Celebrated Nashville-based photographer David McClister’s work has been seen in any number of places, from a magazine’s glossy pages to album covers and soon on the walls of a legendary local nightclub.
The photographer, who began his career as a filmmaker and music video director, will debut The Bluebird Cafe Series on Sunday afternoon at The Bluebird Cafe.
Debuting in conjunction with the 16th annual Americana Music Festival, the collection of 32 prints focuses predominantly on Americana music artists known for their songwriting and who previously have played the Bluebird’s hallowed stage. Names include veterans such as Willie Nelson and Rodney Crowell as well as more contemporary singer-songwriters Jason Isbell, Kacey Musgraves, Patty Griffin and Sturgill Simpson.
“My goal with every shoot is to try to capture images that will stop you in your tracks,” McClister said in an interview this week. “If you are flipping through a magazine, I want to create a photo that makes you stop flipping the pages and really look at it, and hopefully go check out that artist’s record.”
McClister’s photographs capture the artists in what he calls their true forms. He explains for some artists that may be a performance shot, while for others it’s a portrait or even a candid moment.
For more than 15 years, he has captured delicate moments that sometimes end up on the artist’s album cover, such Ryan Adams’ debut solo LP “Heartbreaker” and Jason Isbell’s latest release, “Something More Than Free,” both photos of which are featured in the exhibit.
“I remember distinctly how much joy it gave me from the very start,” McClister said of his photography. “I just loved the spontaneity of it, the intimacy of working with an artist when taking photos, and the gratification of being able to hold a print in your hands when it was all over — all things that are not necessarily associated with directing.”
One of the images on display is a performance shot of Robert Plant and Patty Griffin from the 2014 Americana Awards rehearsals, an event McClister said he has been fortunate to shoot since it began in 2002. It’s an exciting moment, he said, for both established and breakthrough artists alike.
“It’s always a thrill to see an icon like Stephen Stills or Jackson Browne on that legendary stage, but I have to say I think the most exciting artists to photograph are always the new ones,” McClister said. “You can see the excitement in their eyes, since many of them are playing on the Ryman stage for the very first time.”
Although McClister’s portfolio includes a long list of high-profile names, which most recently include shoots with Dolly Parton and Jerry Lee Lewis, he said he doesn’t think about who he’s shooting or how significant it may be while “in the moment.”
“I am so laser focused on the artist, what he or she is doing, what’s working or not working, how’s the light, what can we do different, what can we change to make it better, do they need direction or are they finding a groove on their own,” he said. “I’m thinking about all of these things, while I’m looking through the viewfinder and talking to the artist, with my finger on the shutter, waiting for that one real moment to happen.”
David McClister is to hold a question-and-answer session during the exhibit’s private opening at 3:30 p.m. Sunday at The Bluebird Cafe. The exhibit is scheduled to run for at least six months, including next year’s Tin Pan South Songwriters Festival April 5-9, 2016.