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Number 1 Shimbun

Photography, Osamu Nagahama

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Osamu Nagahama blows a mean saxophone

 

In the 1960s, just on the right side of 50, Osamu Nagahama took a break from commercial photography to travel to the US Cotton Belt to photograph bluesmen, their families, and tell us about their lives. Nagahama headed for the South, moving and shooting, ten journeys from Japan to the USA and back over five years.

In that time, Nagahama shot film photographs for a documentary featuring over seventy blues musicians, taking around 42,000 photos. His photographs are warm and close, honest and modest as the music that inspired them. Here’s how he remembers some of his travels into the Cotton Belt.



Osamu Nagahama

“On the first of many journeys I made for this documentary, I drove from Atlanta to Chicago, expecting to meet many bluesmen along the way. I was taken back that the music and the musicians were not as popular as I had imagined. There were only a few chance encounters during the trip. However, going through their countryside gave me an opportunity to capture the landscapes which saw the birth of the blues.

A few days into my second trip, I asked a young gas station attendant in the Mississippi Delta if there were any blues artists around?

“Oh yes,” he said “there’s an old drunk who plays a mean guitar. I’ll introduce him to you.”

And that was how I got to know James San Thomas, the first of many musicians I photographed.

I never expected to meet a child of the father of the Delta Blues, the legendary Charley Patton. Seventy-six year-old Rosetta Patton was living right by the Dockery Farm in Mississippi, once the location of the cotton plantation where her father was raised and started to play the blues. There was no doubt about her being his daughter. She looked exactly like him. Rosetta insisted on showing me proof and brought out her birth certificate with Rosetta Patton written on it.”

 

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Jack Owens 1904-1997 
“Whenever on tour, we always have guns
holstered on our waists. That was our outfit”
Photo by Osamu Nagahama.

 

 

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James San Thomas 1926-1993
Recognized as an artist that is carrying on the blues tradition,
he was invited to play at Black Culture Heritage Dinner
hosted by President Reagan.
Photo by Osamu Nagahama.

 

 

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I was especially thrilled when meeting with a daughter of Charley Patton,
one of the most outstanding players of Delta Blues.
She was living in a ghetto of the Dockery Farm in Mississippi.
Rosetta Patton, she was already 76 year-old at that time.
Photo by Osamu Nagahama.

Published in: September 2020

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