in my historian's mind, I always saw this as a disappearing world that I wanted to preserve on film. […] The Hillbilly Ranch and so many lesser honky tonks have faded away. There are hardly any country music parks left. And we've lost so many great musicians, naturally, and along with them went a way of life. In the years to come, I expect that everyone will remember mega stars like Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash, but I wonder: Will they remember Kitty Wells or Ernest Tubb? These pictures were made in hopes that they will.”
 
Many of these pictures appear in the recent documentary Country: Portraits of an American Sound (2015), directed by Steven Kochones that also draws on work by other photographers such as Les Leverett, Henry Diltz, Raeanne Rubenstein or Leigh Wiener. The following is a trailer for the film and an ample selection from the legendary series by Henry Horenstein.