Melanie Dunea’s second photography book titled My Country: 50 Musicians on God, America, & the Songs They Love recently hit bookstore shelves. Fans of Country music or celebrity portraiture, will find this book charming and fascinating.
The simple question & answer format paired with a portrait of the interviewee echoes Dunea’s first photo book, My Last Supper: 50 Great Chefs and Their Final Meals. In My Country, every artist is asked to answer seven questions including their ideal performance, favorite song, turning point as a musician, pre-show rituals, alternate career choices, what they’d say to God, and what makes Country music “the heart and soul of America”. Each performer’s responses reflect his/her place as a human and as a musician. Some are youthful and egotistical in their responses, while others’ answers display years of wisdom, humility, and gratitude only gained by decades of relationships, experiences, failures, and successes.
Musicians were photographed in settings developed my Dunea, concepts culled from their question responses, person interests, or their place in Country music history. For example, Miranda Lambert said if she hadn’t become a musician, she’d probably be in prison. Her portrait was fittingly shot outside the grounds of the Old Tennessee State Prison. As an award-winning legend, George Jones was photographed in the comfort of his home surrounded by some of his many instruments, photo souvenirs, Grammy, and framed hit records. Other artists’ photos are incredibly simple, yet profound portraits—like those of David Allan Coe and Kenny Rogers. There are a few portraits that lean more towards simple vanity rather than revealing or profound. These tend to be the greener performers, perhaps not yet full of life stories or complex personality—such as Taylor Swift and Julianne Hough.
The images clearly reflect Dunea’s style as an editorial portrait photographer. Her approach and style have been developed through her years as a photographer for interviews and profiles for Vanity Fair, Redbook, People, and Gourmet magazines. This effort clearly reads as Dunea’s personal exploration in to the world and artists of Country music. The forward explains the book’s intent as an attempt to have fun and shed just a pinch of light on some of the artists we follow and admire. She is not trying to dig deep in to the roots of a music genre or redefine our perception of artists. It is more of a personal project branching from her observations on America’s most popular music format and her assignment work, without the restraints of magazine editors or record labels dictating the direction of her images. We are all invited to share in her discovery of Country music, experiments as a portraitist, and a special look in to the lives of a handful of colorful, partriotic, God-fearing artists.
Although Dunea does not claim this to be any sort of definitive collection, one cannot help but notice a few obvious personalities missing from this book (Dolly Parton, Loretta Lynn, Willie Nelson, Merle Haggard, Garth Brooks, Charlie Daniels come to mind). The book is heavy on contemporary and Country-Pop artist content with a sprinkling of history and legends, making My Counry a great selection for younger Country fans. Admirers of celebrity portraiture and those who enjoy an entertaining flip-through book in the commode (as they call it in the South) will also appreciate this colorful collection of profiles.