How Ricky Sees It: A Discussion with Ricky Skaggs, the Photographer

Image634995508189845552Story by Shelley Kilgore
Behind the front cash register at Dury’s photography shop in Nashville hangs several vibrant, colorful photographs created by Grammy-award winning Country and Bluegrass legend, Ricky Skaggs.  Many may only know of Ricky’s refined and crafted talents with the mandolin, guitar and fiddle, however those close to Ricky know of his skill and love of photography. Prescription Bluegrass’ freelance writer and photographer, Shelley Kilgore, recently talked with Ricky last month about his passion for photography and the parallels of the creative process used in crafting his music and his photographs.
Image635025127407044061 Ricky stumbled into photography back in the 1970s when his band mate from his former band, The Country Gentlemen, offered him a used camera in return for a place to live for a few months. Ricky took him up on the offer and eventually started shooting with his newly acquired toy.  Eventually, Ricky met photographer Bill Straw during a Bluegrass festival, who at the time worked for a Maryland Senator, but who also had developed quite an aptitude for photography.  Ricky credits Straw with introducing him to using lenses with varying focal lengths that would allow Ricky to get close-up shots of his subjects, while standing further away.  Up until that point, Ricky had primarily been shooting with a fixed, 50mm lens.

Ricky’s music career was continuing to gain momentum during this time, as well, so photography fell by the wayside for Ricky at many points during his career.  Ricky, however, said photography was always calling him back and he often felt compelled to visit camera shops and sift through used cameras, so he could continue developing his skills. This “calling” that Ricky describes was likely a Divine intervention for what was to become a serious passion for Ricky.  He met professional photographer, Image634995518589040352Bill Fortney, who guided him into the age of digital photography, after shooting black and white film for many years. Ricky went big and purchased a Nikon D3, after having some experience with Nikons during his days of experimenting with used cameras.

Ricky expressed that he has no doubt there are parallels to the creative process when it comes to composing music versus composing a photograph.  He stated that music has “enhanced the way I see, the way I think, the way I hear and the way I focus.”  Ricky also spoke about how Fortney and photographer Jim Begley have inspired him to become a better photographer, when he views their work.  He credits them with helping him take his photography to another level with the emergence of HDR (high dynamic range) photography.  HDR photography is essentially the layering of several exposures of one picture to bring out the optimal light and dark areas of the scene.  The resulting effect is dramatic, sharp, vibrant contrast, which more accurately depicts the range of intensity levels as seen by the naked eye.  The result creates artistic flair and at times, almost a 3D appearance because of the dynamic range of the lighting. Ricky’s images in Dury’s and in this article showcase some of his impressive HDR work.  Ricky describes HDR photography as how he likes his music, “real and loud.”


All Images © 2013 Ricky Skaggs

Ricky continued to discuss the relationship between photography and his music, which he refers to as his “creative gift,” which he believes we are all born with.  Interestingly, Ricky stated that photography has helped him “see music, more than just hear music.”  He elaborates that his music is now often “like a video that doesn’t move and stands alone.”

Ricky does not take his expensive Nikon with him all the time when he tours, but he stated he “has some sort of camera with me at all times.” Ricky talked about a time when his iPhone 4S camera came in handy last November while on a pheasant hunting trip in Kansas.  His voice slows and lowers a little as he describes the scene with patience and fondness. “We were out one evening late afternoon about 5-5:30 and that sun, you know, was starting to go down and it was just the right color…and…you know what I’m talking about.” He continued to describe how the warm lighting lit up a couple of old mailboxes at the end of the lane and he continues, “I just happened to turn around and there it was,” as if to say, “hey, look at me.”  He went on to describe other elements in the scene, such as a rusty plow seat, that made the photo come together. The relaxation in his voice as he recalls this magical moment emanates serenity and peace.  It is evident that photography has had an immense impact in Ricky’s life.


All Images © 2013 Ricky Skaggs

Ricky talked about future plans for a web site that will showcase his photography and that will link to the Skaggs Family Records web site (www.rickyskaggs.com).  He has also had four exhibits in conjunction with his concerts where fans can purchase photos that Ricky has taken of his mandolin and other various instruments, but again, the main outlet for his photographs will likely be via the upcoming web site.  He also discussed his future photography aspirations which involve experimenting with lighting and using light boxes in more of a studio setting to photograph the special people in his life.

When asked if photography does something for him that music does not or cannot do, Ricky replied, “I think I see beauty in photography that is easy to miss. If you don’t get up early and get that morning light…there is a beauty in that which is spiritual, like going to church.” He references being a Christian and that his schedule with being a musician often causes him to sleep too late, but which photography helps counteract.  “I think I am able to see beauty in creation that’s so easy for people to walk right by.”

Ricky will be releasing a live album in August 2013, which is his second CD collaboration with Bruce Hornsby.  His autobiography, Kentucky Traveler: Journeys in Bluegrass Music and Beyond, is set for an August 13, 2013 release.  He said he is not sure if his autobiography will have any surprises for his readers, but that “I’m sure there will be a lot of things in there that people didn’t know about my childhood upbringing.”

All images © 2013 Ricky Skaggs


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