By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

The Middle Americans (Part 2)

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Quiet Truths Near the Center of Our Lives

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

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November 28, 2016 at 10:00 pm

The Middle Americans (Part 1)

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Quiet Truths Near the Center of Our Lives

Beyond the glitz and shock, the checkout stands and game shows, there’s an American reality that doesn’t much change. This human landscape is actually a place in our heart.

I’ve picked about 50 images, few of which were previously published. They were taken in different parts of the U.S., in different decades, and printed in my darkroom. This collection is a series of postings to be released in coming weeks.

See also here my earlier blog post, National Character.

All Photographs © William Carter

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

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November 13, 2016 at 7:00 pm

Signs of the Times

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America’s Corn Belt Speaks for Itself

Digging deep in my files as part of an ongoing effort to gather a legacy of vintage prints, I stumbled on some unpublished treasures. Forty years ago I photographed these signs along the back roads of Indiana, Illinois and neighboring states while working on my second book, Middle West Country (Houghton Mifflin, 1975).

Now the signs are mostly gone — but not the inherent modesty, chuckling humor, and serious spirit of America’s heartland.

Photographs © William Carter 1972, 2010

Sign: Pickneyville Home Style Beans

cat-fish,-Grand-Tower,-Ill.-c1973

Madison-barn-sign-c1972

Independent-Farm

Revival-placard,-Indiana-1972

Oak Ridge Friends Church

Church Float

farm-sale-notice-1972

Annamae Wife

Churchyard, Henry Cty Ill, Sharon

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

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October 26, 2016 at 1:30 pm

Inverness, California 2002

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Inverness, California, 2002

Please click on image for full-size version. To view more panoramic images, please visit this page on my website.

My wife Ulla and I were staying overnight with friends in Inverness, near the Pacific Coast in northern California.  We were in their lovely new guesthouse in a lush garden and forest setting of coast redwoods.  Waking early, I glanced out the window at a remarkable scene, like a fantasy, the way the rain had just stopped and light was filtering through the not-yet dissipated mist.  Still in my pajamas, I grabbed my large Linhof panoramic camera, tripod, film, light meter and ran outside.  I knew those conditions would not last, and I knew what the camera settings should be for that light.  It was chilly but I was warm with sweat.  I found the spot to set up but the ground was wet, so the tripod and I were both tending to sink in the mud.  I had to stabilize the tripod, or wait for in between moments when it was not sinking, because to get infinite depth of field even with Tri-X film required exposures of 1/15 of a second or slower, which would blur the image if the camera moved.  Meanwhile the light was changing, in and out, up and down, involving me in an intricate dance; just when it all came together and I pushed the cable release (gently to avoid causing movement), I heard Ulla open a window and in a bleary early voice asked what I thought I was doing out there in the cold and wet in my pajamas with mud all over me.  I shouted something terse and dismissive. Finally I finished several exposures and the light was fading and I trudged back dripping mud and thinking of coffee and a shower and wondering what I or Ulla would do about my soaked pajamas.

One of the frames turned out great. I scanned it and printed it 30 inches wide on an Epson printer, have sold a couple of prints, and 9 years later used it on page 293 of my retrospective book, Causes and Spirits.  Including it there was a late breaking decision because the book was mainly about people; altering the last chapter in order to include that and some other non-people images interrupted the printing cycle and caused the great publisher, Gerhard Steidl, to remain angry at me for about a year.

But the Linhof is still okay. Also the pajamas. Also Ulla.

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

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October 2, 2016 at 12:00 pm

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.

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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

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