When Timothy Duffy, a photographer, folklorist and founder of the Music Maker Relief Foundation, visits New Orleans, he often sleeps on Little Freddie King’s couch.
“He’s like a grandfather to me,” Duffy says from Music Makers’ headquarters in North Carolina.
King’s also returning a favor. Music Makers has both documented the work of folk musicians from across the South and helped support them financially, assisting with housing, medical expenses and more. Music Makers helped King relocate to Texas following Hurricane Katrina and to return to New Orleans a couple years later.
Duffy is in New Orleans for the opening of his show “Blue Muse” at the New Orleans Museum of Art, and he’ll attend performances by King and other events. His images also will be projected on buildings and public spaces this week.
“Hinge Pictures” is an austerely playful exhibition at the Contemporary Arts Center featuring eight globally prominent women artists.
The expo features tintype portraits of roots musicians, including current and former Louisiana artists King, Ironing Board Sam, Alabama Slim, Robert Finley and Pat “Mother Blues” Cohen.
“These people are some of the greatest unknown artists in the country,” Duffy says.
Tintypes became popular in the 1860s as an inexpensive version of portraiture.
“From 1860-something to 1900, when film came in, it was a huge sensation,” Duffy says. “Lots of poor people could afford a penny and get a tintype. Lots of people know it (now) because of the Civil War. (Soldiers at war) could send something home.”
While Duffy likes the historical significance of tintypes as the first widely affordable photography, he also likes their appearance. Its wet collodion process produces rich tones and lasting photographs. While the “Blue Muse” images were taken between 2013 and 2016, their style makes them appear historic if not timeless. Saturating his studio with light added a warm feel to the images.
Duffy grew up in Connecticut and became interested in photography as a teenager. He studied folklore and ethnomusicology and began the Music Maker Relief Foundation in 1994. The foundation’s mission is to assist artists over the age of 55 who have annual incomes below $18,000, though many make less than $10,000, Duffy says.
Music Makers has released more than 150 albums by these folk musicians, and it helps them book concerts, festival performances and tours. Ironing Board Sam was a longtime New Orleanian who now lives in North Carolina. Music Maker helped him release five albums and arranged a performance at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in 2013.
At a time when daily political news can be exhausting, this extravagant show of high-end eye candy is almost like a visual mini-vacation.
Sam performs at 2:50 p.m. Sunday, May 5 in the festival’s Blues Tent with Lil Buck Sinegal. His extended family also will participate and attempt to launch a new dance (“Do the Ironing Board”), Duffy says.
Duffy has worked with musicians who mostly play traditional blues, gospel, Native American music and string bands. He helped launch and managed the Carolina Chocolate Drops string band. Chocolate Drop founder Dom Flemons, as well as King and Cary Morin, will perform at a reception for Duffy at A Gallery for Fine Photography at 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 1.
There’s also a “Blue Muse” compilation album featuring artists supported by Music Makers. It includes a previously unreleased track by Eric Clapton, “Spike Driver Blues” by Taj Mahal and songs by Flemons, Ironing Board Sam and Alabama Slim.
While in New Orleans, Duffy also will attend performances by King at 10 p.m. Thursday, at d.b.a., 10 p.m. Friday at BJ’s Lounge, and 10 p.m. Tuesday, April 30 at Siberia.