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.
A music scene book seemed so daunting. How do you do it accurately but also not spend so much time on the five or six bands everybody knows?
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.
See a selection of photos from Athens Potluck here.
Like what you just read? Support Flagpole by making a donation today. Every dollar you give helps fund our ongoing mission to provide Athens with quality, independent journalism.