By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

National Character

with 2 comments


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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Written by bywilliamcarter

August 31, 2016 at 12:00 pm

2 Responses

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  1. This is an incredibly timely display. It so well captures an era when we were held together as a country by some indefinable thread, which now seems to be frayed to the breaking point..a time, perhaps, when we rejoiced in our differences simply because we knew they did not ultimately divide us..these pictures bring the viewer back to the very unspoken, quiet bonds that, after all, may still be despite the hate spewed on talk radio and the internet.. brilliant…
    — Dan Morgan, longtime correspondent for the Washington Post

    Like

    bywilliamcarter

    September 2, 2016 at 12:22 am

  2. […] See also here my earlier blog post, National Character. […]

    Like


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