A rare glimpse into The South's greatest indie-music scene

By Matt Wake | mwake@al.com


 
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Who would he leave out? Who would he pick? Where would he start?

The questions were daunting as Jason Thrasher kicked around ideas for a photography book about the Athens, Ga. music scene, a dense web of bands and artists containing era-defining acts and underground heroes. Thrasher, who grew up in Huntsville and later attended college in Birmingham, had been calling Athens home for around 20 years. During that time, he’d photographed many Athens groups, including R.E.M., Drive-By Truckers, of Montreal, Widespread Panic and on and on, further complicating decisions about the book he wanted to do.

Then, like many problems, this one was solved by a good idea from a woman.

One morning while they were in the downstairs studio of their Athens home, Thrasher’s wife Beth Hall Thrasher suggested: “Why don’t you just shoot the first person that you want to shoot and have that person pick the next person? And that will create hopefully some sort of story. And it will take the pressure off you from having to choose your friends or leave somebody out. It would just be more interesting.”

Thrasher had a photo shoot scheduled for later that day, with psychedelic folk-rockers Elf Power. After the shoot, he told the band’s multi-instrumentalist Laura Carter about the book’s concept and asked if she’d be willing to be its first subject. The next thing he knew, he was at Carter’s house photographing a portrait of her holding a leafy branch like some mystic scepter, in front of a large wooden gate.

Thus began “Athens Potlock.” Published Oct. 31, Thrasher’s 424-page, four-and-a-half pound book took him around six years to make, starting in early 2011. “Athens Potluck"finds Thrasher depicting 33 Athens artists (including R.E.M. singer Michael Stipe, Pylon’s Vanessa Briscoe Hay and Drive-By Trucker’s Patterson Hood) in 400 or so total portraits, with about 12 pages devoted to each subject.  “At the time, I was doing a lot of band photos and music videos, but I didn’t want to do a book just of like band photos,” Thrasher says. “It just didn’t feel right. I was kind of getting sick of photographing four or five guys lined up against some cool wall, so I was gravitating more towards individual portraiture. But I was still enthralled and into the music scene here. Obviously, we’ve got something special and these are my friends.”