During his heyday, Chamblis was a ubiquitous presence. Camera always in hand, he would show up at clubs, family reunions, social gatherings, basically anywhere people were.
Charles Chamblis made his living taking pictures. But the line between his vocation and his passion for capturing everyday life in the Twin Cities’ African American community was decidedly blurry. Sights, Sounds and Soul: Twin Cities Through the Lens of Charles Chamblis mines a collection of 2,200 of his photographs taken in the 1960s, ’70s, and ’80s. The images, taken as a whole, reflect a certain joie de vivre that suggests a more immediate connection between Chamblis and his subjects.
“He was the ultimate people person,” says curator Ben Petry. During his heyday, Chamblis was a ubiquitous presence. Camera in hand, he would show up at clubs, family reunions, social gatherings, basically anywhere people were.
One place people (including a few people with a capital P) most definitely were: Twin Cities music venues. “I love the images of the musicians,” says Petry. “[Chamblis] photographed the bands before the Minneapolis sound came along. He photographed Prince before he was Prince.” The exhibition plays up this aspect of Chamblis’s work with some musical artifacts.
Fun as it is to pick out the famous faces and revisit a local musical golden age, Chamblis’s real genius seems to have been his ability to draw people out and catch them in the moment. Men hanging out around the barbecue, children getting their feet wet along the shore of Lake Calhoun, a father and son hamming it up for the camera. Chamblis captured the joy bubbling beneath the surface of mundane activities, the energy and vitality of everyday life. “He was just always trying to allow people to speak through the portraits,” says Petry. And we hear them, loud and clear.
Sights, Sounds and Soul opens April 26 at Minnesota History Center, 345 Kellogg Blvd. W., St. Paul, 651-259-3000, minnesotahistorycenter.org