By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Portrait Of…?

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Content is in the eye of the beholder

by William Carter

The Holy Karmapa, age seven, at Tsurphu Monastery, Tibet, October, 1992. Eight years later, in 2000, he fled Chinese occupation to join the Dalai Lama in India. Photograph by William Carter 1992

Every picture carries meanings behind the surface — beyond the literal. Our yearning for such meanings makes us human. This enduring, endearing need for meaning appears in many guises.

Photographs carry values. Across much of Europe and the U.S., many of the old churches are empty. But the museums are full. People hunger for something beyond the commercial — even as some monuments of high culture seem to have become palaces of mass entertainment.

Every photograph is a slice through space, and a slice of time. Different slices mean differently to different persons.

The Karmapa, above, is looking at you, even as you are looking at him. What part of you is he looking at? How do you see him? If you are looking at him while he is looking at you, are you in effect looking at yourself?

And what about the shot below, of the Duchess and Duke of Windsor (the abdicated British king), and their driver: what do you — and the onlookers beyond the window — bring to this picture?

© William Carter 1967

Photograph by William Carter 1967

And what, then of pictures of your relatives, or your children? I took the photo below of Jobi, my wife’s grandson, on his 17th birthday. Different people see it differently. I don’t notice the hair, for example; I just see the eyes as spiritual; reminds me of an Italian Renaissance painting.

Jobim Morris Gavrielli, June 30, 2012; photograph by William Carter

Jobim Morris Gavrielli, June 30, 2012; photograph by William Carter

In the same way, my published photographs elicit a wide variety of responses. In my recent book, Causes and Spirits, my shot of an older woman carrying a watering can up the steps of her Minnesota bungalow in 1973 elicited an e-mail from a man who speculated on the market value of the house, then and now, 39 years later.

Northern Minnesota, 1973

Northern Minnesota, 1973

For decades (actually, centuries) artists in various media have preoccupied themselves with issues of their own identity. Contemporary educators and tastemakers have supported this kind of questioning, often as a critique of modern society. Since the 1970s some have even called it the “culture of complaint.” Sculptures such as this were evidently meant to shock visitors to the Jerusalem’s Israel Museum in 1993:

© William Carter 1993

Photograph by William Carter 1993

My response was to look elsewhere for things closer to my own heart. I found them in a nearby orphanage, and in a refugee camp:

© William Carter 1993

Photograph by William Carter 1993

© William Carter 1993

Photograph by William Carter 1993

In the Middle East, as I mentioned in earlier blogs, perception of identity and reality hinges crucially on tribal affiliation. My self-assignment as a photographer has long been to try to see past such tags, to the underlying humanity. Does this slot me with 19th century romanticism and impressionism, as opposed to modernism or postmodernism or what else is currently hip? Who cares? This image from Hungary in 1964 belies the fact that Russian tanks were parked just over the hill:

©William Carter 1964

Photograph by William Carter 1964

Or this one, in Yemen, at a time when the Egyptians and the Saudis were fighting a proxy war there, with the subtle involvement of the Americans and the Soviets (sound familiar?):

©William Carter 1964

Photograph by William Carter 1964

As a kind of summing up, here’s one from my book, Preservation Hall. It’s of Emanuel Sales singing in New Orleans. One of his fellow jazzmen told me, “You got to have soul, man, to do this work.”

©William Carter 1991

Photograph by William Carter 1991

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

National Character

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by William Carter

San Francisco, 1969

Is there still such a thing as “national character” — in a world becoming ever more homogenized?  Or is there, even, “regional character” — in a nation ever more urbanized?

Famous photographs of earlier generations played on these themes – think of Cartier-Bresson’s famous image of the little Parisian boy carrying the huge bottle of wine, or of countless early images of America’s Old West, or of the collection of great documentary images seeded by the U.S. Farm Security Administration in the 1930s and early  ’40s. (In the last couple of years a subset of the latter — amazing color images shot on brilliant, sparkling early Kodachrome – have been released for our delectation by the Library of Congress.

Yes, Virginia, there is still an American character. It may no longer be as obvious (to us) as Mount Rushmore or the Marlboro man or Babe Ruth or Marilyn Monroe, but it’s there, lingering below the surface. It derives from our unique history. My earlier books delved into three regional subsets — in Far West, the Middle West, and New Orleans jazz.

My most recent book, Causes and Spirits: Photographs from Five Decades (available signed or not signed) was a wider ranging retrospective, spanning the world in fifty years. What surprised me, in 2012, was that on seeing the book, photography curators at major museums — two in the U.S. and one in Germany — selected mainly my “Americana” images to access into their collections.

These are not your media-made icons, but out-of-the-way people in out-of-the-way places. Our character seems to survive in the unnoticed interstices of our lives.

Midtown, New York City, 1963

Midtown, New York City, 1963

Lower East Side, New York City, 1963

Lower East Side, New York City, 1963

Reno, Nevada, 1962

Reno, Nevada, 1962

Southern Indiana, 1973

Southern Indiana, 1973

Northern Minnesota, 1973

Northern Minnesota, 1973

Near Jerome, Arizona, 1970

Near Jerome, Arizona, 1970

Oakland, California, 1961

Oakland, California, 1961

Indianapolis, Indiana, 1973

Indianapolis, Indiana, 1973

Southern Illinois, 1973

Southern Illinois, 1973

Southern Illinois, 1973

Southern Illinois, 1973

Southern Illinois, 1973

Southern Illinois, 1973

Indianapolis, Indiana, 1973

Indianapolis, Indiana, 1973

Detroit, 1973

Detroit, 1973

Seattle, 1962

Seattle, 1962

Mississippi River, Bellevue, Iowa, 1973

Mississippi River, Bellevue, Iowa, 1973

Atherton, California, 1972

Atherton, California, 1972

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

August 31, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Fleeting Treasures

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By William Carter

I arrived in New York City in the summer of 1962. Toting two Leicas, I hunted for a job and an apartment. I gravitated to a part of the Lower East Side which was later re-christened the East Village.

Since I had begun my career in California doing informal photographs of children, my first self-assignment was to extend that practice to these fresh surroundings. I spent a day with a couple of kids at Coney Island. I traversed dim wells behind tenements that served as de facto playgrounds. I dropped in on friends of friends living with their daughter in an artistic shack on Staten Island.

Half a century later, those freshly seen scenes keyed off my retrospective book, Causes and Spirits. Below are examples, plus a couple of images omitted from the book. I only met the Staten Island girl for a few minutes, but she graces the book’s front cover, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has requested the vintage original print. But what happened to that girl? By now she would be around 60.

The subsequent lives of the other kids remain just as mysterious. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, photography resembles jazz in that both art forms – like modern life in general – often express moments that are the most pungent when they are the most fleeting.

William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Staten Island, New York, 1962

Staten Island, New York, 1962, Causes & Spirits, jacket & pg. 29

Coney Island, New York, 1962

Coney Island, New York, 1962, Causes and Spirits, page 39

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963, Causes and Spirits, page 31

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963, Causes and Spirits, page 33

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963. This photograph and the one below were made within moments of the one above.

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

 

Written by bywilliamcarter

August 17, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Living Spaces 10

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APARTMENTS-1 DSC_0215 - Version 2 copy1. Dusseldorf, Germany

DUSKWINDOWS DSC_1238 copy2. Weimar, Germany

MAILSLOTS-1 DSC_1486 copy3. Weimar, Germany

OFFICE DSC_0635 copy4. Dusseldorf, Germany

New York-3 300001 copy5. New York, N.Y.

Paris B002 copy6. Paris, France

SLEEPER DSC_0568 - Version 2 copy7. Dusseldorf, Germany

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

June 25, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Living Spaces 9

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Response to this post:

Earlier this month I received Living Spaces 9. Thank you so very much for having the sequence sent to me. It is always a treat when I open my mail and see that there is something with your name attached, and then, well, it is a bit like unwrapping a gift, that moment of holding the breath a little, and then that involuntary first response in the first encounter. For example, # 7 (Southern California) had me chuckle, then pause, then hum… the photograph is such a feast of listening and speaking, and how much of that listening we do with our backs, a barely turned head, even the hat hears it and the ocean rolls in to listen along as words bop up and down the belly. Delightful — and loud!

There was also a picture that almost hurt — the last one, # 8, Salisbury, England. Perhaps some gestures ache us when we see them because they awake something we long for even as we might fear it? That gesture of reaching out, its vulnerability, — isn’t that always the most precarious and most dangerous first step in any reconciliation and also its grandeur de vivre? Yes, this picture has accompanied me, just like the Corconio Couple, through many nights. It will continue to challenge me, and that is a good thing.

Thank you again.

Sincerely,

Rahel Hahn

EXPLORER-2-DSC_0025-copy1. Alexandria, Virginia

EXPLORER-1 DSC_0024 copy2. Alexandria, Virginia

Illinois-leaves-OLD-SLIDES-A--4-copy3.   Illinois

SUSPICION DSC_1009 copy4.  Northern California

SLEEPER-2 2010-11-28 at 08-57-45 copy5.  Northern California

PHOTOGRAPHER DSC_0778 copy6. Northern California

SO. CALIF-1 004 - Version 2 copy7. Southern California

PARK BENCH DSC_0893.NEF copy8. Salisbury, England

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

June 11, 2016 at 12:00 pm

Living Spaces 8

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This series of posts elicited two particularly eloquent responses via email (other comments below):

“Dear Sir, Thank you for these photographs. In the clutter of my daily life your pictures invite me to living and living spaces that are clear, nuanced, simple, textured, and — especially when I look at the 4th one with that lovely gentle veiling and unveiling— not beholden to fear, the fear of peace or of dying. But lest I get too serious here: they also remind me of the sweet smell of laundry drying outside (I live in paradise, no pollution here). Best wishes and thank you again.” —Rahel Hahn

“Each picture is like a visual poem calling to mind Emily Dickenson in their spare and ambiguous content.” —Weston Naef, Founding Curator of Photographs, J. Paul Getty Museum

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA1.  Ameno (Lago di Orta), Italy, circa 2005

WALL PLUG 2010-11-28 at 10-13-462. Ameno (Lago di Orta),  Italy, circa 2005

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA3.  Ameno  (Lago di Orta), Italy, circa 2005

CURTAINS-3 DSC_0852 - Version 24.  Gualala, California, circa 2013

CURTAINS-3 CurtainSea3 17x22f5. Gualala, California, circa 2013

village walls-1 018 copy6.  Lago di Orta, Italy, circa 1989

village walls-2 011 - Version 2 copy7. Orta San Giulio, Italy, circa 1992

Copyright statement: William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

May 28, 2016 at 12:00 pm

More William Carter Prints Held by SF MOMA

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105My previous post of May 8, 2016 brought you news about the sparkling exhibition celebrating the massive expansion and re-opening of the redesigned San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, a William Carter picture, “Near Jerome, Arizona, 1970″ hangs in the photography galleries.

This Arizona print is also reproduced in the large book cataloguing the exhibition: The Campaign for Art.

The official re-opening date of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the exhibitions, including my print, is May 14 and run until Sept. 5. Members have earlier admission dates.

Click here for more information on admission and tickets.

Here are more William Carter prints held in the SF MOMA’s permanent collection:

 

Near Jerome, Arizona, 1970

Near Jerome, Arizona, 1970

 

Geneseo, Illinois, 1973

Geneseo, Illinois, 1973

 

Detroit, 1973

Detroit, 1973

 

Mississippi River, Bellevue, Iowa, 1973

Mississippi River, Bellevue, Iowa, 1973

 

Atherton, California, 1972

Atherton, California, 1972

 

Concornio (Lake Orta) Italy, 1989

Concornio (Lake Orta) Italy, 1989

 

Sa'da, Yemen, 1964

Sa’da, Yemen, 1964

William Carter papers, © Stanford University Libraries. Click here for a detailed usage guide.

Written by bywilliamcarter

May 12, 2016 at 12:00 pm

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