JASON THRASHER : Athens Potluck
ATHENs POTLUCK wins Georgia Author of the Year award
The interviews in Athens Potluck’s are deliberate and careful documentation of a subculture that has been able to thrive within a music loving community. The photographs are the strongest part of the book project - they carry the interviews. They are smart, thoughtful descriptive environmental portraits that give all the stories a proper context.
This book is the perfect outlet for the beginnings of an archive of the quiet creative scene in Athens. Thrasher’s hypersensitivity to the granularity of the musician’s experience is a thread throughout all of the stories. I imagine that future iterations of this project would include wildly different music taste and more of a range of lifestyles. Regardless, Thrasher made a lovely coffee table book that complicates and enhances my perception of Athens, makes me want to live there…. - Jill Frank / GA Author of the Year Judge
“A new book gives readers a uniquely personal look at the artists who’ve made the city and its music world famous.”
- Caroline Sanders, Garden & Gun
“Some of the “Athens Potluck” portraits show the musicians playing their guitars inside or outside their individual homes. While those takes are certainly cool, it’s the shots without instruments in the frame that bring more intimacy and personality to the project. Mike Mantione, of the band Five Eight, bouncing on a trampoline. T. Hardy Morris, of Dead Confederate and Diamond Rugs, fishing from a canoe. Vanessa Briscoe Hay with a parasol, descending from a staircase. Porches, bedspreads, snow, ferns and fallen trees get as much space as Telecasters, banjos and basses.”
- Matt Wake, AL.com
“Remarkably, the book successfully manages to avoid getting locked into any one particular genre or friendship circle, reflecting not only how diverse the music scene is here, but how open-minded and considerate people are of others’ projects. The book bounces between rock, jazz, experimental pop, folk and punk, dropping into the lives of Julian Koster (The Music Tapes), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Jason Griffin (Apparition), Dave Marr (The Star Room Boys) and Andy LeMaster (Now It’s Overhead), among others. Even the late Ross Shapiro (The Glands), who initially dodged several requests, eventually acquiesced.”
- Jessica Smith, Flagpole Magazine
Behind the Music:
'Athens Potluck' Features the Photography of Jason Thrasher
Providing an intimate glimpse into the private lives of local musicians, Jason Thrasher’s new photography book, Athens Potluck, is a stream-of-consciousness exploration that embodies the interconnectedness of the scene. Thrasher, who has produced band photos and music videos for years, knew he wanted to approach the Athens music scene with special emphasis on individuals. But after living in town and getting to know its residents for over 20 years, how would he narrow down and select his subjects? His wife Beth’s idea was to choose the first musician, who would select the subsequent artist, and so on. Each musician was also tasked with coming up with five or six questions to ask their invitee, and these handwritten interviews effectively serve as personal introductions, as if facilitating a getting-to-know-you conversation between the reader and her Potluck guest.
Remarkably, the book successfully manages to avoid getting locked into any one particular genre or friendship circle, reflecting not only how diverse the music scene is here, but how open-minded and considerate people are of others’ projects. The book bounces between rock, jazz, experimental pop, folk and punk, dropping into the lives of Julian Koster (The Music Tapes), Patterson Hood (Drive-By Truckers), Jason Griffin (Apparition), Dave Marr (The Star Room Boys) and Andy LeMaster (Now It’s Overhead), among others. Even the late Ross Shapiro (The Glands), who initially dodged several requests, eventually acquiesced.
“I feel that this book is just a story of Athens. It’s not the whole story. There could have been a thousand other versions of this,” says Thrasher.
The title was inspired by “The Last Potluck,” a recreation of Leonardo da Vinci’s masterpiece that Thrasher created featuring Vanessa Briscoe Hay’s band Supercluster, which can now be seen hanging at White Tiger. The title also speaks to the collaborative nature of the project; creatively, each musician brings something to the table when they invite the next participant. Coincidentally, Hay was selected as the 33rd and final person, reaching the magic number Thrasher had kept in mind as a reference to 33 1/3 RPM records.
“I’m very lucky that I was in the right place and in the right mindset to capture this when I did. As an artist, I’ve always wanted to focus on the personal and the local,” he says. “I love Athens and the creative spirit of this place. I tried to make this book about the bigger picture of Athens, but also really wanted it to be about the individual[s] and the relationships they have to each other. It was really the stories that each person wrote that really helped push it to another level.”
The concept and method of how musicians would be selected dawned on Thrasher’s wife the same day he was shooting a band photo of Elf Power. He realized how exciting it would be to start with Laura Carter out on the Orange Twin compound, and so the project was launched.
Coincidentally, it was years later, as they were eating dinner with Carter and her father, that she told the story that would become included in the book. This new idea of having each musician write his or her own story solved the challenge of how to allow personalities to shine through, while also avoiding the humdrum of straightforward biographies. While some musicians offer origin stories of how they came to live in Athens, others choose to share fleeting memories—not unlike meeting someone in person for the first time. (It should come as no surprise if you’ve met him, but proof of how many lives painter, musician and dance machine Vernon Thornsberry has touched is evident by how many tales he appears in.
Nearly all of the photographs appear to have been taken during daylight hours and in private spaces or places of personal significance. In a social-media-driven culture where live performances can be documented and shared in real time, this collection intentionally sets out to offer something different: rare access to the musicians’ lives when they’re not on stage.
There are, of course, plenty of beautiful portraits with instruments, like Andrea DeMarcus of Cicada Rhythm leaning against her towering stand-up bass, Jill Carnes of Thimble Circus smiling beside her miniature piano and Kevin Sweeney of Hayride playing guitar in front of a wall of amps. Just as many reflect the characters’ other roles and interests, such as a tender shot of Jim Wilson chatting with future wife and Avid Bookshop owner Janet Geddis, as well as a tremendous studio shot with Art Rosenbaum, standing peacefully in the eye of a storm composed of paints in every color of the rainbow, miscellaneous supplies and a monumental work in progress.
“I really just wanted to photograph them in their homes. I thought that by going into their personal spaces, I would find things that would relate to the history of Athens, and that would help tell a bigger story,” says Thrasher.
Pictures are unlabeled in order to keep the design clean, but it’s not difficult to discover recurring images that imply synchronicity and add to the underlying awareness of how undeniably interconnected the music scene is. Musician, artist and Elephant 6 co-founder Will Cullen Hart, who appears on the cover of Flagpole this week, can be observed not only on his designated pages but also on Carter’s, due to his colorful paintings that hang on her wall.
“If you look closely, you’ll pick up on details like Jeff Mangum’s suitcase from the first Neutral Milk Hotel tour, or Andrew Rieger’s journal with a list of every show he’s ever seen, or a beautiful photo of Michael Stipe’s parents,” says Thrasher. “I was also able to reference other Athens artists, like Terry Rowlett and Cindy Jerrell, and Georgia legends, like Howard Finster and R.A. Miller.”
Several years in the making, Athens Potluck is hot off the press from locally based Deeds Publishing and ready to dig into. During a celebration on Sunday, Nov. 12 from 1–4 p.m. at Nuçi’s Space, a handful of the musicians will read their contributed stories. Hosted by the Willson Center for Humanities and Arts, the event is part of UGA’s two-week Spotlight on the Arts festival that highlights performing, visual and literary arts. (See The Calendar for complete listings.) On the following Thursday, Nov. 16 from 6–8 p.m., the Athens-Clarke County Library will host Thrasher as part of its Cafe au Libris series.
Though closing out the book with Hay felt like a natural and meaningful stopping point, Thrasher hopes to one day create a second installment.
“How could I not keep going?” he asks. “Vanessa just told me who she wants to pick, and I can’t wait to meet and photograph her.” - Jessica Smith
ATH at ATL
Athens Music at the World's Busiest Airport
By Chris Hassiotis
How do you sum up the Athens music scene in one photo series? How do you capture the essence of all its personalities, its styles and its quirks? Athens photographer Jason Thrasher says he realized: You don't. You can't.
But what you can do, and what Thrasher does in his new photography exhibit at the main atrium in Atlanta's Hartsfield-Jackson International airport, is capture the connectivity of it all and the sense of personal relationships so intrinsic to the sense of this city.
"I wanted to focus on individual artists rather than bands," says Thrasher, whose iconic images of musicians like R.E.M., OutKast and the Drive-By Truckers have made their way into the pages of Rolling Stone, Entertainment Weekly, the New York Times and many more cultural mainstays. (Flagpole, too, y'know.)
Thrasher's new airport show went up last week and will be on display through February. The images of musicians are culled from a project Thrasher is currently working on called Athens Potluck. The goal is soon to publish the images as a book.
Thrasher says he struggled with the idea of how to create a photo book of the Athens music scene that captures the reality of the town. "A music scene book seemed so daunting," he says. "How do you do it accurately but also not spend so much time on the five or six bands everybody knows?"
Thrasher says everything came together when he decided to let the subjects themselves guide the direction of the project. He would create portraits of one musician, and then that musician would nominate the next artist for Thrasher to shoot.
By allowing the project to be guided by community ties rather than hitting all the expected big Athens names, Thrasher was able to capture the laid-back and unpredictable charm of the city's scene, like the potluck dinners from which the project takes its name. He also focused on images of musicians in their homes rather than onstage performing. He started off with Orange Twin's Laura Carter, and the photos wound their way through internationally known musicians (Patterson Hood, Michael Stipe, Will Cullen Hart) to well known local faces (Don Chambers, Cara Beth Satalino, Jason Griffin).
"Because so many people play in different bands, this was the the best way for me to capture Athens," he says, "and I also wanted to reference artifacts from their experience on the road, in bands, as musicians, getting photos of their homes, CDs, etc."
The airport's atrium gallery—a central public space you may assume still houses a replica of the fossilized remains of the 33-foot-long yangchuanosaurus dinosaur that long loomed above dozing travelers—will house 18 or 19 of the photos from the Athens Potluck project.
"Not everyone's represented," says Thrasher. "I had to go with [images] that would be good for the space, and also leave more for the book, too." The exhibit also features a video wall and informational plaques about the musicians and Athens.
Katherine Dirga, the Atlanta Airport Art Program manager, initially contacted Thrasher about his work, he says. Thrasher adds that he is excited to have his work on display in a space that sees 70,000 people per day pass through. (It's before the security checkpoints, too, so it's technically open to the public.)
"Something that's nice about openings [in traditional galleries] is hundreds of people show up," he says, "but then the rest of the time you have a show in a gallery, it's really unpredictable, and who knows how many people really go to a gallery."
The show will expose Thrasher's work—and the Athens scene itself—to people who may never have visited or heard of the city, or whose knowledge of Athens music is limited to R.E.M. or the B-52's. The large prints are mounted on four columns around the main atrium, a soaring space that also houses seating for a food court.
"I think it's cool that doctors, lawyers, cooks, whoever, will see art when they wouldn't expect," says Thrasher, who also has had images in the Georgia Theatre's renovated lobby space. Some of his photography was featured in a recent Lyndon House show centered around the Elephant 6 musical gang.
Athens Potluck is still an ongoing affair, but Thrasher sees an end in sight for the project and hopes to wrap up the book soon. "I've been working on this project in spurts for about three years," he says, "and have photographed about 27 people."
For now, if you find yourself at the airport, take a minute to look up from your bagel and boarding pass. Tell a passing stranger about all these musicians who know each other and live together, with you, in Athens.