By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Author Archive

William Carter – Discovering the World and Ourselves

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Ed. note: this guest post written by Ms Esther Wan was originally published on the blog Special Collections Unbound of the Stanford University Library Special Collections, authored by Laura Wilsey.

Esther Wan

American photographer William Carter’s collection of digitized photographs was my first project for Special Collections and having just joined the team at the end of February, I soon found myself sheltered-in-place by mid-March and working from home. Despite the shrinking of my physical world, Carter’s images enabled me to continue exploring far-away places and times past – a fortuitous experience as one who now finds everyday life sometimes more strange than visually traveling through parts unknown.

Spanning a career from the 1950s until the 2000s, Stanford alum (1957) William Carter’s work and travels gave him access to diverse subjects and places and enabled him to document not only specific moments in time but also broad themes common to all cultures. Concepts such as friendship, spirituality, and survival, and human expressions found in curiosity, pride and tenderness can be seen in his imagery – caught from observing people just going about their daily lives or while waiting for those glimpses of quiet vulnerability.

His early works came from assignments that included the New York Times, Trans World Airlines, and Women’s World Daily and spanned far-flung places such as New York, London, Egypt and Yemen in the early to mid-1960s. Photos of celebrities, farmers, children in play and work, street life in villages and cities abound from these travels. Carter’s career-making moment as a photojournalist was established during his journey with Kurdish Peshmerga guerrilla soldiers in northern Iraq while on assignment for Life Magazine in 1965 and yielded a 6-page spread and imagery of a Kurdistan and its peoples still unknown to many. Later, he became involved with longer-term book projects for Sunset Publishing and his portrait close-ups and landscapes of California and the American Midwest of the late 1960s and 1970s resulted from these ventures. William Carter’s personal interests in jazz and blues music, spirituality, and fine art also led to subjects ranging from master musicians such as Louis Armstrong, Manny Sayles and De De Pierce to Tibetan monks and Indian peoples, and abstract landscape and nude photography.

Researching and creating metadata for William Carter’s digitized photographs across such diverse geography and time without the ability to directly consult his film negatives and prints required some creative thinking. First-hand sources such as Carter’s 2011 book “Causes and Spirits”, his blog, video interviews with Tony di Gesu and Dawn Hope Stevens and tapings of his book launch at Kepler’s Books enabled me to identify some images. When these avenues fell short, other institutions’ digital photographic collections – such as those from the J. Paul Getty Museum, SFMOMA and the National Gallery of Art – were also helpful. Occasionally, Carter’s image names provided clues as in the cases of his step-grandson’s portraits and that of the 6th Marquess of Bath. While in other instances, elements in the photos themselves gave chase down various ‘rabbit holes’ such as the name of a Royal Canadian naval destroyer on a sailor’s cap, seeing Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, at a gala premiere, or identifying legendary Illinois football coach Bob Reade during a team practice. As one who enjoys “finding things”, it was immensely satisfying for me to be able to establish connections between seemingly disparate images and to locate details needed to accurately document this collection.

Viewing William Carter’s photographs, one is often left with a haunted feeling of times and places that no longer exist – and yet also the temerity of the human spirit to survive and flourish. At this moment when our worlds are in uncharted territory due to pandemic and unrest and we have been asked to re-examine our own human frailties and strengths, there is much to be found in William Carter’s imagery for reflection and inspiration. The digital images are projected to be accessioned into the SDR and made available via SearchWorks for viewing by the end of June.

Written by bywilliamcarter

June 11, 2020 at 12:02 pm

COVID-19: A New Threat to Kurds in Syria and Iraq and a Way Forward

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The Refugees International website will host an online conference tomorrow morning , April 8, 2020 at 9:00 EDT. Refugees International advocates for lifesaving assistance and protection for displaced people. “We are independent and do not accept government or UN funding.”

Here is the link to their web page and content contained therein:

As the COVID-19 epidemic spreads across the Middle East, the population in Northeast Syria and Kurdistan Region of Iraq (KRI) face similar challenges. Both Kurdish majority regions host large populations of displaced people who have fled civil war and the conflict with the Islamic State. Even before the COVID-19 crisis, the total number of those in need of humanitarian assistance figured in the millions.  The United Nations warns that access to healthcare in Northeast Syria and in KRI for the displaced is increasingly limited. COVID-19 has the potential to devastate these already-vulnerable communities. 

Refugees International and the Columbia University Institute for the Study of Human Rights invite you to an on-the-record web event exploring the COVID crisis in the Kurdistan Region of Iraq and in Northeast Syria, the effects of this crisis on the displaced people in these regions, and a way forward.

Host: Hardin Lang is Vice President for Programs and Policy at Refugees International.

Speakers:

Bayan Abdul Rahman is the Representative of the Kurdistan Regional Government to the United States.

Sinam Mohammed is Representative of the Syrian Democratic Council to the United States.

Rapporteur

David L. Phillips is the Director of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.

Q&A will follow. 

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April 7, 2020 at 5:27 pm

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SFTJF Online Exhibit: Maximum Vibration

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From 1990-2015 I served as Chairman of the San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation. This April the Foundation launched The Great Jazz Revival, The Charles N. Huggins Project, an online multimedia history of Traditional Jazz in the San Francisco Bay Area from the Barbary Coast to the 1980s told through historic images, recorded sound, articles, scores and film. You can watch a video overview of the project here.  Read San Francisco Chronicle columnist Carl Nolte’s exploration of the jazz heritage documented in Stanford University Library’s online exhibit in his article Homegrown Jazz Preserved.

One focus of the online historical collection is on the many first-generation jazzmen who settled during the 1950-60s in the Bay Area, where they found new audiences for their traditional approach to the jazz from their roots in New Orleans and elsewhere. Such figures as Kid Ory, Earl Hines, Bunk Johnson, Pops Foster, Darnell Howard and others enriched the San Francisco jazz scene and inspired younger players like Lu Watters and Turk Murphy to carry the torch of traditional New Orleans jazz. I was lucky to have known and photographed some of these men.

From 1958-63, the great New Orleans reedman Frank “Big Boy” Goudie was a notable figure in the San Francisco jazz revival, during which time the former tenor saxophonist played only clarinet. He had spent most of his previous career among many American expatriate jazzmen living and working in Paris. In the Bay Area he developed a distinctive personal style with a rich, husky tone and flowing lines that oozed Creole Louisiana tradition. I got to know him, played a few duets, and interviewed him.

Living in Berkeley, California at the time, not far from singer Barbara Dane’s home, I photographed Frank at a little party at her house around 1958. Frank had probably put on a tie for the occasion. He had also come, weeks before that, to my place on Sterling Road for a little jazz party, where we first played duets with some old hands of the Berkeley jazz establishment. Within a month or two he was gigging all around the Bay Area with folks like Jim Leigh and Dick Oxtot and Bob Mielke, at private events, and at sit-ins at San Francisco’s Pier 23. Goudie long had a side profession (like many New Orleans originals) — as an upholsterer. I.e. he well knew how to survive.

That he had worked in Paris with Django Reinhart was not lost on any of us. His tough inner core was belied by the genuine charm and winning personality evident in this portrait. As with New Orleans jazz, “playing for the people” proved adaptable to any time, and place.

Frank “Big Boy” Goudie, Photograph © William Carter

New Orleans bass stylist Wellman Braud (1891-1966) reached the top of his profession as a mainstay with Duke Ellington, plus many other engagements. Like a number of the classic jazzmen, Braud descended from a Creole musical family–several of whom, such as his cousin, bassist McNeil Breaux, used an alternate spelling of the French-derived last name. Like many another jazz pioneer, Wellman eventually settled in the Bay Area, accepting gigs such as with blues singer Barbara Dane. In this photo you can see that one of the strings of the bass fiddle (second from leftmost) is not aligned with the others. I’m told by bass players that this was because I was lucky to have captured the exact moment when Mr. Braud had plucked the A string of the bass, which was at that moment at its maximum vibration.

JAZZ/BLUES GREATS Bassist Wellman Braud; pianist/trumpeter/vocalist Kenny Whitson at Sugar Hill, San Francisco, 1961, photograph © William Carter

Bassist Wellman Braud; pianist/trumpeter/vocalist Kenny Whitson at Sugar Hill, San Francisco, 1961, photograph © William Carter

In 1955, as a twenty-year-old clarinetist, I toured the US and recorded at the New Orleans Jazz Festival with trombonist and bandleader Turk Murphy (see LP album cover art below). Turk’s best known band, the Turk Murphy Jazz Band, started in 1952 and performed continuously until his death in 1987. During the 1950s and early 1960s, the band was at its peak of popularity, touring annually, recording for major labels such as Columbia, and performing as often as six days a week at Earthquake McGoon’s, Turk’s jazz club which was home base for the band between 1960 and 1984. Turk, his club, and his band were fixtures of the San Francisco scene for decades. McGoon’s served as both a tourist destination and a meeting place for a local crowd of regulars who came to listen, drink and dance.

Turk Murphy New Orleans Jazz Festival LP album cover art

“A typical night at McGoon’s would find the dance floor crowded with a wide range of fans—from older couples who had danced to the Yerba Buena Jazz Band at the Dawn Club and Hambone Kelly’s, to young people learning to dance to traditional jazz for the first time.” SFTJF Online Exhibit

ClayStDancers

Dancers at Earthquake McGoon’s, 1973

“Intermissions at McGoon’s ran the gamut from solo pianists and singing banjoists to an all-star trio with Darnell Howard on clarinet/violin, Elmer Snowden on banjo, and Pops Foster on bass. One of the most beloved intermission artists was Clancy Hayes. A total professional with a sense of timing that nearly matched Turk’s, Clancy would always end his intermission act with a song from the Dawn Club/Hambone Kelly’s era as the Murphy band joined him onstage, one by one.”

Clancy

Clancy Hayes

Earthquake McGoon’s served as a pinnacle of San Francisco’s Great Jazz Revival. The music that was being played for decades became part of the city, part of the culture, part of the people. The history and the legacy of the music came alive through the people who played it and enjoyed it. And now that legacy lives on in the carefully preserved and timelessly stored relics of San Francisco’s past, all accessible indefinitely on Stanford’s  Online Exhibit.

“McGoon’s was an ideal jazz club. Turk made it into a beautiful jazz club. We had a very strong crowd, and they all became friends; everybody knew each other and they danced. There were so many great moments just watching the crowd enjoy the music.”

– Leon Oakley, Turk Murphy Jazz Band Cornetist.

 

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June 19, 2019 at 12:55 am

Gone Tomorrow?

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Musings on Permanence/Impermanence

Rhyolite, Nevada 1970

In a nation often characterized by its frontier past, the zest for the Now has always contended with its opposite: the urge to constellate older, permanent values. Centuries of the wide open West brought us the enduring myth of cowboy who roamed freely across open spaces but whose assignment was often to save a threatened town. Trappers, miners and farmers kept moving on to the next big thing. Less romanticized, other farmers and their town-dwelling cousins put down roots, planting for permanence.

Today the theme lives on in other forms, such as in the struggle between development and preservation. Or between the risks of global thinking and the reassurances of old-time religion.  Universally, man struggles for immortality against his evident mortality.

My first two books – Ghost Towns of the West and Middle West Country – probed America’s frontier tensions in detail. My most recent one, Causes and Spirits, is a photographic art book of worldwide scope; yet it, too, explores the contest between “dust to dust” on the one hand, and surpassing vision on the other. Threaded through the book in varying dimensions, the underlying polarity can be summed up here in two images involving the widespread deployment of Greek classical architecture. References to a shared European ancestry and taste, such structures served as emblems of a hoped-for permanence as America unfurled its banner westward.

Northern Minnesota, 1973

Some dreams were broken. Some dreams survived.

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

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November 14, 2018 at 9:55 am

Those Teens Part 8

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide. Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

teens8.1Yemen, c. 1965

teens8.2Gaza, c. 1993

teens8.3California, c. 1972

teens8.4Indiana, c. 1972

teens8.5Washington, c. 1962

teens8.6Illinois, c. 1973

teens8.7California, c. 1970

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

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November 2, 2018 at 12:00 pm

THEN AS NOW?

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When I saw the online New York Times piece this morning (above), October 28, 2018, featuring the stunning Yemen photographs by Tyler Hicks, my aching heart made me want to do something: then the heart messaged the brain that 54 years ago I had gone, as a young photojournalist, to a little-known, impoverished war zone called Yemen. This was at the invitation of a veteran New York Times Middle East Bureau Chief named Dana Adams Schmidt. An under-publicized, savage, tribal civil war was going on. One side was sponsored by Egypt, its arms supplied by the Soviet Union; the other side was supplied by Saudi Arabia, with its plentiful supply of American arms (sound familiar?).

Although Dana and I were unable to reach the combat zone, unsubstantiated rumors were circulating that the U.S.-made fighter jets were raining down a fairly new, horrifying kind of chemical weapon called napalm on the northern Yemeni tribesmen. (Before long napalm would become well known to the American public due to its widespread use in Vietnam.) A few weeks after our New York Times-based visit, a colleague, correspondent Dick Beeston of the London Daily Telegraph, nearly got himself killed traveling to northern Yemen where he searched for, and eventually found, and carried home, a piece of shrapnel quickly identified by experts as part of an American-made napalm shell.

Then as now, bigger stories tended to eclipse U.S. public awareness of such “far-away” events. (Such as the huge, illicit, worldwide shipments of black market arms brokered by a prominent Saudi billionaire coincidentally (?) named Adnan Khashoggi).

How far away is all this from Hicks’ digital color masterpieces of the wrinkled bodies and dying faces half a century later? Too far? Or not far enough? In my ongoing series,I have already shared some of my 1964 Yemen Kodachromes with you. Here’s one from that same journey, borrowed from my most recent blog on children. Is the black and white imagery outdated? I hope not.

Read my 4-part series, “Yemen: Then as Now?”

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October 29, 2018 at 1:10 am

Those Teens Part 7

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide. Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

ateens7.1jpgEngland, c. 1967

teens7.2Iraq, c. 1965

teens7.3California, c. 1960

teens7.4Illinois, c. 1973

teens7.5California, c. 1974

teens7.6Yemen, c. 1964

teens7.7Tibet, c. 1992

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

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October 26, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Those Teens Part 6

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide. Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

teens6.1Virginia, c. 2010

teens6.2Virginia, c. 2011

teens6.3Illinois, c. 1972

teens6.4Illinois, c. 1972

teens6.5Illinois, c. 1972

teens6.6England, c. 1964

teens6.7England, c. 1964

teens6.8Yemen, c. 1964

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

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October 19, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Those Teens Part 5

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide. Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

teens5.1Iraq, c. 1965

teens5.2Iraq, c. 1965

teens5.3Indiana, c. 1972

teens5.4Kansas, c. 1971

teens5.5England, c. 1967

teens5.6England, c. 1967

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

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October 12, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Those Teens Part 4

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide. Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

teens4.1New York, c. 1963

teens4.2England, c. 1961

teens4.3California, c. 1972

teens4.4Jordan, c. 1993

teens4.5Iraq, c. 1965

teens4.6Washington, c. 1962

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

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October 5, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Those Teens Part 3

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide. Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

teens3.1California, c. 1978

teens3.2California, c. 1973

teens3.3Minnesota, c. 1973

teens3.4Minnesota, c. 1973

teens3.5England, c. 1964

teens3.6England, c. 1964

teens3.7Tibet, c. 1992

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

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September 28, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Those Teens Part 2

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide. Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

teens2.1California, c. 2013

teens2.2California, c. 2013

teens2.3California, c. 2013

teens2.4Virginia, c. 2011

teens2.5California, c. 2011

teens2.6California, c. 2011

teens2.7California, c. 2013

teens2.8

California, c. 2012

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

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September 21, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Those Teens Part 1

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With the present series of posts. I bring together photographs made from 1958 to 2014 — 56 years — highlighting teenagers from cultures worldwide.  Where it is sometimes not obvious if someone is technically a teen, or a bit younger or older, I have opted to be inclusive.

Wide differences of time and place, class and society are obvious in this series. More and more, though, my way of seeing has been to look past the external differences — toward the humanity, the soul that unites.

teens1.1
Germany, c. 2012

teens1.2

California, c. 2012

teens1.3

Lebanon, c. 1965

teens1.4

Lebanon, c. 1965

teens1.5

Indiana, c. 1972

teens1.6

Syria, c. 1964

teens1.7

Lebanon, c. 1965

teens1.8

Iraq, c. 1965

teens1.9

California, c. 2014

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

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September 14, 2018 at 12:00 pm

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More Color from Florida

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From 2014, and also from 2007

The top two, below, are additional pictures taken from the Everglades boardwalks in February, 2014.

Plus, below those two, are five more abstract photographs (numbered 3-7) taken during our only previous visit to Florida’s wild places — in February, 2007, when we got our feet wet trudging through swamplands near the Gulf Coast.

All photographs © William Carter

1---Florida--2-2014-1877---Version-21.

Florida--2-2014-20982.

3---Florida--2-DSC_0037.JPG3.

4---Florida--2-DSC_0034.JPG4.

5---Florida--2-DSC_0053.JPG5.

6---Florida--2-DSC_0069.JPG6.

7---Florida--2-DSC_0070.JPG7.

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

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September 8, 2018 at 12:15 am

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Thanks, Teddy

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Thanks for the Everglades

Having been preoccupied with other projects, I haven’t posted any new blogs for awhile. But here is a new one, signaling resumption of my blog series.

The photographs below are from our visit to the Florida Everglades  in February, 2014. With thanks to Teddy Roosevelt for having established America’s National Parks system, which preserves this and other wilderness treasures.

All photographs © William Carter 2014

1---Florida--2-2014-2049

2---Florida--2-2014-1956

Florida--2-2014-2034---Version-2

4---Florida--2-2014-2022

5---Florida--2-2014-2025---Version-2

6---Florida--2-2014-1905---Version-2

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

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August 24, 2018 at 2:15 pm

The Kit Kat Club

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Google Announces New/Old Name for its Operating System

———————————————by William Carter————————————————————–

Every city has its seamy side. More so, perhaps, ancient Mediterranean ports long accustomed to serving a  variety of visitors — from circulating sailors, to Saudi sheiks, to sun-seekers, to sidewalk speculators.

When Google announced “KitKat” as the name for the latest version of its Android operating system, I thought both of the Nestlé candy bar and of a formerly well-known Beirut strip joint. That bustling city has always attracted a large supply of entertainers — featuring European blondes — to work at every level, from the posh Casino du Liban, on down.

The Kit Kat Club was on the waterfront not far from where I lived from 1964 to 1966. I photographed dancers there, and later in their apartments, as part of a wider magazine story — “Women of Beirut” — a multi-leveled portrait  of this tribal/sophisticated city which I never got around to finishing.

The bottom image. below, shows a larger, seamier section of town which appeared to feature brunettes.

A year later came the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, followed by Lebanon’s long, brutal internal conflicts —  but by then I was gone.

Fast forwarding 47 years, on November 6, 2013 I was heartened to note this passage by Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal: “While the primary goal of KitKat was to run in a much smaller amount of memory, it has a few notable new features. The phone app now places recent and frequent callers first in its favorite call list and de-emphasizes the full list of contacts…”

photographs © William Carter 1966

kitkat01

kitkat02

kitkat03

kitkat04

kitkat05

kitkat06

kitkat07

kitkat08

kitkat09

kitkat10

kitkat11

kitkat12

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

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July 19, 2018 at 1:00 pm

More on Egypt, Mother of the World

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CAN-CARRIER

OILCAN-CARRIER

BOX-CARRIER

BELOW: Checking the View: Supreme Egyptian Military Headquarters, Heliopolis (Cairo):

SENTINEL

BELOW: “Meanwhile, the rich get…”: U.S.-favored former Tunisian ruler Habib Bourguiba, 1965.

Tunisian President, Habib Bourguiba

All of above photographs © William Carter.  Below photographs uncredited, via William Carter courtesy Camera Press (London).

Meanwhile, fundamentalists of every stripe have always liked to impress with “shock and awe”:

Public Execution

Public Execution

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

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June 8, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Egypt, Mother of of the World

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children_uniforms

I landed in Beirut in 1964 knowing nothing of the region. I was there to represent a New York photo agency — when such outfits had their people stationed around the world doing photojournalistic assignments.

One of the first people I met was the New York Times’ Middle East bureau chief, Dana Adams Schmidt. A seasoned writer, he was just leaving for Egypt, Yemen, South Arabia and Yemen: did I want to go with him? I jumped at the chance.

In Cairo I accompanied Dana on some of his political interviews. Nasser was in power trumpeting his anti-colonialist, pro-socialist, Arab-nationalist agenda. Since time immemorial the Egyptians, with their proud history, had considered themselves the cultural and political leaders of the Arab community.

The term for this outlook was — and is — Masr, Um al-Dunia: “Egypt, mother of the world.”

I had time to explore the  teeming, wonderful streets. The following year I would return to the Nile Delta photographing for a UN agricultural development agency. The country’s problems were deep — seemingly intractable — yet the faces were joyous. I can only hope some of that spirit survives the latest crisis. Half a century seems less long inside a seedbed of civilization.

All photos © William Carter 1965
street_circles

street_children_stripes

street_carts

friends_reeds

friends_laughing

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

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May 25, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Yemen: Then as Now? Part 4

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Transition to a still uncertain future
Photos and Text © William Carteryemen4-1Many Yemenis are short, and their donkeys more soyemen4-2Protecting himself from the sun with a vestige of British colonial timesyemen4-3The hot, humid valleys north of Sanaa are rich in agriculture — and malaria 

yemen4-4Yemen’s indigenous architecture long contributed to its reputation as a quasi-mythical land

 

yemen4-5In 1963 the Brits still hung on

 

yemen4-6Late in the day a colonial officer reviews a dwindling number of troops

 

yemen4-7Street life in Aden survived longer than the politicians on the walls

 

yemen4-8Building for an uncertain future — then as now

 

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

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May 11, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Yemen: Then As Now? Part 3

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Where there are children, there is hope

Photos and Text © William Carter

 

yemen3-1In 1964 we were told these were the first girls who ever went to school in Yemen; those who survived would now be nearly 60 years old

 

yemen3.2Building sites can also be fun

 

yemen3-2In traditional societies, gender-defined roles start early

 

yemen3-4Too old to be in the first school for girls?

 

yemen3-5Was this his first view of a camera viewing him?

 

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

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April 27, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Yemen: Then As Now? Part 2

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Photographs by William Carter © 1964

yemen2.1House in Sanaa, the capital

 

yemen2.2Tribal representatives pleading with Egyptian “anti-colonial” troops

 

yemen2.3Heading north, where Egyptian-backed revolutionaries were fighting Saudi-backed royalists

 

yemen2.4View from a British helicopter

 

yemen2.5Outpost in South Yemen: note man in prayer on wall

 

yemen2.6Modern town of Taiz

 

yemen2.7Traditional town of Sanaa

 

yemen2.8Traders in the southern port of Aden

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

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April 13, 2018 at 3:00 pm

Yemen: Then as Now?

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Photographs and Text © William Carteryemen1.1Tribal elder near Sanaa, Yemen during the 1964 civil war. He carries a sprig of “ghat,” the mild national narcotic, in his hat

When Condoleezza Rice popped up in Cairo a few years ago to lecture the pharaohs that she and the other neocons were going to bring democracy to the Middle East, I had to laugh.  It was redolent of the U.S. promising, a century earlier, to “make the world safe for democracy.”  More distantly, I was reminded of the “enlightened self-interest” pronouncements of the colonial centuries. I was in Yemen and Aden in 1964 when the Brits were withdrawing none-too-gracefully from the last vestiges of their empire “east of Suez.”  Reading the sad news of today’s Yemen, I am checking my files for photographs I took that fall in the company of my colleague, the New York Times’ Dana Adams Schmidt.

 

yemen1.2Chinese laborer, Yemen 1964: the Americans, the Soviets, and the Chinese raced to win hearts and minds in a road building competition while the Egyptians and Saudis sponsored a proxy war of factions that included the use of napalm

After flying by Egyptian military plane from Cairo to Sanaa, we slept for a few days in a mud brick skyscraper. I sampled “ghat” (the local mild narcotic), and we interviewed Yemen’s Egypt-friendly President and other local officials. We traveled north to the medieval town of Saada, close to a civil war then raging between the Royalists (backed by royal Saudi Arabia) and the Republicans (backed by Nasser’s Egypt).  Sound familiar today? In the nearby town of Taiz we interviewed an American foreign aid official who explained that the U.S. and the Russians were competing for influence in the country by building major roads, sending in Caterpillars from Peoria and asphalt from some Soviet province; even the Chinese were already in that game, shipping in laborers with picks and shovels.  We also interviewed a British official who knew far more about the tribes and sub-tribes than the Americans ever would, because the Brits had been there so long and taken a deeper interest in the native culture.

yemen1.3Then as now, the ultimate victims were the children

Next came the toughest road journey of my life.  In a vintage Land Rover we bumped and slid over hundreds of miles of nearly trackless dessert, south toward Aden, past some of the most destitute, disease-ridden villages in the world, stopping a few of times in this region then called “South Arabia” to overnight with jaunty British troops and cheerful colonial administrators, enabling Dana to fill up his notebook with more quotes and me to take more pictures.  Aden was a depressing, dangerous place in the throes of a Marxist sub-revolution; a cafe we had sat in an hour earlier was hit by a terrorist bomb. Most interesting (and quaint, now): we visited polling stations where British colonial officials, as prelude to their withdrawal from this final outpost of empire, were staging elections: fair, square, and meaningless.

yemen1.4In the strategic port of Aden, the British were preparing to depart from a last vestige of Empire by holding an election

All this was a long way from palm-fronded LA where I had grown up. But I shipped the uncensored shoot to New York by air freight (with the requisite bribe to the Beirut Pan Am agent). That was the start of my career as a photojournalist based in Lebanon.  Eventually I got most of the filmstrips and slides back, but that was half a century ago, and I’m still looking for more of them to scan.  I now see that even at that early stage (I had only taught myself photography 3 years earlier), I was more of a sucker for humanity than for the hard violence needed to sell news to a civilized society then preoccupied with race riots and Vietnam.

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March 30, 2018 at 12:00 pm

The Tones of Stones

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Sometimes, in our wanderings across the landscape of ancient Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq, and elsewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, my wife Ulla and I would stumble into a silent, ancient amphitheater. Persuaded to try my clarinet in that dry air, I’d soon be assured that even the softest tones carried well into the high rows.

Ulla and I treasure such sweet memories. But now they are jarred with bitter undertones —  endless war, brutal destruction at such magnificent sites as Palmyra.

Below, our sentimental snaps of twenty years ago have an implicit simplicity, a clarity of tone hard to recall today.

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March 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Contested Stones redux

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Too late — again?

As a sad update to my recent “Contested Stones” blog, events continue to unfold in the Middle East.  Under the headline “Saving Syria,” the Wall Street Journal notes that, amid that nation’s current civil war, poorly guarded monuments of immense historical importance, including the medieval Crac des Chevaliers and the Roman ruins of Palmyra, are starting to be degraded by looters and damaged by modern weaponry.  Below the link to the WSJ story is one of my photographs of Palmyra, in the eastern Syrian desert. (Recall that Iraq suffered other important archaeological losses which occurred during the American invasion.)

Please read “Saving Syria,” by Christian Sahner in the Wall Street Journal, August 23, 2012.

Palmyra, Syria vintage silver print ©William Carter 1993

Palmyra, Syria vintage silver print ©William Carter 1993

East Jerusalem, 1964

East Jerusalem, 1964

“Watch any mother kneeling beside her toddler, pointing and explaining what they are looking at.  Our urge to see, to comprehend and connect, starts there.”

That’s how I put it in the opening text of my Causes and Spirits.

Received culture profoundly affects how we see the world. Including how we view it through our cameras.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the “Holy Land” fought over for thousands of years by followers of the three Abrahamic religions, plus such secular claimants as the Romans, the Turks, and the British.

When I was living in Beirut 1964-1966, much of Jerusalem and the territory around Bethlehem were controlled by a classic buffer state — the Kingdom of Jordan. On two successive Decembers I was sent by an American magazine to photograph Christmas in Bethlehem.  None of those pictures survive, because the magazine was buying full rights, including the films themselves. But I retain strong memories of the tumult swirling within and without the Church of the Holy Sepulcher. Monks of various traditions were physically fighting for jurisdiction over this and that section of holy stones at this and that hour. The surrounding city bubbled with the sorts of strife to which the region has always been heir, and to which the Israelis would soon contribute. Seasoned observers would continue to watch these underlying tensions weave threads of irony into all the heartfelt salaams and shaloms of the private greetings, public blessings and international agreements.

But I did my gig: I sent the Midwestern magazine what I was sure they wanted: warm, candlelit faces of Protestant pilgrims processioning past the ancient, contested stones.

Where and when to cut slices of space and time with the bright-line frame of my Leica was never obvious. I reflected, sometimes, on earlier generations of foreign photographers of the Middle East: of the dreamy harem scenes, for instance, always included in the sets of stereopticon slides sent back to reinforce colonial stereotypes in London drawing rooms — some of those same drawing rooms where ruler lines were then being traced across the maps of Arab sands creating nation-states where none had existed before – thus helping set up the kinds of tribal quarrels the world still struggles to contain.

Working far from home, journalists can face ethical dilemmas that are personal and immediate, as well as professional. Covering the Korean War in the 1950s, a journalist I knew watched an American TV crew stop a farm family from putting out the fire engulfing their shelled house until the cameraman got great footage of the licking flames.

Iraqi Kurdish guerillas, June 1965

Iraqi Kurdish guerrillas, June 1965

At one point I faced a dilemma while traveling for Life Magazine with the Kurdish guerrilla fighters across northern Iraq. My main contact was an intelligent, helpful, English-speaking former Iraqi army officer named Colonel Akrawi.  Huddled by a lantern one night, noticing I hadn’t gotten any combat shots, he moved closer, tapped on a map and whispered, “At the bottom of these hills, in the flat desert north of Suleimaniya, there’s a small Iraqi police post. Half a dozen of them sleep there every night. Next Tuesday is full moon. So if you want, we can raid the place and kill all the policemen – and you’ll can get great pictures! Okay?”

He was leaving it up to me. His offer was laden with the warmth and generosity of traditional guest-honoring, plus a dose of macho that included me as co-conspirator in their revolution. How to reply? The pictures sounded tempting. But to get them, I would, in effect, be sponsoring a few murders. And, I would be creating some news in order to report it – not exactly what photojournalists are supposed to do. As the lantern light flickered over our faces, I thanked the colonel, but explained that for that job I would have needed a flash, and mine was broken. The gentlemanly Kurd nodded and accepted this. I photographed Akrawi and his aides, conferring in the orange lantern light well into the night. Days later I photographed him shaving. Then we marched west for several nights to the mountain passes above the oilfields of Kirkuk. Under shellfire the colonel handed me his binoculars, pointed, and declared, “That oil is ours!” Today, sixty years later, the Kurds are negotiating to sell that oil direct to major American producers without bothering to ask permission from Baghdad.

A year or two after my visit, word reached me Colonel Akrawi had been badly wounded in battle. Eventually, I was told he had died. An amateur botanist, he had showed me a scrapbook he toted around, into which he pressed samples of plants peculiar to the Kurdish region of Iraq, Iran, Turkey and Syria. Whatever happened to that lovely notebook, with its unique specimens? In Paris, much later, I visited the Kurdish Institute and asked about Akrawi: they remembered him well — but not his collection.

In the late 1970s I was sitting on the cool tiles of a crowded courtyard near Bombay, listening to a talk by spiritual master Swami Muktananda when he remarked, as if casually, “One sees the world as one is.”

Colonel Akrawi shaving, Iraqi Kurdistan, June 1965

Colonel Akrawi shaving, Iraqi Kurdistan, June 1965

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The World’s Century

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American Exceptionalism is Dead

Longterm thinking: Chinese laborer in Yemen, 1964 Photograph © William Carter

Longterm thinking: Chinese laborer in Yemen, 1964. Photograph © William Carter

By 1945 the U.S. had emerged indisputably as the world’s strongest nation, physically and financially. War spending had helped end the Depression. The country had been spared the devastation of once-dominant Europe and its far-flung colonial system. The booming 1950s reinforced America’s underlying faith in its own moral and political underpinnings. Goaded by the worldwide challenge of communism, this “first new nation” set out to teach the “third” or “underdeveloped” world, by soft and hard power alike, the benefits of the American way. Behind this effort was a longstanding set of internal attitudes and assumptions that historians would dub “American exceptionalism.”

During the second half of this “American Century” the U.S. became involved in proxy wars in places such as Korea, Vietnam, the Middle East and Latin America. The results of these conflicts were often, at best, indeterminate. Far more successful, below the radar, were America’s exports of knowledge-based, open-lifestyle aspects of its consumer-based civilization: science and education, manufacturing and retail, mass communications and entertainment. Enlightened self-interest assumed that a rising tide of living standards worldwide (across oceans policed by the U.S. Navy) would lift all boats. Public and private agencies poured massive resources into helping the world imbibe Progress.

But by the year 2000 the success of this “soft power” transfer had produced unforeseen consequences. Populous and increasingly prosperous non-western civilizations, having acquired industrial and economic modernization, were now reconfiguring their societies in ways not necessarily predicted or understood by their western mentors.

Worldwide economic relationships were increasingly interconnected and interrelated.  Low-cost Asian labor was as much a fact of life in Berlin or Los Angeles or Mexico as were the inventions of  Apple or Caterpillar or Boeing in Mumbai or Sydney or Cairo. No one anywhere could any longer claim a monopoly on righteousness, pornography, or nuclear fusion. Provincial U.S. politicians might still try to pander to the hustings with sentimental yearnings; but the greater world knew that the idea of  “American exceptionalism” was now as last-century as “the American Century” itself.

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January 16, 2018 at 12:00 pm

Moments in Mirrors

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Washington Square, New York City, 1963

Washington Square, New York City, 1963

My wanderings through the canyons and parks of New York often began or ended in Washington Square, at the foot of Fifth Avenue. I never tired of joining the onlookers at the serious chess games going on there day and night. Occasionally one could spot someone like this guy who appeared to have privately cracked the code on the game of chess (or life for that matter). New Yorkers seem to have evolved ways of being at once entirely public and intensely private.

Later, I shook hands briefly with a famous photographer of an earlier era, Andre Kertesz, who was living on an upper floor of a tall apartment house on Washington Square, right above my head. Some of his pictures were taken in fun zone mirrors, others from his window looking down on the Square. I fantasized that at the moment I was taking the picture above, Andre could have been taking a picture of me taking pictures of the “chessmen.”  Remembering that thought makes me laugh like the man in my picture.

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January 2, 2018 at 1:51 pm

Jazz Emerges Part 7

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Sing Miller: This Little Light of Mine

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

Photographs by William Carter 1970 — 1989

Born in 1914, pianist-vocalist Sing Miller was active on the New Orleans scene from the late 1920s until his death in 1990. If Sing didn’t like something, he’d let you know. “Man…that ball don’t bounce,” is a Sing-saying drummer Jeff Hamilton remembers.

Early one winter morning in Iowa in 1984, when I was traveling as a photojournalist with the Percy Humphrey band, Sing sat alone in the lobby for most of an hour, staring glumly out at the blustery weather. Finally he lumbered over and checked out. “Have a nice day,” said the lady at the desk. Sing: “How I’m gonna have a nice day when you took all my money?”

But he was also a bon vivant. When a reporter asked him, “Where did the blues begin?” Sing replied, “I’ll tell you where the blues begin. Blues begin with fish fries.”

Like many early New Orleans musicians, he had an alternate profession: as a paving contractor. On gigs he gave out business cards that read, “Let me pave the way for you.”

But Sing is best remembered for captivating audiences of five, or five thousand, with his vocals on blues and spirituals. After a performance one night at New York’s prestigious Lincoln Center, the famous folklorist Alan Lomax told me:

“The first note he sang, I began to cry.  That first note of Sing’s made me burst into tears.  This little, humble, crushed-looking man was in great big Avery Fisher Hall, and he knew it.  And the first note he formed was as beautiful as a garden of flowers. It was a sunburst of the soul.”

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CLICK HERE TO HEAR SING DOING “SING’S BLUES” WITH WILLIE HUMPHREY AND OTHERS AT PRESERVATION HALL.

CLICK HERE TO HEAR SING DOING “AMEN” ON TOUR WITH THE PRESERVATION HALL JAZZ BAND.

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September 29, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Jazz Emerges Part 6

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Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

The Basses of Our Music

Photographs by William Carter, 1971-1985

Above: listen to bassist Pops Foster with the Luis Russell Orchestra from 1929, “Jersey Lightning.” Also on this record are New Orleans men Henry “Red” Allen, Albert Nicholas and Paul Barbarin. Virtually all of the New Orleans bass players depicted in this post played in an energetic, percussive style very similar to Foster’s.

FUNDAMENTAL: Historians and scholars have long believed the world's first jazz band to have been that of Buddy Bolden, whose powerful cornet was heard from the bandstands of city parks and dance halls across New Orleans in the early years of the twentieth century. The only member of the Bolden band known to have survived into the 1960s was bassist Papa John Joseph, shown above in an upstairs room at Associated Artists gallery, which morphed into Preservation Hall. Joseph played concert sets downstairs until 1965, when, at 87, he collapsed and died seconds after performing When the Saints Go Marching In. Photograph by Bobby Coke, early 1960s

FUNDAMENTAL: Historians and scholars have long believed the world’s first jazz band to have been that of Buddy Bolden, whose powerful cornet was heard from the bandstands of city parks and dance halls across New Orleans in the early years of the twentieth century. The only member of the Bolden band known to have survived into the 1960s was bassist Papa John Joseph, shown above in an upstairs room at Associated Artists gallery, which morphed into Preservation Hall. Joseph played concert sets downstairs until 1965, when, at 87, he collapsed and died seconds after performing When the Saints Go Marching In. Photograph by Bobby Coke, early 1960s

IN PERPETUAL DEMAND around New Orleans, and on numerous road trips across the U.S. and Europe, muscular bassist Chester Zardis (1900-1990) employed a powerful style that belied his physical shortness of stature and earned him the nickname "Little Bear." In the post-World War II years, younger proteges flocked to hear and meet early New Orleans masters like Zardis. Thus was a once-obscure, pre-electronic bass plucking technique revived and carried forward across generations and over continents. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

IN PERPETUAL DEMAND around New Orleans, and on numerous road trips across the U.S. and Europe, muscular bassist Chester Zardis (1900-1990) employed a powerful style that belied his physical shortness of stature and earned him the nickname “Little Bear.” In the post-World War II years, younger proteges flocked to hear and meet early New Orleans masters like Zardis. Thus was a once-obscure, pre-electronic bass plucking technique revived and carried forward across generations and over continents.
Photograph by William Carter, 1984

NEW ORLEANS BASS STYLIST Wellman Braud (1891-1966) reached the top of his profession as a mainstay with Duke Ellington, plus many other engagements. Like a number of the classic jazzmen, Braud descended from a Creole musical family -- several of whom, such as his cousin, bassist McNeil Breaux, used an alternate spelling of the French-derived last name. Like many another jazz pioneer, Wellman eventually settled in California, accepting gigs such as with blues singer Barbara Dane. Photograph by William Carter, c. 1960

NEW ORLEANS BASS STYLIST Wellman Braud (1891-1966) reached the top of his profession as a
mainstay with Duke Ellington, plus many other engagements. Like a number of the classic jazzmen, Braud descended from a Creole musical family — several of whom, such as his cousin, bassist McNeil
Breaux, used an alternate spelling of the French-derived last name. Like many another jazz pioneer,
Wellman eventually settled in California, accepting gigs such as with blues singer Barbara Dane. Photograph by William Carter, c. 1960

FAMOUS BASSIST Pops Foster (lower right), 1892-1969, was already playing professionally in New Orleans by 1907. Amid a busy career of touring and gigging with top jazz names, he lived mainly in New York and (eventually) San Francisco. He is shown here (bottom right) in a photo from his own collection with an all-star band that included New Orleans natives Alvin Alcorn (piano, bottom left) Alvin Alcorn (trumpet, center) and Cie Frazier (drums, top right). Photograph: San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Collection, Archive of Recorded Sound, Stanford University (date unknown)

FAMOUS BASSIST Pops Foster (lower right), 1892-1969, was already playing professionally in New Orleans by 1907. Amid a busy career of touring and gigging with top jazz names, he lived mainly in New York and (eventually) San Francisco. He is shown here (bottom right) in a photo from his own collection with an all-star band that included New Orleans natives  Alvin Alcorn (trumpet, center) and Cie Frazier (drums, top right). Photograph: San Francisco Traditional Jazz Foundation Collection, Archive of Recorded Sound, Stanford University (date unknown)

Listen to bassist Pops Foster on “Ostrich Walk” with Mutt Carey’s band

TALENTED SON of bandleader Henry Allen, trumpeter Henry "Red" Allen (1906-1967) played extensively in New Orleans, on the Mississippi riverboats and in Chicago before settling in New York, where he was featured as soloist and sideman with top jazz orchestras of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s including those of Luis Russell, Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson and Eddie Condon -- besides leading several of his own bands. Photograph by William Carter, 1964

TALENTED SON of bandleader Henry Allen, trumpeter Henry Red Allen (1906-1967) played extensively in New Orleans, on the Mississippi riverboats and in Chicago before settling in New York, where he was featured as soloist and sideman with top jazz orchestras of the 1920s, 1930s, and 1940s including those of Luis Russell, Fats Waller, Fletcher Henderson and Eddie Condon — besides leading several of his own bands. Photograph by William Carter, 1964

UNDISPUTED EMPEROR OF TRADITIONAL JAZZ, Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) enjoyed a career too spectacular to summarize. While occupying center stage in America's mainstream musical culture for virtually half a century, in his music and in his words "Satchmo" never ceased to recall, with great affection, his formative New Orleans years as a streetwise orphan and fledgling brass band cornetist. Photographs by William Carter, 1962

UNDISPUTED EMPEROR OF TRADITIONAL JAZZ, Louis Armstrong (1901-1971) enjoyed a career too spectacular to summarize. While occupying center stage in America’s mainstream musical culture for virtually half a century, in his music and in his words Satchmo never ceased to recall, with great affection, his formative New Orleans years as a streetwise orphan and fledgling brass band cornetist. Photographs by William Carter, 1962

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Jazz Emerges Part 5

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Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

Preservation Hall Won Hearts Across U.S.

Photographs by William Carter, 1971-1985

New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans

New Orleans

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

San Francisco

Middle West

Middle West

Napa, California

Napa, California

Napa, California

Napa, California

Jim Robinson and fan, California

Jim Robinson and fan, California

San Francisco

San Francisco

Santa Rosa, California

Santa Rosa, California

Jim Robinson at Stanford

Jim Robinson at Stanford

Frank Demond in Santa Rosa, California

Frank Demond in Santa Rosa, California

Sing Miller en route

Sing Miller en route

Allan Jaffe, California

Allan Jaffe, California

New York City

New York City

Chicago

Chicago

Minneapolis

Minneapolis

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September 1, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Jazz Emerges Part 4

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Trumpeter Percy and Clarinetist Willie Humphrey
On Tour and At Home

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

Photographs by William Carter 1973-1985

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Birthday party with kin folk and friends after a gig in California in 1976; musicians included the Humphrey brothers (center), drummer Cie Frazier (behind Percy), and banjoist/singer Narvin Kimball (seated).

In a long caption in my book, Preservation Hall (W.W. Norton, 1991), I told the story, quoted below, of the Humphreys’ long lives and distinguished lineage. I never met their trombonist brother, Earl, who died relatively young. Their father, Willie Humphrey Sr., was a clarinetist who spent much of his life on road tours; in a surviving publicity shot he looks just like Willie Jr. The pioneering grandfather’s story says something about the rich artistic and cultural complexities underpinning the birth of what has been called “America’s classical music”:

“The work of the front-line Humphrey triumvirate stemmed from the teaching of their grandfather, James Brown Humphrey, who played a unique role in the earliest years of jazz. That “fair-skinned Negro with red hair,” as the authors Berry, Foose and Jones told it, in Up from the Cradle of Jazz (1986), “starting about 1887, boarded the train each week, wearing a swallow-tailed coat and carrying a cornet case and music sheets in a satchel. The professor had many New Orleans pupils who entered the ranks of early jazz; he is also said to have taught whites. Most students on his weekly tour of the plantation belt — 25 miles either way from the city — were illiterate workers who lived in shacks behind the sugar and cotton fields along the river…Humphrey by 1890 was a rare commodity, a black man who lived off his talents as an artist. He played all instruments, directed bands and orchestras, and became a catalyst sending rural blacks into urban jazz ensembles.”

The essence of classic New Orleans jazz is the ensemble. The essence of that essence is a tough, growling, cut-down, loose-limbed, abbreviated lead trumpet or cornet — allowing the other horns lots of space. Trumpeter Percy Humphrey gives us a fiery taste of his lead in the excerpts below.”Running Wild” and “Panama” were recorded in Oxford, Ohio by the great George Lewis Ragtime Band of 1952.

Click below to listen to segments of “Runnin’ Wild” and “Panama.”

In the following solo on “St. Louis Blues,” clarinetist Willie Humphrey demonstrates two cardinal components of the New Orleans style.

Rhythmically, the horns and piano never cease to play off of, and around, the beat as strictly laid down by the rhythm section. Attacking microseconds before or after what would be correct in a more European or “white” reading, this constant off-beatness serves to trip up the listener. “What’s your music for? Mine’s for dancing!” exulted a classic player. Making people move their bodies out on the streets and in the dance halls is the musicians’ fundamental assignment — which extends to foot tapping in concert halls. Syncopation is key.

Structurally, Willie gradually, logically builds his variations from lower to higher pitches and intensities. Employing St. Louis Blues-derived themes and a faux-stumbling manner that helps release micro-rhythms, he gradually weaves a baroque edifice soaring above the underlying foundation.

Click below to listen to “St. Louis Blues.”

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August 18, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Jazz Emerges Part 3

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Spirit Matters

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product


CLICK THE ARROW ABOVE to listen to The old Eureka Band, led from the 1930s by Percy Humphrey., Tops in the city, as late as the 1950s its joyous processions were marked by a dignity and decorum since overtaken by the wild and garish. Photos by Tom Sharpsteen, compiled with sound by Clint Baker and Katie Cavera, used here with permission.

Years ago, the French Quarter streets were amazingly quiet.  Especially in the mornings, before the few tourists were out and about, this historic section – located near the river, yet built on high ground for good reason – retained its residential feel. New Orleans’ slow-going, personal style, out of the national mainstream, had much to do with how it cradled classic jazz for most of a century.

But other than a couple of sleazy joints on Bourbon Street, it was hard for a musician to feed his family, or for a visitor to hear the real deal. Still, the city’s close-knit neighborhoods proclaimed their musical birthright at pop-up parties, funky dance halls, street events, church memorials. “Let the good times roll,” translated from the French, was always there, highlighted by everyone’s anticipation of the Mardi Gras Carnival, which they prepare for all year long.

The past has always loomed large in this survival culture where one never knew what tragedies the future might hold. Generations of musicians have long been linked by family ties, spiritual traditions, personal musical tutelage, people caring for neighbors. By the 1970s I had met and played with musicians in several cities of the world, but only in New Orleans did you learn so quickly where they lived — on which block of which street, in which ward, near which landmark.  And no other city has ever spawned so many tunes named for beloved streets, from Basin to Canal to Bourbon to Burgundy to…

Within weeks of arriving, I knew I had arrived when I was invited to jam on the sidewalk to celebrate the birthday of an old lady named Miss Carrie. Then on ten minutes notice I donned a parade hat to go play a gig at Antoine’s fancy restaurant. Then I joined a procession of Japanese visitors marching to the graveside of clarinet great George Lewis. There were plenty of weeks of no action at all. But one thing was sure: in New Orleans nobody ever needs to be asked to “play with feeling.”

Preservation Hall, St. Peter Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, early morning, after the streets have been freshly washed and workers are filtering back to their jobs in the tourist industry. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Preservation Hall, St. Peter Street, French Quarter, New Orleans, early morning, after the streets have been freshly washed and workers are filtering back to their jobs in the tourist industry.
Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Serenading a friend of the musicians, Miss Carrie, at her home typified the informality of French Quarter musical culture. Left to right: Miss Carrie; bass drummer Booker T. Glass; student Jennifer Hamilton wearing band hat; washboard player Allan Jaffe. Photograph by William Carter, 1974

Serenading a friend of the musicians, Miss Carrie, at her home typified the informality of French Quarter musical culture. Left to right: Miss Carrie; bass drummer Booker T. Glass; student Jennifer Hamilton wearing band hat; washboard player Allan Jaffe. Photograph by William Carter, 1974

Left to right: trumpeter De De Pierce; tubaist Allan Jaffe; clarinetist Willie Humphrey with Preservation Hall Jazz Band on tour in California. Under Jaffe's tough but caring marketing expertise, the down-home sincerity of the players was welcomed as part and parcel of their music by adoring fans in major concert venues worldwide. Photograph by William Carter, c. 1970

Left to right: trumpeter De De Pierce; tubaist Allan Jaffe; clarinetist Willie Humphrey with Preservation Hall Jazz Band on tour in California. Under Jaffe’s marketing expertise the warm sincerity of the players was welcomed as part and parcel of their music by adoring fans in major concert venues worldwide.
Photograph by William Carter, c. 1970

Pianist-vocalist Sing Miller at concert; "You gotta have soul to do this work," he told a photographer. Photograph by William Carter, 1975

Pianist-vocalist Sing Miller at concert; “You gotta have soul to do this work,” he told a photographer. Photograph by William Carter, 1975

Trombonist Louis Nelson at a private party in the French Quarter. For many years Nelson was featured in the bands of Barry Martyn and others on countless European tours, as well as with trumpeter Kid Thomas and others across the U.S. under the Preservation Hall banner. The watchword of such brass players was a simple, honest sound derived from decades of experience processioning through the streets of the city by day and working down-home dance halls by night. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Trombonist Louis Nelson at a private party in the French Quarter. For many years Nelson was
featured in the bands of Barry Martyn and others on countless European tours, as well as with trumpeter Kid Thomas and others across the U.S. under the Preservation Hall banner. The watchword of such brass players was a simple, honest sound derived from decades of experience processioning through the streets of the city by day and working down-home dance halls by night. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Drummer Paul Barbarin's manuscript of his song, "The Second Line" © circa 1960: the term "second line" refers to the enthusiasts who walk and dance along with the brass bands during the New Orleans street parades. Collection of William Carter

Drummer Paul Barbarin’s manuscript of his song, “The Second Line” © circa 1960: the term “second line” refers to the enthusiasts who walk and dance and exult beside the brass bands along the routes of the street parades. Collection of William Carter

Clarinetist Paul "Polo" Barnes' manuscript of his tune "My Josephine," New Orleans, prior to 1960. Polo was remembered by jazz buffs for his tours and recordings with Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver around 1930. He was remembered by his neighbors for playing sweet songs by himself on summer evenings in his back yard. Collection of William Carter

Clarinetist Paul “Polo” Barnes’ manuscript of his tune “My Josephine,” New Orleans, prior to 1960. Polo was remembered by jazz buffs for his tours and recordings with Jelly Roll Morton and King Oliver around 1930. He was remembered by his neighbors for playing sweet songs by himself on summer evenings in his back yard. Collection of William Carter

Entertainers in a Bourbon Street nightclub: some clowning is traditional among New Orleans musicians, but in the commercial joints they often faced degrading conditions. Bassist at right is jazzman James Prevost. Prior to 1960. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Entertainers in a Bourbon Street nightclub: some clowning is traditional among New Orleans musicians, but in the commercial joints they often faced degrading conditions. Bassist at right is jazzman James Prevost. Prior to 1960. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Sister Gertrude Morgan at Associated Artists gallery, New Orleans. Photograph by Dan Leyrer, before 1960.

Sister Gertrude Morgan at Associated Artists gallery, New Orleans. Photograph by Dan Leyrer, before 1960.

Revival service, Church of God in Christ, New Orleans. Photograph by Ralston Crawford, 1950s. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Revival service, Church of God in Christ, New Orleans. Photograph by Ralston Crawford, 1950s. Courtesy Hogan Jazz Archive, Tulane University

Clarinetist George Lewis with his mother, Alice Zeno, New Orleans. An internationally influential jazz stylist, Lewis loved playing simple hymns. He said, "I consider myself as a beginner from the time I started till now." Photograph by Stanley Kubrick (?), c. 1950.

Clarinetist George Lewis with his mother, Alice Zeno, New Orleans. An internationally influential jazz stylist, Lewis loved playing simple hymns. He said, “I consider myself as a beginner from the time I started till now.” Photograph by Stanley Kubrick (?), c. 1950.

Reedmen Tom Sharpsteen & Ryoichi Kawai; banjoist Junichi Kawai and others pay homage at clarinetist George Lewis' grave, New Orleans. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Reedmen Tom Sharpsteen & Ryoichi Kawai; banjoist Junichi Kawai and others pay homage at clarinetist George Lewis’ grave, New Orleans. Photograph by William Carter, 1984

Tubaist/entrepreneur Allan Jaffe paying his respects at a New Orleans memorial service for trombone star Jim Robinson. Photograph by Grauman Marks, 1976

Tubaist/entrepreneur Allan Jaffe paying his respects at a New Orleans memorial service for trombone star Jim Robinson. Photograph by Grauman Marks, 1976

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

Jazz Emerges Part 2

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Billie sings and plays, De De plays

Billie sings and plays, De De plays.

De De sings.

Blues Essential

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

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In the jazz genome, the blues is essential.

Louis Armstrong administered his blues while performing open heart surgery on the whole world.

Miles Davis wove his kind of blues-isms amid the dark arteries and shadowy intersections of postmodern life.

Billie and De De Pierce? I just came to their house; they came to mine. Their house is your house.

Billie Plays

Billie plays

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Billie at home

Billie at home

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De De before going home

De De before going home

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PHOTO CREDITS ABOVE: 1. unknown 2. Marty Kaelin 3. Charles Stroud
4-5. William Carter

.PHOTO CREDITS BELOW: by William Carter

Mance Lipscomb, Oakland, California c. 1960

Mance Lipscomb, Oakland, California c. 1960

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Unknown bluesman, Berkeley, California c. 1960

Unknown bluesman, Berkeley, California c. 1960

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Carol Leigh, San Francisco, c. 1960

Carol Leigh, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Mama Yancey

Mama Yancey, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Sonny Terry, San Francisco, c. 1960

Sonny Terry, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Jimmy Rushing, San Francisco, c. 1960

Jimmy Rushing, San Francisco, c. 1960

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Manny Sayles, New Orleans, c. 1986

Manny Sayles, New Orleans, c. 1986

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Louis Armstrong, Ithaca, New York, 1962

Louis Armstrong, Ithaca, New York, 1962

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

Jazz Emerges, Part 1

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notPHnotWC005 New Orleans Brass Bands 1950-1990

Visible Roots of America’s Most Original Cultural Product

A lifelong preoccupation with traditional New Orleans jazz inspired my book, Preservation Hall (W.W. Norton, 1991). While doing my own shooting, I uncovered a trove of historical photos I decided to mix with my own (sources available on request). Like the music itself, this project is a blend of old and new, personal and professional. Blogs, like recordings, add a fresh dimension to a traditional art.

In the 1970s and 80s I paid regular visits to New Orleans. I was invited to play with some of the brass bands. In the sweltering streets and shuttered funeral homes, I juggled a clarinet in one hand and a camera in the other – not easy to do, or forget.

Jazz was born in the 1890s when strutting brass men and parade drummers, performing street marches and wailing spiritual dirges, went indoors, or up onto park bandstands, for “sit down jobs.” There, the marches merged with country blues, parlor ragtime, and popular dance songs utilizing stringed instruments like the guitar and piano. By the early 20th century, in these cultural wetlands near the mouth of the Mississippi, a new music had been spawned: a spicy, varied gumbo of black, white, and Creole ingredients.

As jazz evolved worldwide, its earliest style was preserved in the city of its birth. Many first and second-generation players remained active into the 1960s and beyond. As younger devotees took over, the music changed subtly – some would argue for the worse – as the old decorum, dress codes, and refined musicianship gradually gave way, like the French Quarter, to a more touristic style. But that kind of regret for a faded past has always marked a city that remains unlike the rest of America.

For me, the photographs in this and succeeding posts evoke nostalgia for a host of friends – a whole subculture, really – now largely gone. Their music is part of me.

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

Signs of the Times (2)

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Western Proclamations

After unearthing vintage Midwestern signs (see earlier blog, “America’s Corn Belt Speaks for Itself“), I found earlier traces of homespun eloquence in the Far West.  Most of the photographs below were shot during my journeys by camper across ten States, from California to Colorado, and from Canada to New Mexico.  I had been working for Sunset Books to create their best-selling Ghost Towns of the West (1971/1976).

Photographs © William Carter 1970-2012

Ghost Towns of the West 1

Ghost Town of the West 2

Ghost Town of the West 3

Ghost Town of the West 4

Ghost Town of the West 4

Ghost Town of the West 6

Ghost Town of the West 7

Ghost Town of the West 8

Ghost Town of the West 9

Ghost Town of the West 10

Ghost Town of the West 11

Ghost Town of the West 12

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

June 23, 2017 at 12:00 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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

June 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Hands Are Us (Part 2)

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Moment, 11/25 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1973

Moment, 11/25 ©William Carter 1973

Closure, 1/25 Platinum Print, ©William Carter 1992

Closure, 1/25 Platinum Print, ©William Carter 1992

Suggestion, 1/35 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1994

Suggestion, 1/35 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1994

Dance, 2/25 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 2006

Dance, 2/25 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 2006

Shiva, 2/25 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1989

Shiva, 2/25 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1989

Actor, New York City, printed later, ©William Carter 1963

Actor, New York City, printed later, ©William Carter 1963

Near Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, India, ©William Carter 1981

Near Ganeshpuri, Maharashtra, India, ©William Carter 1981

Wrestlers 1/35 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter

Wrestlers 1/35 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter

Hands

In Touch: Dominique and Sramana

Sramana

Sramana

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

May 26, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Hands Are Us (Part 1)

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Touching the Heart

Ruth and Olivia, 2012Archival Inkjet Print, ©William Carter 2012

Ruth and Olivia, 2012, Archival Inkjet Print, ©William Carter 2012

On September 11, 2012, I visited my beloved 97-year old Aunt Ruth. Her body systems were shutting down. Two of her children, Maureen and Susan, and one granddaughter, Olivia, were there. I took a few pictures, including the one above. Two nights later, Aunt Ruth passed away.

In the 1980s and ’90s I spend fifteen years photographing nudes and the body. For much of that I carefully avoided hands: they felt personal and unique, whereas the project was about universal forms. Eventually, though, hands started creeping in. I’m not sure if that was my decision or theirs. Several appeared in my 1996 book, Illuminations.

“Hands” is a project without a beginning or an end. Some were used with Indian poetry quotations and readings by Sramana Mitra. I used a shot of my own palm as the endsheets for my 2011 book, Causes and Spirits.

Here are some others:

Sramana's Hands, vintage silver print, ©William Carter 2002

Sramana’s Hands, vintage silver print, ©William Carter 2002

Appearance, 23/25 vintage silver print, ©William Carter 1983

Appearance, 9/25  ©William Carter 1983

Char, 3/25 vintage silver print, ©William Carter 1992

Char, 3/25 vintage silver print, ©William Carter 1992

Remember, 3/25 vintage silver print, ©William Carter 1990

Remember, 3/25 vintage silver print, ©William Carter 1990

Mystery (detail), Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1990

Mystery (detail), Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1990

Whisper, Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1992

Whisper, Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1992

Intimation, 3/25 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1991

Intimation, 3/25 Vintage Silver Print, ©William Carter 1991

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

May 10, 2017 at 12:00 pm

Jazz + Photography (Part 3)

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A Spontaneous Collaboration

Strange bedfellows, you might say? In 1963 Lu Watters, Bob Mielke and Barbara Dane were each into separate scenes in the San Francisco trad jazz world. As was I: playing occasional gigs, while becoming professionally committed as a photographer and writer. More on this here.

What brought us together in one of those spontaneously rich, fleeting jazz moments was the decision by Watters (then retired) and Dane (who had been running her own San Francisco blues club called Sugar Hill) to make an album together as part of a protest movement aimed at stopping the California utilities agency from building a nuclear power plant at pristine Bodega Bay, north of San Francisco. For many reasons, the plant was never built. The recording session happened on December 1, 1963. My equipment was not yet the best, but the negatives have been in my files ever since (53 years and counting). Here are a few of those images.

Lu Watters Band recording "Blues Over Bodega"
The Lu Watters Band recording “Blues Over Bodega” in 1963. Personnel: Back row Bob Mielke, trombone; Lu Watters, trumpet; Bob Helm, clarinet; Barbara Dane, voice. Front row: Dave Black, drums; Bob Short, tuba; Frank Tateosian, banjo; Wally Rose, piano

 

Bob Mielke, Lu Watters, and Bob Helm
Bob Mielke, trombone; Lu Watters, trumpet; Bob Helm, clarinet at the 1963 recording session.

 

Lu Watters, Bob Helm, and Barbara Dan
Lu Watters, Bob Helm and Barbara Dane at the 1963 recording session.

 

Barbara Dane at the 1963 recording session
Barbara Dane at the 1963 recording session.
Lu Watters
Lu Watters on trumpet at the 1963 recording session.
Wally Rose
Wally Rose at the piano during the 1963 recording session.

 

Bob Helm
Bob Helm on clarinet at the 1963 recording session.

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

April 26, 2017 at 3:20 pm

The Old Glory That Was Kodachrome

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70 Brilliant Years

How great it was — while it lasted, until 2012 — something like 70 years.

It still lasts archivally: those chromes retain their slightly salmon, yet accurate, saturated colors while so many others have long since faded. The film of choice for top magazines, many folks’ travel slides, and countless other applications. This post features some of my Kodachrome slides of the western U.S. from the 1960s on. (We hope to present a few international Kodachromes later; then eventually a selection from that fine new medium — digital color.)

We are fortunate to be living through a major transition in the history of photography. Five centuries ago, Western art was revolutionized by the invention of oil painting. Artists old enough to have been trained in older techniques like tempera, but young enough to master oil — Venetians like Titian, for instance — combined both skills in highly creative ways.  (See my earlier post, “Tone in Art — and in Life.”) So I’m always pleased to hear of today’s art schools continuing to teach the older “wet darkroom” alongside the newer digital technologies.

See also “Bound for Glory: America in Color,”  Kodachromes by photographers of the Farm Security Administration/Office of War Information, property of the Library of Congress.

All Kodachromes © William Carter

Murphy's, California c. 1970
Murphy’s, California c. 1970

Columbia, California 1970
Columbia, California 1970

Illinois, c. 1973
Illinois, c. 1973

Preservation Hall, New Orleans, circa 1986
Preservation Hall, New Orleans, circa 198

Preservation Hall, New Orleans, c. 1985
Preservation Hall, New Orleans, c. 1985

Preservation Hall, New Orleans, c. 1986
Preservation Hall, New Orleans, c. 1986

San Francisco, c. 1970
San Francisco, c. 1970

Granite, Montana, c. 1970
Granite, Montana, c. 1970

Silver City, Idaho, c. 1970
Silver City, Idaho, c. 1970

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

April 3, 2017 at 6:00 pm

The Middle Americans (Part 8)

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Quiet Truths Near the Center of Our Lives

…prairie places..

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

February 20, 2017 at 12:00 pm

The Middle Americans (Part 7)

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Quiet Truths Near the Center of Our Lives

…prairie people…

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

February 6, 2017 at 12:00 pm

The Middle Americans (Part 6)

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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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

January 23, 2017 at 12:00 pm

The Middle Americans (Part 5)

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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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

January 9, 2017 at 12:00 pm

The Middle Americans (Part 4)

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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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

December 26, 2016 at 12:00 pm

The Middle Americans (Part 3)

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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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

December 12, 2016 at 12:00 pm

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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

November 13, 2016 at 7:00 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.

Written by bywilliamcarter

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