Guy Mendes

Guy Mendes: 40/40: 40 Years, 40 Portraits

December 9, 2010 - January 29, 2011

Guy Mendes began his photographic career almost by accident. A young transplant from New Orleans, Mendes arrived at the University of Kentucky in 1966 hoping to become a journalist. The following year, he attended a rally to hear Wendell Berry speaking out against the Vietnam War. The two struck up a friendship that would eventually lead him to Eyeglasses of Kentucky, Ralph Eugene Meatyard’s optical shop and gallery. There, Mendes saw photographs by the likes of Emmet Gowin and Bill Burke and was afforded the privilege of snooping through stacks of prints, dolls, and masks that Meatyard kept in the back.

Mendes and Meatyard would strike out of town on the weekend, wandering back roads, shooting pictures and swapping tales, student and teacher. Mendes was able to translate his penchant for the road and story-telling into a full-time career, working as a producer for Kentucky Educational Television for thirty-five years. Like Meatyard, Mendes has never been financially dependent upon his work as a photographer, freeing him from the normal demands and constraints of the commercial world. Unfettered by finicky clients and fickle editors, Mendes’ photography, especially his portraiture, was able to develop according to his own vision.

All portraits, by definition, convey the likeness of their subject, but only great portraits impart their subjects’ mood, personality and essence. The photographer and subject engage themselves in a delicate dance of give-and-take — a momentary affair immortalized. Mendes’ greatest talent is perhaps his ability to entice portraits out of his subjects. Jim Hall, one of Mendes’ teachers, used to tell him, “A portrait is given as much as it is taken.” That line has worked its way into the rotation of stories, anecdotes, asides, and full-on performances that Mendes can recite at a moment’s notice, and was a guiding mantra as we waded through years of work to choose portraits that were the most revelatory.

40/40 is a whirlwind studio tour disguised as a book.Its pages are filled with portraits, verbal and visual, guiding the viewer through moments in the lives of forty people who have crossed paths with the artist along his own meandering course. From the streets of New Orleans to the hills of Kentucky, Guy Mendes spent forty years rambling around the South, twisting and pulling light through his lens and giving us the people and places we all recognize but were never able to see. 

About the Artist:

Guy Mendes is one of the best-known and well-respected photographers in the region. A suite of 13 of his portraits of writers is in the collection of the Photographic Archives at the University of Louisville, and the Cincinnati Art Museum and the University of Kentucky Art Museum own his prints.

Mendes’ work encompasses several interests. In addition to landscape and portraiture, he loves to capture the unexpected, in both figures and as found in odd signs and situations. Much of Mendes’ work has been widely published in books and magazines and his prints are in many public and private collections.

Mendes has also won several Emmy Awards as a documentary writer, director and producer for Kentucky Educational Television, where he has worked since 1973.


Kickstarter: The Guy Mendes 40/40 Project by Bianca Spriggs, Ace Weekly, December 9, 2010

Guy Mendes' New Photo Book Focuses on Artists, Originals by Tom Eblen, Lexington Herald-Leader, December 5, 2010