Cedric Chatterley: Photographs of Honeyboy Edwards, 1991-1996

Special Collections Gallery, 1st floor Perkins Library

Cedric Chatterley On Display: 18 January 2010 – 28 March 2010

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Hours: 684.3009

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In the late 1980s I got in the habit of going to the Chicago Blues Festival, and soon it became a yearly sojourn no matter where I was living at the time.

In 1990 I drove from Maine to Chicago the night before Blues Fest began, a twenty-hour drive straight through. I parked my car in front of a friend’s apartment around noon and took the elevated train to Grant Park where the festival was already underway. I picked up a Chicago Reader from an empty seat nearby and read a feature on Honeyboy Edwards in a column called Best Bets. It mentioned his personal and professional link to Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. I had a feeling it would be a good to see him.

I planted myself in front of the outdoor stage where he was scheduled to perform at 4 p.m., but made the mistake of lying back on the grass. By the time I woke, everybody was gone except the cleanup crew. The afternoon performances were over. Luckily I had kept the Chicago Reader with me and learned that Honeyboy would be performing in a downtown club on Rush Street around 9 p.m. Soon I planted myself in front of yet another stage, but was wide awake when he walked in not long after the sun had set. He made his way to a chair on a low stage and sat down and set his guitar across his lap and plugged it into a small amplifier and began to sing. A few songs into his first set, he looked right at me and began singing Little Boy Blue. By now the sound he was making had gone all the way to my core, and I have not felt anything like it before or since.

Later that same night I met Janis Martinson, Honeyboy’s booking agent, and bought White Windows, a LP record of his music that had been recently produced by Michael Frank. Near the end of our conversation, I offered to make public relations pictures of Honeyboy if they could be of any use. New friendships were forged, and a month later I made my first photographs of him behind Rosa’s Lounge in Chicago on a very hot Fourth of July weekend afternoon.

In time Janis Martinson mentioned she was making tape recorded oral histories of Honeyboy with the hopes of someday publishing a book about his life. Eventually I asked if I could take these transcribed, edited oral histories with me on the road and photograph the places he spoke of—places he knew well in his native Mississippi, and other places throughout the rural deep south and urban midwest. My original intention was to show how the social and physical landscape of Honeyboy’s remembered youth had changed, and also remained the same.

Thus began a seven-year journey that would culminate with a publication titled “The World Don’t Owe Me Nothin’”: The Life and Times of Delta Bluesman Honeyboy Edwards (David Edwards, Chicago Review Press, 1997).

Touring with Honeyboy in the 1990s, and also traveling alone with his life’s story in hand, were formative times for me as an image maker. But as much as it was an honor for me to contribute to a book about his life, the more important knowledge I have now is thinking of him as my mentor.  From him I learned that there is a rhythm, a cadence, and a particular way in which time and sight and sound and memory—expressed and unexpressed—are inseparable when they come together to shape an image, whether that image is delivered in the form of a song, photograph, or any other form of expression.

I thank Honeyboy for sharing so much with me. I dedicate this work to him, and to the music he made that changed me.

Cedric Chatterley

Concurrent exhibits at the Center for Documentary Studies

Olive Branch: Twenty-five Years in the Life of Mark Fisher and Cedric Chatterley
28 January - 23 May 2010
Center for Documentary Studies, Kreps Gallery
1317 W. Pettigrew Street, Durham, NC, 27705

Reciprocity: Cedric Chatterley's Handmade Cameras
28 January - 23 May 2010
Center for Documentary Studies, Lyndhurst Gallery

Reception & Artist’s Talk

28 January 2010, 6:00 - 9:00 PM

Center for Documentary Studies

Cedric Chatterley

Cedric Chatterley 

Photographs © Cedric Chatterley

Last modified January 21, 2010 5:18:56 PM EST