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The Photo Shoot and a Day with Jimmy Abegg

May 13, 2009


Jimmy Abegg & Jason Gray

Jimmy Abegg & Jason Gray

For the last several months, we were having difficulty finding a photographer for my photo shoot because of scheduling.  Finally, Steve had found a photographer that looked promising.  It was a woman who did good work, but I was never quite sure her vibe fit with my personality.  About a week before the shoot Steve and I were talking about this and I brought up Jimmy Abegg’s name, and neither of us could believe that we hadn’t thought of him from the start.

Jimmy has long been a hero of mine – both as a guitarist for seminal artists like Charlie Peacock and Rich Mullins and later as an amazing visual artist and photographer whose paintings graced the covers of albums like M.W. Smith’s worship album “Exodus”, Charlie Peacock’s “The West Coast Diaries”, as well as accompanying Kevin Max’s poetry for a book they collaborated on.  His photography, too, bears the mark of an artist’s eye and is distinctive in its Jimmy-ness.

I got to work with Jimmy years ago when he graciously agreed to work on my project “A Place Called Hope” when I had almost no budget and I was a complete unknown.  It’s one of my favorite memories, and as Steve and I talked about it we realized he was a perfect fit for my new project for both the photography and art.  A couple phone calls later and Jimmy was on board for the photo shoot in just 5 days.

We met the stylist the morning of the shoot to try clothes and build the wardrobe that would be used for the shoot.  It’s great fun to have someone dress you up and take you out of your comfort zone of what you’d normally try for yourself.  

We had limited space and time – it was going to be a guerilla style shoot, run and gun, which meant we’d drive around from location to location, jump out, get some shots, and then move on – so I knew I’d have to be changing clothes right there on the spot, without regard to modesty or personal insecurities. But it was Nashville and they expect this kind of thing, and the stylist sees this all the time, so I shouldn’t flatter myself. And so it was I spent my whole day changing clothes on the run, sometimes on the street in broad daylight – I got pretty good at it where I could change fast between cars going by. 

Jimmy is the consummate artist type, looking mildly disheveled with a simmering spark in his eye that could be genius or could be some mild kind of madness. It was great to be in his presence again.  He’s the kind of guy who makes you feel more alive when you’re around him.  I hate photo shoots in general, but if you have to do it, Jimmy’s a good hang.

We started in the studio, and then went to a derelict warehouse that is rented by a number of artists – painters, sculptors, etc.  The building looks like it could fall in on itself and has so much character.  Everywhere we looked there was something to tickle the eyes, including a couple abandoned rooms down below with the roof caved in and walls falling apart and abandoned mattresses and a shelter made from wood pallets.  Sun was streaking in between the ruined rafters of the collapsed ceiling and this room provided the vibiest pictures from the shoot.

It was a hot day and I was wearing jackets and sweaters and things that make more sense for the time of year that the record will release (Fall). I was worried that my hair looked ridiculous because of how big and curly it gets when I’m hot (sorry, I’m a little vain – I don’t want to look like a goof-ball in my album artwork), but when I got the pictures back this week I was grateful to see that we have a lot of great shots – it may be the best photo shoot I’ve ever had in fact.  The pics are colorful, vibey, and very interesting (despite my being in them ;-).  But best of all, it was fun to hang with Jimmy again.

Jimmy drove with me in my rental car and he asked me to play him what I’ve been listening to lately.  I played him some new stuff, but what captivated both of us was Paul Simon’s latest record that was produced by Brian Eno (Coldplay, U2, The Talking Heads).  One of the best songwriters teamed with one of the most daring music producers makes for a great album, and it was fun to share that appreciation with someone who “gets it”.

Here’s an example of why I love Jimmy: after years of a smoking habit he hasn’t been able to shake, he decided to cut down by only smoking hand-rolled cigarettes.  It’s a higher quality tobacco, more expensive, less tar and all the stuff that’s bad for you, and it’s somewhat of a pain to roll it, so all of this has helped him significantly cut down on his smoking while enhancing his enjoyment of it.  As we listened to Paul Simon, Jimmy took out his pouch and started rolling the tobacco into a cigarette despite no smoking stickers posted all over the interior of the rental car.

Sensing my concern, he said “don’t worry, they won’t give you a ticket.” I said, “if you weren’t Jimmy Abegg I’d probably ask you to take that outside…”

And so it was that we listened to the beautiful strains of Paul Simon as the pleasant aroma of fresh tobacco filled my rental car, Jimmy with his tobacco paraphernalia and I with my curly hair and new clothes and gratitude for my moment with Jimmy Abegg.

(don’t try this at home, kids, smoking can kill you 😉

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