By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Posts Tagged ‘author

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

Them vs. Us, and Beyond, Part 3

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THE KURDS  AND I

By William Carter

When I boarded the plane with a hand grenade in my coat pocket, I never thought that much about it. I just laid the fuzzy garment in the overhead rack. I was far more concerned with the camera bag containing a couple dozen canisters of undeveloped film, which I slid under the seat in front of me. If anything could still go wrong, I reasoned, those films would somehow or other make their way to Beirut – God knows what would happen to them then.

Sure enough, before the engines started, a polite announcement: “Would Mr. William Carter kindly step off the aircraft?” My limbs began to quiver. But I had already thought this through: leaving the films where they were, and the wool coat where it was, and with my passport and boarding pass in my shirt pocket, feigning calm, I unbuckled my seat belt, walked to the door, down the gangway in the spring sunshine, and stopped. What next? There was no one in sight to direct me. I stood there in the sun for a few seconds —  minutes? — my toes nervous in their hiking boots already warming on the hot tarmac.

If I were arrested, I wondered, could I call the U.S. Embassy and could they get someone in Beirut to pick up my stuff (my film) off the plane? A door in the terminal opened a crack. A hand emerged and seemed to be waving me to get back on the plane. I couldn’t be sure. I shaded my eyes with my hand and squinted. Half a person emerged, faceless but connected to the hand, which kept waving. I went back up the steps. At the top the stewardess in her high heels and perky hat was smiling professionally. “Customs wanted to be sure it was you,” she said, preventing any questions. “Customs,” I knew, meant the Shah’s secret police, the savak, which, I was to pretend I didn’t know, was tracking my movements in and out of Iran.

As I buckled my seat belt, the door closed and the engines started.

The hand grenade – it was disarmed — had been given to me days earlier just across the border in Iraq as a parting gesture of hospitality by the pesh mergas, the Kurdish guerrillas fighting for independence from the Baghdad government. This was June 1965. To this day, some friends think I was working for the CIA in that era. Far from it. I was a freelance photojournalist, on assignment in this case for LIFE Magazine. Authentic except for the explosives, the grenade had been proudly presented to me by the Kurds after  I visited a nondescript village house which my hosts had transformed into an impromptu arms factory.

Weapons factory, northeastern Iraq, 1965

Weapons factory, northeastern Iraq, 1965

This was the pesh mergas’ way of showing how self-sustaining they were while at the same time begging me to tell America how much they needed modern weaponry. That was not the first time, those past glorious weeks, when I had to improvise a semblance of diplomacy.  “America is a big ocean,” I replied, “And I have only a small spoon.” Hearing the translation, they laughed and slapped my back with that ready good cheer that has charmed many another visitor to these Swiss-like mountains of Mesopotamia, origins of those twin rivers of life—the Tigris and Euphrates – which, millennia earlier, had enabled the blossoming of man’s earliest civilizations in the vast deserts below.

But what was so obvious among the mountain-based Kurds were the profound differences between their character and those of the Arabs, Iranians and Turks under whose authority they were forced to live. After World War I, following the collapse of the centuries-old Ottoman Empire and the century-old British Empire, the international boundaries of the Middle East had been drawn in the drawing rooms of Europe, with scant regard to tribal realities on the ground. For a century, and counting, those artificial lines on the map have remained a recipe for instability — magnified now by the ever-increasing importance of energy resources in a globalizing economy.

P.S.  I made it okay back to Beirut, developed my black and white film in my impromptu bathroom darkroom, scribbled the story and some captions, and airfreighted all that — plus the undeveloped color films – to Manhattan. LIFE ran the story only in black and white. Few of the color slides have ever been published, but you can view them now by hitting the button below.

That was 47 years ago, when I was 30. Our thanks to old Kodak for creating Kodachrome, a wonderful, permanent film whose worldwide success has outlived that of the company. And to Leica for the cameras, an M3 and an M2 (later ripped off my neck covering a flood in Jordan, but that’s another story).

Oh, the hand grenade? I lost it at the Beirut airport, if you can believe that. Perhaps it got reloaded with explosives for use in one of Lebanon’s own fierce tribal wars soon to come in the later ’60s and ’70s. Which I was not around for. Except that my (now) wife (of 27 years) did live through those bleak Beirut years. Which is another story.

I recount the story of the hand grenade and the coat in this video segment.

Here is a video segment in which I recall my travels in Northern Iraq with the Kurds in 1965.

With Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Iraq, 1965

With Mullah Mustafa Barzani, Iraq, 1965

 

With Kurdish pesh mergas, Iraq, 1965

With Kurdish pesh mergas, Iraq, 1965

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

December 26, 2015 at 3:20 pm

Happy Accidents Part 1

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Bunnie Meade

Above: Bunnie Meade, subtitled “The Eminent Lady Clarinet Soloist,” turned up in the bin of a junk store in New Orleans. I could never learn any more about the winsome Madame Meade, so she never made it into my book on New Orleans jazz: “Preservation Hall” (W.W. Norton, 1991).

“If you break eggs – make an omelet.”

That old saying is good advice in life — being able to turn a negative into a positive is a creative response.

Similarly, a famous book by the cultural writer, Joseph Chilton Pearce, was called The Crack in the Cosmic Egg. Essences seep from seismic shifts.

The same can be true in the arts. “Accidental” has a particular, narrow meaning in music. Beyond that  are wider applications — especially in jazz. An improvising jazzman is bound to stumble now and then. Hitting a “clunker” means playing a wrong note outside the chord progression. Sometimes a quick-minded response can save the day: re-framing the phrase, or making the bad note part of a longer statement, or an accompanist quick-fixing the chord to suit, or recovering with good humor the way we sometimes do if we accidentally use the wrong word in everyday conversation.

Accidents can become a creative force in photography. One feature of my first three books (on Ghost Towns, the Middle West, and New Orleans Jazz) was to blend my own photos with historical ones. I loved researching old pictures in public archives. In the early 1970s I drove a camper across ten states, scouring the land looking for remnants of the early mining booms which had helped blast open the West. Here and there I would pause to comb local historical files. It was a kind of mining in itself. Spend a day, see maybe a thousand prints, feel great to find one that may make it into the book. There is a “happy accident” quality in this kind of research: staying open to the unexpected: the oddball treasure may not quite fit, but may inspire you to bend the narrative  to make room for it. Reproduced here are a couple of fun obscurities that I always wanted to print but had never found space for.

Indiana Bell Telephone

Fashionable employment in a town in rural America, 1920’s: I struggled to find a place for this shot in my book, “Middle West Country” (Houghton Mifflin, 1975), but never did.

Happy accidents are a breath of fresh air. But when you break eggs, how do you respond? That’s the key.

America’s Funniest Home Videos would be nothing if people didn’t spot and send in those homespun howlers. With only seconds to spare in the fading light, and only one exposure left in his camera, that ultimate plan-ahead craftsman, Ansel Adams, jammed on his car brakes, jumped out and grabbed his most famous photo, “Moonrise Over Hernandez.”

Fresh realms of re-interpretation have been opened by the transition from film to digital. My print, “Persepolis,” started life as a black-and-white negative. Following a trip through Iran in 1998, I had made a set of quick 4×6 proofs but neglected to properly “fix” them in the darkroom. Eleven years later, I was chagrined to find many had faded and/or acquired brownish streaks. One proof caught my eye. It had inadvertently become streaked with a haunting, 19th-century sort of patina. To preserve it, I scanned the little print. Then I blew it up. This “omelet” ended up in two states, in two sizes, now in limited editions, and the “state 1” image occupies a two-page spread in my new book, Causes and Spirits (Steidl, 2011). One of the larger sized State 1’s — 48 inches wide — now graces the wall of our dining room (see below).

Persepolis, Iran

Persepolis, Iran (State 1) Inkjet print 1998-2009

Persepolis women only

Persepolis, Iran (State 2), Inkjet print, 1998-2009

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

October 28, 2015 at 2:00 pm

Unchanging Greece

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greece1Months ago, when Egypt blanketed the western news, our friend Ginny Papadopoulo contributed accounts of real life on the ground in that troubled nation. Now — with the Greek banking crisis grabbing world headlines — Ginny is reinstalled in her modest home on a Greek island, and has sent us this achingly personal memoir of her life there.

Ginny writes: It is hard to believe I wrote this almost twenty years ago. I never gave it to Michael. So much of what I wrote is still here in the villages; people and customs. I am happy I was able to fulfill my dream, even if it is alone.

Images of Greece that Will Never Leave Me

by Ginny Papadopoulo
2/1/97

Lying behind shuttered windows at midday waiting for the heat of the sun to be drawn from my naked body.

The only sounds are the cicadas interrupted chorus, and the solitary cry of the gypsy selling his wares.

A quiet walk through a village street which leads to a square that is covered with a blanket of shade that offers a small table with two chairs, black sweet coffee hotter than the day, and a moment undisturbed by anything but your own thoughts.

Black interior of a church whose door is open to all, and the only light is reflected off the gold that adorns the icon on a far wall. The haze of incense and candle smoke so thick you can cut it.

The colors of Greece are a blinding balance of white upon white, then suddenly a blue door or window holding back fear and superstition. Walls of terra-cotta that balance so beautifully as they cut through a blue sky untouched by a single cloud.

An island. The top of a hill. A building identifiable only by the symmetry of a half buried foundation of ancient marble slabs. An endless view of the sea which conjures up a villa with cool dark rooms that open in every direction to the Aegean Sea. A view so sweeping that the sight of a small fishing boat draws your eye like a magnet, to hold you hypnotized with thoughts of a solitary man pulling in his nets, as he has done forever. A walk around this imaginary home where life is created, and lived for the moment, with such clarity and hope, that the only thing that draws you back to reality is the glint of the sun on a tiny object. A half buried key so ancient it fuels your imagination and hope. The key is kept close as a talisman which will bring you back to finish this dream one day.

The evening sun is setting and the heat of the day is pulled from the earth.  The smell of the sea, smoke and fish drift around you. A calmness pervades, which pulls the tension from your body towards the sinking sun, and another day has escaped before you can lock its memories away for another day and time when all you have are the memories.

Watching the light disappear and night slowly approach holds you in a moment of anticipation. Will this last forever? A fear so deep inside doesn’t let you answer the question.

How to describe the people. One thought. One idea. A thousand thoughts and a thousand ideas. Driving through a mountain village. Men sitting in the doorway of a kafenion, never taking their eyes off you and never revealing their mistrust or suspicion. Women in black and their heads covered, divert their eyes and dart into doorways to stare out, observing your naked arms and flowing hair, as you laugh out loud to break the silence. When eye contact is finally forced by you, two thousand years of culture block any hope of understanding. You drive away sadly wishing you could pull them into the present. Anything to find a common ground for understanding. We are not so different. We love, fear, dream, and hope for the same things.

Every thing about Greece draws me back to the sea. Walking into the water so cold on my legs, and the sun so hot on my back. Watching you swim with strong pure strokes, then walking towards me, and as you rise from the water the hair on your chest is covered with diamonds. I laugh to myself at the pure innocence on your face and the happiness in your eyes. What was it that gave you a moments reprieve from your torment of mistrust and suspicion? Why could I never hold on to those profoundly beautiful moments for more than a blink of my eye. Knowing it is hidden so deeply inside and never to be shared, deepens the grief I feel at my loss.

An ancient key must be two peoples’ dream to become reality.

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Near Hydra, Greece circa 1955

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

August 16, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Tone in Art — and in Life

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Essential Dimensions

Sight, by William Carter, 1995

“Sight,” by William Carter, 1995

Women are natural masters of tone.  Their voices are extensions of their bodies and feelings – from cooing and whispering to babies, to the murmurs and cries of love making, to the exactingly regulated interview or phone voice of a business professional, to the bark of a drill sergeant or the yell of a basketball coach, to the whining shared grievances and inebriated hilarity of girls night out, to the plaintive pain of a close-miked blues singer, to the glass-shattering beltings of an old Broadway pro, to the moans of mourners the world over…  Men have no equivalent for such emotional precision.  (We do have other advantages.)

"Violante", by Titian, circa 1514 (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum

“Violante”, by Titian, circa 1514 (Vienna: Kunsthistorisches Museum

Tone is as fundamental to art as it is to life.  It is about relationships.  It is about attitudes.  It has a billion nuances.  Tone subverts speech.  It is pre-literate: dogs, like newborn infants, get the message.  Like breathing and heartbeat, tone springs from sources preceding the analytical brain.

Each scrap of civilization is permeated by tonalities. And each separate civilization has its own dominant tone.  Choosing a tone, we can actually choose what sort of civilization we wish to live in — what sort of civilization we are creating, second by second, from the ground up (actually, from the underground up).

Tone is interwoven with the materials and techniques peculiar to each craft, each art.  The sounds of musical instruments are analogous to those of the human voice — bestowing limitless expressive possibilities.  Musical fundamentals – harmony, melody and rhythm — open into endless variations of emotion, attitude, relationship: carriers of thought and feeling, from sudden joy to the wisp of  a half-forgotten memory.  Essential to this conversation is the artist’s sensitivity to the ears of his listeners. Refined artistry implies respect for people’s receptive capacities.

And tone is interactive.  New Orleans jazz derived from street processions before it moved indoors to dance halls. The early jazzmen and their listeners were conditioned by both.  At certain events one early bandleader is said to have occasionally surprised everyone by shouting “Feet!” – an instruction to his players to suddenly cut the volume so far they could actually hear the shuffling feet of the dancers.

"Flora", by Titian, 1515-1520 (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi)

“Flora,” by Titian, 1515-1520 (Florence, Galleria degli Uffizi)

Tone is crucial in writing.  The element hardest to teach, it remains after everything else has been fixed.  After each essay has been structured, each meaning parsed, each meaning clarified, the voice of the author, and his fictional characters, is what finally counts.  It is what we hear below the surface of language — what we ultimately care about in a person or a book.  The off-putting snarl, the simmering poetic glow, the endearing humor: tone is the attitude of the speaker toward his listeners and himself.

Tone is the light in the eye: the energy radiating from a person – what we really take away from an encounter.

Representations of the human face or body, in all the visual media, include great examples of tonal artistry — translating the invisible into the visible.  Titian painted many scenes from classical myths involving nudes; many sacred scenes in the Christian tradition, involving more discreet clothing; and many portraits.  His women often present a thoroughly mixed message: their neutral stare, the amount and distribution of skin revealed, and the sumptuous coloration and warm compositions, combine to make his subjects appear, at once, as holy as the Virgin and as sensual and shapely as a Venetian courtesan.  Rather than presenting these as opposites, he presents, at least in some cases, a mixed message.  As important as what they do or do not reveal of their breasts is the care the artist gives to the sumptuous fabrics and delicate lacework around or over the chests, arms and bodies.

"The Penitent Magdalen," by Titian, circa 1533 (Florence, Galleria Palatina)

“The Penitent Magdalen,” by Titian, circa 1533 (Florence, Galleria Palatina)

For me, Titian is using all his matchless talent and vast technical means to express the multi-layered, multi-valent wonder that is Woman.  Hiding while revealing, Titian enrolls us in the mystery, leaving it to us to make what we will of his women’s inscrutable faces.  This great Renaissance painter stood astride two intersecting epochs — the religious and the classical.  He was trained in the old, tightly restrained, exacting tempura technique; yet he pioneered the new, freer, emotionally expressive medium of oil and impasto on canvas. Such dualities fused to inform his work, but did not determine his vision.   Whoever happened to be sitting for him, in whatever moods, and whatever myths and fashions might have shaped the story telling, what counts for us, five centuries hence, is the look of the work – an aura of person-hood that confounds interpretation: a nobility of tone emanating to us from the canvas,  delivered to us out of the artist’s own being.

In photography, especially of people, whether clothed or unclothed, the word “tone” also applies to technical choices involving lighting, contrast, paper color, etc.  Such choices are necessary but not sufficient means en route to the work’s larger tone and overtones.  The attitude and intent of the photographer affect his choices of dramatic stage lighting vs. soft shadowless light – deep shadows for striking layouts in the magazine era, for instance, vs. subtle grey-scale values for intimate personal portraiture.  Layers of over-civilized European irony permeate the tough commercial nudes of glitterati like Helmut Newton or  Karl Lagerfeld.  Whereas the nudes of  gentle humanists, alive in a gentler age, such as Imogene Cunningham or Paul Strand, are all about tenderness.

How we see is who we are.  Inevitably, our tone, our voice,  is a projection of our inner state — our inner self.

Megan

“Megan,” by William Carter, 2006

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

July 6, 2015 at 12:00 pm

Jazz Emerges Part 2

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Billie sings and plays, De De plays

Billie sings and plays, De De plays. Click below to hear them.

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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.

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