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Taking Stock of the Blues

May 2, 2008 - Phyllis Sigal
What a great evening at Ohio University Eastern Thursday!

A reception was held to honor master photographer Jay Stock's exhibit, "Masters of the Blues," a photo essay of the Heritage Music BluesFest held at Heritage Port in downtown Wheeling each August.

The event brought together those who were there to support Jay, those who enjoy BluesFest and those who just love the blues. The exhibit continues through May 29.

Jay selected 49 photographs for the show from the thousands he's taken over the last seven years of BluesFest. The black and white photographs are silver gelatin prints, one of Jay's favorite (and expensive!) mediums.

Each one captures the spirit of the musician or the spectator as well as the spirit of the blues.

Tom Doepken, OUE gallery director who coordinated the exhibit, had this to say: "These photos are a celebration of the performers and a few of their fans, and they are a candid view of American culture, and they constitute a portrait of The Blues."

One of my favorites is of Ed Cloepien, who brings his wonderful silver jewelry to sell each year. He hasn't missed a festival. He loves the blues artists he comes to watch, and he's every bit an artist himself, crafting rings, bracelets, necklaces, earrings and statues out of forks and spoons. (I've got more than my share of his silverware!)

Another favorite is one titled "Tom Armbrecht Sneaking Up on the Blues." Tommy was a friend of mine, who came each year to the festival. He always set up a lawn chair at the back of the amphitheater. You'd recognize his long, white beard. He passed away a few years ago, but he's at the festival each year, still, in spirit.

Local musician (OK, how many times can I mention him in my blog!) Nathan Strasser's photograph is at the exhibit, playing the keyboards on the BluesFest second stage.

There's a great shot of Billy the Kid, from Alliquippa, Pa., who has played a couple of times at the festival and has been the coordinator of the after-jam events. He's a crowd pleaser, for sure. Billy the Kid and the Regulators as well as the duo, Izzy & Chris, entertained the audience at a concert with some blues following Thursday's reception.

And of course, there's a beautiful photo of Robert Lockwood Jr. — one of the great blues legends from way back. He won a Grammy shortly after he passed away in November of 2006.

Several people from Martins Ferry, Jay's hometown, came to say hello to the master, and a few photographers came to support him, as well, including Ed Slavik and Neil Warren. Ed said he's a photographer today because of Jay, who he says "raised the level of the profession."

Warren suggested that Jay is one of the top five photographers in the country, and Slavik added, "In the world!" It is obvious both have tremendous respect for Stock and his work.

They noted that Jay learned from the best to be the best. He'd pick his top photographers in various categories — bridal, portrait, etc. — and he'd be in the front row at their seminars.

Jay, himself, conducts seminars all over the world and photographs subjects all over the world.

Every time I see him he's either coming from some amazing place or going somewhere to capture photos of interesting people. And interesting people just gravitate to Jay because he takes such an interest in them. He's photographed artists who paint with the brush in their teeth or their toes, overcoming severe handicaps; he spends time with the Pennsylvania Amish at Christmastime; he's traveled to Death Valley and to Mexico on the Day of the Dead; he has shots of a young ballerina whose leg was severed below the knee, yet still dances, coal miners with black dust on their faces, prisoners in the Ohio Penal System; and oh, so much more.

People love Jay. And for good reason.

Jay is a gift to the world of photography. Actually, he's a gift to the world.


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