Henry Horenstein's Honky Tonk

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday September 6, 2012

Henry Horenstein has probably taught more photographers and snapshooters than any other person working today (or at any time, for that matter), between his classes at Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and his “basic manuals” on Black & White and Digital Photography. When he was a student at RISD, the advice given him by his teacher, Harry Callahan, was to photograph people and places that he was naturally drawn to.

Henry was raised on country music and was a regular at country venues, called ‘honky tonks,’ around Boston. So he began to make pictures in these lively establishments, capturing images of music performances, dancing and a touch of debauchery. Even if he got lousy pictures, Callahan told him, he was sure to have a good time.

So began, in 1972, a labor of love, first published as a paperback by Chronicle Books in 2003, and now reissued in a new expanded and gorgeously printed hardcover by W.W. Norton. I spoke with Henry this afternoon about the project and asked if he would tell DART subscribers about three photographs that had special meaning for him. Here’s what he wrote:


Dolly Parton (above) gave me the best piece of advice on creativity and career ever. When I asked why she dressed and made up her hair like she did, she said "Honey, people don't come out to see me looking like them."


Jerry Lee Lewis (above left) was a stone country singer, and that's what he did once he stopped making rock and roll hits. I took this between sets at a show at the Ramada Inn at Logan Airport. It was the easiest picture I ever made. Jerry Lee posed himself effortlessly and told me to "take this one."

I hung around Tootsie's Orchid Lounge in Nashville quite a lot and scenes like this one, Last Call (above right), were typical. When I started HONKY TONK, as a grad student at RISD, I was interested in all the people around country music and not just the stars.

Henry Horenstein ’s Honky Tonk: Portraits of Countr Music is available this month by W. W. Norton & Company. Photographs from this series are on view at ClampArt, 521-525 West 25th Street, in New York City from Sept. 6 to Oct. 13 and in Boston at Caroll and Sons, 450 Harrison Avenue, Boston, MA, from Sept. 5 to Oct. 27.