Archivist Heather Fox walked towards a glass case in the basement of the Ekstrom Library at the University of Louisville. It’s the kind you’d see in a museum, in which old documents are displayed.
But inside this case is a bunch of handwritten notes on lined paper on postcards — all addressed to a local band that rocked Louisville back in the early 1990s.
“The fan mail comes from a particular collection related to Endpoint, a local hardcore band,” Fox said. “In the fan mail, we get glimpses of why the bands were important to people, so there is a woman who writes a letter, it’s a heart-shaped letter that she sent to the band; she wanted to tell them that she appreciated the fact that they are a feminist band.”
Fox continued: “You know, I mean — they are hardcore but they had a positive message.”
This display is part of a new photo exhibition at the U of L called “Live From A Dark Room: Louisville Underground Music in Photographs 1980 – Present.”
Elizabeth Reilly, who is the curator of the university’s photographic archives, said the inspiration for this exhibition came with the development of LUMA, the Louisville Underground Music Archive. It’s a project created to document the history and culture of the Louisville rock music scene from the 1970s to the present.
“We’ve been receiving collection materials for that project, all sorts of things like recordings and flyers and posters and t-shirts and correspondence,” Reilly said. “But really only just a few photographs and I was really hoping for more. So I thought, a great way to try to inspire more donation of photographs would be to hold an exhibition of photographs.”
The resulting exhibition features almost 200 photographs of a ton of different local bands. Some are obscure and have long ceased playing together. Others still perform today and have developed a national following like Slint.
“Everyone knows the cover of their album ‘Spiderland,’” Reilly said. “And it was shot by Will Oldham, there’s a lot of photographs by Will.”
This is because, Reilly said, local musician Will Oldham, better known as Bonnie Prince Billy, was a music photographer before he started playing.
Tim Furnish is a Louisville musician and photographer — he’s featured in the exhibition as both a subject and an artist. He said combing through his old work was a pretty emotional experience.
“It’s a really intense wave of feeling as I dig into my collection of pictures,” Furnish said. “There are so many people who are no longer with us and it’s just really kind of gut-wrenching to have to see pictures of them again. It resurrects old memories and it’s really powerful.”
Reilly acknowledges that while this collection on-view currently is pretty large, it’s still not complete. She’s hoping other local underground music lovers with personal collections will consider sharing them to be preserved for future generations.
The exhibition is open now and runs through December 20.