Late 1980s: Upon entering Bette Davis’ West Hollywood apartment, even the casual observer couldn’t help but notice the tiny white porcelain vases that seem to be on every horizontal surface, each sprouting a floret of cigarettes. Vantage filters - king size. Ms. Davis, 80 at the time, was as thin as a thread when I encountered her less than a year before she died, though impeccably dressed and with eyelids troweled peacock blue. She had already battled cancer and a stroke and I attribute to those unfortunate circumstances why she kept staring at me and crisply barking, “Who’s the young lady I haven’t met yet?”, which, like most of her verbal expulsions, was accompanied by a sharply exhaled column of smoke that seemed to be directed at some unseen evil force. I was a photo-assistant on this job, and after we had finished and Ms. Davis had retired to the confines of her sprawling apartment, we packed up and were leaving when I saw her freshly snubbed Vantage resting in the ashtray. I flicked it into a Kodak film box where it resided for 12 years until I pulled it out one day and took the photograph that you see here.
Jim Herrington has taken pictures since he was a teenager in North Carolina, when he met and photographed the big-band clarinet titan Benny Goodman. Since then, Herrington has lived and worked in Los Angeles, New York, Nashville, Santa Fe, and East Berlin, which might account for the cool statelessness with which his work proceeds.
For Herrington, a portrait of Willie Nelson and a study of one of Bette Davis’ snubbed-out cigarettes comprise parts of the same waiting world of possibility. His style, often but not exclusively rendered in black and white, tends towards the stark. But it’s the kind of manner where concentration unfolds with such focus and intensity that the lack of ornament or device accrues generous, sometimes sensuous levels of expression.
Inspired by history and storytelling — “Stories drive my whole approach,” he says — Herrington’s photographs convey their subjects with a concise lucidity. But Herrington’s eye and techniques add to that: His celebrities often take on the glamour of the everyday, and a sense of the exotic frequently charges his ostensibly common objects and locations.
Herrington’s work has appeared in major publications in the United States and Europe, on album covers, and in national advertising. Aside from his ongoing documentation of the greats and near misses of the music world, Herrington, an avid mountain climber, is at work on a series of portraits of the legends of American mountaineering.