Blues on Beale Street, Memoirs of the International Blues Challenge is the first book to be published about the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in its 31 year history. The expressive and beautiful photography of Jenn Ocken is accompanied by a series of personal experiences, short stories, song lyrics and quotes collected from a vast variety of International Blues Challenge attendees. The book is a collaboration between Jenn Ocken and writer Greg “Slim Lively” Johnson, both long time IBC volunteers, who will help you relive through photos and stories those who experienced the event firsthand. [Click here to read a full Press Release]
Anticipated Q&A for EPK
What is “Blues on Beale Street: Memoirs of The International Blues Challenge?”
Jenn: “Blues on Beale Street: Memoirs of The International Blues Challenge” is a photo book accompanied by a series of personal experiences, short stories, song lyrics and quotes collected from a vast variety of IBC attendees.
What was the inspiration behind “Blues on Beale Street: Memoirs of The International Blues Challenge?"
Jenn: I knew in the first few years of attending The International Blues Challenge, that there was a story to tell here, and I might be the person to do it. So much had changed in the first couple years I had attended the event. It was too great of an event on so many levels for it not to evolve and grow and the idea of me possibly producing an IBC photo book was inspired!
Greg: Jenn’s been talking about doing a book for years and the first time she talked to me she wanted to do a table top book about Bobby Rush. All of a sudden she said ‘why don’t we do something on the International Blues Challenge?’ and it started to evolve.
Jenn: In 2009 I remember walking alone down Beale Street, watching the blues fans start to fill Beale thinking ‘Man there is so much talent descending on Memphis right now!’ I could feel all the hopes that filled dreams, the excitement that came with nerves, and the joy that was filled with wonder in the air. And BOY was I inspired, the realization that there were so many IBC stories to tell, more than I can ever imagine. This very thought made me very proud to be a blues fan and photographer. ‘Yes,’ I thought, ‘every person who has competed, judged, volunteered produced, supported the International Blues Challenge has their own significant IBC story.’ The very thought made my heart smile and at the same time blew my mind! ‘How could I tell an IBC story when there are so many to tell?’
I let this realization sit with me for a couple of years. I knew it wasn’t time for the book. And not knowing at the time in those next couple of years I was up for a change myself. I lost my biggest fan, my father. He inspired me to never give up, adapt, never stop trying to be a better person and rely on faith. Trying to learn how to live life without my dad being so easily available to me was a huge change. I found comfort in creating as I always did but the challenge was that he wasn’t physically around to share the fruits of my labor. Looking back at those few years I realized as a human and a photographer it was my turn to evolve and change.
How long was this project in the works? (2003 – 2014 is the span of photos taken)
Jenn: In 2012, I reached out to Greg Johnson and asked him to help me write the text for my IBC book. Over the years of attending IBC Greg was always volunteering. I understood his devotion to the event and appreciated that he wore his love for the music proudly as one of IBC’s biggest fans. He began to reach out to musicians, fans, judges, and producers of The International Blues Challenge collecting stories and organizing them in the book.
What was the process in choosing the images from over 11 years of work?
Greg: I started reaching out to some of the musicians because their inspirations from IBC would go great with the photos.Jenn: It was an amazing process! Total serendipity! In July 2013, I started really focusing on the images that I wanted to showcase in the book. This was even before the copy was completed, edited and ready to be laid out the pages. I also personally designed the book as well, so I was also thinking about layout and who I was going to create a coffee table photo book for. I knew it would have way more words than the typical photo book. I revisited about 10,000 images I took over the years, seeing them in a different light than when I first processed them years ago. The story really began to unfold for me. One of the really cool things about the process is I that got to re-enhanced images with new evolved technology! Many of these images took on a whole new life … they were reborn of sorts and ready for their place in the book!
Are all of the images in the book taken by you? Are they all on Beale Street?
Jenn: Yes I took all the photos printed in the book. And all but one was taken on Beale Street during the International Blues Challenge throughout the years. The one taken off Beale Street was at the recording of one of the Blues for a Cure CDs and featured four Most Promising Gibson Guitar winners from the IBC: Sean Carney, Jonn Del Torro Richardson, Nick Scheiblien, and JP Soars.
How did you decide which artists to include in the book?
Greg: We got so many responses from the musicians. I’ve got so many stories!
Jenn: It was exciting and the emotions of the history of The IBC really came to life for me. I created a series of layouts and designed the look of the book first! Then when I got the copy ( … here is the serendipitous part) literally as I read and placed the stories in the order Greg gave them to me the photos where there ready and willing! This event is huge: Thousands of people attend the event so many stories happen simultaneously! The fact is that one story after another; in most cases I had a photo that complimented it. The process was surprisingly easy and seriously so much fun!
What about the blues genre appeals to you?
Jenn: The music makes me happy … seriously it does!! Some jams really make my hips shake! I can dance even if any one else isn’t! I like how I feel when I am in cahoots with a song. The music inspires me! I understand that as artist they give their life to us! I appreciate this and I celebrate it with both my dancing and my photography. I use it to inspire my art. I feed off of their creative vibe. And hopefully others now can feed off mine.
Do you think that photo books are the ideal way for people to experience your work?
Jenn: Absolutely. These stories collected about The IBC attendees paired with my photo is about as true of way to experience the event if you have never been. I stay true to a documentary style of photography so I can capture the raw emotions of what I am inspired to capture. I literally float around letting my own emotions and inspiration lead me through each event over the years. That’s what so spectacular about this book. Neither Greg nor myself asked specific questions but more random general questions to help inspire people to submit their stories. They just flowed in. Greg organized them, and handed the text over to me to layout the book. My photos paired up perfectly with them. It was beautiful random acts of inspiration, love, and connection.
Do you have any favorite images from the book?
Jenn: How can I? 100% of my heart is in each of these photos. I love each one for a different reason, some for the people in them, some for composition, some for the expressions and emotions, some for the texture and layers, some for the songs that were being performed, some for the personal struggles or the joy I was feeling. SO many different reasons to love each photo I placed in the book. I don’t have to pick one so I won’t. The tough part is creating a gallery show with a handful of images to enlarge for a gallery opening and traveling exhibit. But like the images in the book, those will speak to me as well.
What do you hope people gather from these images and stories?
Jenn: I hope people gather a sense of being at the event even if they have never attended an IBC. And also reliving some of their favorites parts of IBC. I have heard many times since the release of the book, “Thanks for documenting the last ten years of my life” from both musicians and fans!
I would also like for both blues fans and photo enthusiasts /photographers to enjoy and receive something from this book. It’s a huge part of my life, reflecting both on my photography career and a group of friends in the blues community I sincerely call my family too.
Greg: It tells about the event and that it’s more than a competition, it’s about friendship and it’s about networking. It really is a family because you meet people every year and you stay connected with them. You talk with them all of the time and you don’t lose touch with them. Not only on FB, but through other means (festivals, shows.) You don’t have to win, you get noticed by festival bookers and radio people who will start playing your music and spread the word.
Do you have any other projects in the works?
Jenn: Yes, I am considering producing a Braille photo book. The challenges intrigue and inspire me. Also, I am working on a series of images I have captured at Teddy’s Juke Joint in Zachary, LA.
What’s the most important lesson you’ve learned from publishing this book?
Jenn: That it is possible! This is the first time I truly let go of expectations and allowed a project to come to life! This is my first book and together with the help of an amazing staff and beautiful talented people we self published it and released it with a bang at the 2015 International Blues Challenge in January 2015.
About Jenn Ocken
documentingBlues photographer from Baton Rouge, LA
Since the beginning of her professional career in 2002, Jenn Ocken has been working on building a library of images she calls her documentingBlues fine art of life collection. “Blues is an amazing art form. I love the experience of watching a musician perform with his or her whole heart! My photos are a direct expression of the feelings I have for these artists as they play. I strive to capture the emotions the musicians share with their fans as they are on stage performing. It is so powerful to think that, as musicians, they truly give of themselves to us. I am so thankful to be one of those fans that understand the beauty of the musicians’ art. It is my mission to reflect that beauty in my photographs.” Ocken’s eleven-year self-assignment has allowed her to document the IBC in Memphis, all in efforts to create Blues on Beale Street Memoirs of The International Blues Challenge.
About Greg “Slim Lively” Johnson
Writer and blues society president from Portland, OR
Greg Johnson has been writing reviews, blues articles, musician bios and more for nearly twenty years, underscoring his deep passion for the blues. He gets why the musicians can’t stop playing, and his work encourages and inspires. “One of the most dedicated longtime blues aficionados, writers, nurturers, volunteers, friends, and support persons of the music we love that I know or have ever met. I'm proud and honored to call Greg ‘Slim Lively’ Johnson my friend.” - Michael “Hawkeye” Herman
Over 200 archived images from The International Blues Challenge
Perfect Bound: 176 pages
Publisher: documentingBlues; 1st edition (2015)
Product Dimensions: 11 x 8.5 x 2 inches
Shipping Weight: 2 pounds
Greg & Jenn start discussing the creation of a book about The International Blues Challenge
Jenn re-edits and enhances all of her IBC photos
Successful crowd funding campaign launched through Indiegogo, raising over $12,000
"Get a Book, Give a Book" campaign launched to promote giving a book to every Youth Participant at IBC
Jenn goes to press check in Kansas
First shipment of books arrive in Memphis, Tennessee on Tuesday, Jan 19th.
Official VIP Release Party on Thursday Jan 22nd.
Jenn distributes signed book to every child competing in the Youth Showcase at IBC on Friday, Jan 23rd.
Book signing at "Women in Blues Showcase" at the Center for Southern Folklore in Memphis, TN.
Book signing at the IBC Finals at the Orpheum Theatre in Memphis, TN.
Pre-ordered books are shipped out
Sales on Amazon begin
dBlues store launched
Framed 1 of 2 original press checks of "Blues on Beale Street" cover signed by Greg, Jenn and Lionel Young (available for sale in the dBlues store)
Music on the Couch
Jenn's phone interview with Vinny Marini on 9/15/2014
Jenn & Greg in the studio in Memphis, TN on 1/20/2015
Mighty Mouth Blues
Greg interviewed by Jonathan Oogie Richards in Tacoma, WA on 10/27/14
KWAM 990 Memphis
Jenn interviewed by Earle Farrell on 11/11/2014
Jenn back on the air with Earle Farrell on 1/19/2015
WWOZ New Orleans
Jenn in the studio with Dennis Schaibly on 2/18/2015
Greg interviewed by Dr. Jane Manning of KMHD 89.1 Portland Oregon on 5/30/15
Read online article from January issue 2015
Read online article from February 18, 2015
Talking Bout the Blues
Read online article from February 11, 2015
Read online article from February/March 2015
Cascade Blues Association
Read online article from March 2015
Washington Blues Society "Bluesletter"
Read more from the March 2015 issue