Raeburn Flerlage, blues photographer
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(The following comments were e-mailed by Scott Baretta of Living Blues.)

Raeburn died early Saturday morning, September 28, 2002. He had been hospitalized for cardiac arrest recently. He was 86 years old, and had experienced poor health over the last year or so.

Flerlage's blues photography career lasted about the length of the blues revival -- his first shots were for a Memphis Slim cover for Folkways in 1959, and his final shots were taken of John Littlejohn for his Arhoolie album in 1971. After this he returned to full time work in record distribution.

Ray became involved with music in the late '30s, when he began writing a music column that covered classical music, folk, jazz, and blues. After the war he worked as a field secretary for People's Songs. Through that organization he met Folkways' Moses Asch, who brought him into record distribution. Asch later took Ray from a burgeoning photographic career in fashion over to blues and folk. In the 1960s, Ray's work appeared on numerous record covers for many labels, as well as in the pages of such prestigious magazines as Ebony, Sing Out, and Downbeat. He worked closely with Pete Welding on many assignments, helping to interview artists. Although many of the portraits he took are iconic, his favorite work was in the black clubs, particularly audience shots.

I had the pleasure of getting to know Raeburn over the last decade, and know that he enjoyed the renewed attention his work received in the last decade. With the renewed interest in blues, Ray's photos were used frequently in books, CD booklets, documentaries and in exhibitions. His work has been featured at the Chicago Public Library over the last months. Topping it all off was the publication two years ago of many of his blues photos in the wonderful book As Seen from the Inside: the Photographs of Raeburn Flerlage, published by ECW Press.

Raeburn was generous in letting us use his photos at Living Blues, and after the photos ran he would always call and thank me warmly for running them, as though I was doing him a favor rather than vice versa. It was an honor to work with him.

Scott Baretta, Living Blues

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In June 2000, at the age of 84, Ray published his first and only book of blues photography. The book release coincided with the Chicago Blues Festival, which may explain why few blues fans showed up at the gallery that afternoon. That was lucky for me and photographer pal Chuck Winans, who idolized Raeburn. Chuck and I had Ray all to ourselves for over an hour. Ray's advice that day (much to Chuck's chagrin at the time): "Burn film! It's cheap. And you may never get another chance to get that shot."

Jef Jaisun

Images 2000 Jef Jaisun Photography.

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