Wilson Library to Exhibit ’60s Photos of Musicians, U.S.

Recently discovered photographs of musicians Bob Dylan, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk will be among 30 to be displayed on campus beginning Aug. 31.

“The Untamed World: Photographs by Robert Bolton, 1964-1969” will open Aug. 31 in Wilson Library with a free public reception and remarks by the photographer’s son and exhibit curators. The event will begin at 5 p.m. in the manuscripts department, on the fourth floor of Wilson Library.

The exhibit will include nine concert and backstage images from the Downbeat Jazz Festival in Chicago, the Atlanta Jazz Festival and a Dylan concert, all taken in 1965. Also displayed will be 21 documentary-style photos. Many are of scenes and people around Bolton’s native Knoxville, Tenn.; others show subjects and street scenes in North Carolina, Manhattan, Louisiana and Georgia. All are black and white.

The Robert Bolton Collection was donated recently to the library’s Southern Folklife Collection by Kirston Johnson, a graduate student in UNC’s School of Information and Library Science, and Bolton’s son, Shane, of Rockwell, N.C. The 18,000 prints and negatives will be ready for research use early next year.

Robert Bolton was art director of Hogan, Rose & Co. Inc., an advertising agency in Knoxville, and a passionate photographer, said Johnson, an exhibit organizer. “He was never without a camera in his hand,” she said. “Although he didn’t make his living as a photographer, he had unusual talent, and he enjoyed wonderful access to his subjects.”

Johnson, whose mother’s best friend was Bolton’s wife, Sharon Adams, recalls being photographed by Bolton when she was a girl. “He had a way of putting anybody at ease,” she said. “You can really see that in his pictures.”

After Bolton died in 1988 and Adams in 1993, Johnson was allowed to take Bolton’s extensive collection of photos and negatives, which were otherwise marked for discard. While studying at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art in 1998, Johnson shared the images with curators, who equated the style and quality of Bolton’s work to that of noted photographers Lee Friedlander, Garry Winogrand and Diane Arbus. The curators advised her to find an archival home for the collection.

After becoming a research assistant at UNC’s Southern Folklife Collection in 2005, Johnson went through the photos one by one and recognized the significance of the musicians and music festivals that Bolton had photographed.

“It was clear that these were a perfect fit for us,” said Steve Weiss, head of the collection, which is devoted to the study of American folk music and popular culture. It holds large collections of recordings and documents from major music festivals including the Old Time Fiddlers Convention, a festival of traditional music held in Union Grove, N.C., which Bolton photographed.

The images will provide valuable documentary evidence to those studying life in the American South during the middle of the last century, Johnson said, as well as the artistic influence of better known photographers.

Shane Bolton believes his father would be surprised by the exhibit. “I really think the photography was a way that my father chronicled his life. He was his harshest critic and far too humble to think others might appreciate his work.”

The value of the photographs counts toward the Carolina First Campaign, the $2 billion fundraising campaign that runs through Dec. 31, 2007.

“The Untamed World: Photographs by Robert Bolton” will be on display in the manuscripts department of Wilson through Dec. 31. Hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturdays. For more information about the exhibition, call 962-1345.

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