In early March of this year, a California-based company hired me to photograph renowned moonshiner, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton at his home in Parrottsville, Tennessee.
As the Wall Street Journal put it, “A scrawny, long-bearded mountain man with a foul mouth and a passing acquaintance with copper tubing and kettles, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton seemed the embodiment of moonshiners of yore.”
“Mr. Sutton put a modern spin on his vocation, appearing in documentaries [on The History Channel] and even penning an autobiography, “Me and My Likker.” Souvenir shops in Maggie Valley sold his video and even clocks with his image on them.”
In 2007, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives arrested Sutton after discovering 850 gallons of moonshine stored on his property. He was convicted on federal charges in 2008 and scheduled to start serving his time in Federal prison the Friday after I photographed him. He never reported to Federal Prison.
On March 16, 2009 – the day after his session with me – Popcorn Sutton took his own life.
To say I was shocked at the news would be an understatement. It took me several days to process the information. Sutton was under house arrest and could only leave his home once a week for doctor’s visits. He did that on Mondays. I shot his portraits on Sunday. Though I will never know for sure, I assume that Sutton knew what he was going to do during the photoshoot.
That’s hard to grasp.
These images are among the very last images of moonshining legend, Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton, who died on March 16, 2009. May he rest in peace.
Prints of these images are NOT available for sale as the company that owns Popcorn Sutton’s name and likeness rights refuses to enter a royalties agreement.