Leee Black Childers photographs Fairmount

     Updated 7 December 2001  URL is http://our.tentativetimes.net/dean/leee.html

"Fairmount, Indiana," a photographic exhibition by Leee Black Childers, was featured at the Gallery Taranto, 39 West 14th Street in New York City from April 1 – April 30, 1999. As of this writing, future dates and cities have not yet been announced. For more information, contact the Gallery Taranto at (212) 691-9040.

Rock ‘n Roll Rebel

by Magdalin Leonardo

Did you attend the Fairmount Museum Days festival in 1996? If you did, you might be starring in Leee Black Childers newest photo exhibit in New York City!

Leee (yes, that’s three "e’s") is a famous rock and roll photographer who made his mark in the 1970s shooting well-known musicians like Iggy Pop, David Bowie and Johnny Thunders of the Heartbreakers. Over the past 30 years, the 53-year-old rebel has photographed everyone from the New York Dolls to the trendy transvestite Wayne Jayne Country. But his latest exhibit, which made its debut at New York’s Gallery Taranto in April, has nothing to do with music or New York. Entitled "Fairmount, Indiana," it pays homage to our favorite legend: James Dean.

"This is my first non-Rock show, "Childers says of the exhibit. "But everyone really likes it."

And what Dean fan wouldn’t? The show includes 13 full-color photographs of more than 20 different Dean fans and wannabees shot during Fairmount’s annual festival.

A sign near Childers’ exhibit describes his latest subjects as "perfectly innocent but unknown kids in Fairmount, Indiana, where time stopped on September 30, 1955." After seeing his exhibit, you’ll agree.

All the young men in Childers’ photographs sport greased back hair and ’50s-styled clothing. Many of them don the traditional Dean uniform: a simple white T-shirt with dark, cuffed blue jeans. And they all wear the unmistakable attitude of a rebel, staring back at the camera, demure and defiant, from a variety of settings around Dean’s hometown. Some hang out at the late star’s gravesite, others tumble out of vintage convertibles, posing with their pals or pony-tailed girlfriends. Over half of them sport ’50s-themed tatoos—from a motorcycle-riding Marlon Brando to a smiling Betty Grable.

Childers, who hails from the "hills of Kentucky," was only 10 when James Dean died.

"My mom took us to the drive-ins a lot," he says, "but she would only take us to color movies. All of James Dean’s movies were in color, so I got to see them. I thought he was really cool."

Childers remembers when stores sold miniature Dean busts and movie magazines claimed the actor was still alive.

"They even put the Porsche he died in on tour," he recalls, "but I think it disappeared after a year."

Childers’ childhood fascination with James Dean didn’t end with his youth. During his early years in New York, he became friends with David Loehr, owner of Fairmount’s James Dean Gallery, which Childers has visited five times.

"Just look at these kids," he says, pointing to his many portraits of ducktailed teens. "They were born years after Dean’s death, but they still draw inspiration from him. Even though his career was short-lived, he made a lasting impact."

Childers notes the legend’s influence on the musicians he photographed.

"Sid Viscious. Johnny Thunders. Just look at the way they looked and dressed," he says. "They were modeling themselves after James Dean."

"Fairmount, Indiana" is a refreshing change for Childers, whose work was recently added to Cleveland’s Rock ‘n Roll Hall of Fame.

"They don’t have too many photographers in there, so it’s quite an honor," he says. "But they misspelled my name on the plaque below my photograph, so I had to tell them to change it."

And what about that name, anyway? How did "Leee" get spelled with three "e’s"?

"Oh, that started in grade school," Childers explains. "I didn’t like my second grade teacher and she didn’t like me. One day in class, she told us that you couldn’t have a word with more than two vowels in a row, so I raised my hand and told her that my name had three ‘e’s.’ Of course, it didn’t. But I sounded real convincing at the time.

"My teacher was livid. I got called into the principal’s office for disrupting the class, and he called my mother. When she asked him what the fuss was all about, he told her it was because I said that my name was spelled with three ‘e’s.’

"Without skipping a beat, my mom said, ‘But it is!’ so the teacher had to apologize. Ever since then, I’ve spelled my name this way."

Sounds like Childers had a bit of the rebel in him back then, too. No wonder he’s a fan of James Dean.

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Please send email about this event to Magdalin Leonardo, magdalin2000@earthlink.net