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Conversation: Jeff Fasano On Light And Americana Music

Vince Gill

Love, not money, is the fuel in the engine of roots music. And while the passion of the artists themselves is a given, the whole thing might sputter to a halt without the enthusiasm of folks like Jeff Fasano. As a music photographer, he’s able to literally shine a light on the creative community, focus its energy and enlarge its key players. A familiar and jovial figure on the scene for many years, Fasano has finally published a book chronicling two decades of work called Americana Portrait Sessions from Vanderbilt University Press.

Wilco

Most of those images stem from the pop up portrait studio that Fasano has maintained since around 2010 in the headquarters hotel of the annual AmericanaFest convention. Against a simple backdrop, he’s captured hundreds of artists, some repeatedly over the years as their careers evolved. Other images in the book come from assignments for magazines and album covers. While some shooters in music specialize in capturing the energy of live shows, Fasano is a devoted portrait photographer with a self-appointed mandate to “capture someone’s soul.”

Ruthie Foster

“I'm going to bring you back to Dorothea Lange, Eugene Smith and Walker Evans,” Fasano says in the conversation presented here, alluding to his photography heroes. “If you look in the eyes of their subjects, who they're capturing, that is why I wanted to be a portrait photographer. It's what you feel. That is what I wanted to do. And that's what I try to do with everybody.”

Marty Stuart and his Fabulous Superlatives

Like a lot of his subjects in roots music, Fasano walked away from a more secure path to pursue his art and craft. In the late 1990s, at age 40, he walked away from a corporate job in New York City. He’d been shooting and developing and printing since high school, and he’d found an instructor/mentor who put him through photography “boot camp.” When he began to realize that it was now or never time for pursuing his deepest interest, a friend connected him with a record label, and his first music subject was not a folk singer but classical flutist Sir James Galway.

Paul Thorn

From there, it was on to a huge variety of photo assignments. He shot artisans and chefs and authors for Gotham magazine. On Broadway, he shot cast pictures for major productions, and he spent years in Los Angeles working with actors. He did five years in fashion photography, where he honed his skills with lights. But after a few trips to Nashville and AmericanaFest, he realized he took to the community vibe and moved here in 2016. “I wanted to go to a place that has a lot of soul,” he says.

Dave Alvin

In our audio Q&A, Jeff describes the classes that showed him what he did and didn’t want to do as a photographer, how he became something of an unofficial official shooter for AmericanaFest, and how he got the images we present here as a sampling of the nearly 200 images in Americana Portrait Sessions.

Learn more about the book here.

Craig Havighurst is WMOT's editorial director and host of The String, a weekly interview show airing Mondays at 8 pm, repeating Sundays at 7 am. He also co-hosts The Old Fashioned on Saturdays at 9 am and Tuesdays at 8 pm. Threads and Instagram: @chavighurst. Email: craig@wmot.org