By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Posts Tagged ‘film

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

Jazz + Photography = Now (Part 1)

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Surprising similarities between two young art forms.

William Carter in Preservation Hall September 1973

William Carter, clarinet, at Preservation Hall, September 1973 with Kid Thomas, trumpet; Emanuel Paul, tenor saxophone; Emanuel Sayles, banjo; Charlie Hamilton, piano; Alonzo Stewart, drums; and Louis Nelson trombone. Photograph by Mona Mac Murray

In your lifetime, as in mine, both jazz and photography have gradually won acceptance as fine arts. Having been intimately involved with both, I see underlying similarities between these two “modern” forms.

The special energy of the fleeting moment is as crucial to photography as it is to jazz. Perhaps Zen painting or action painting should be included. But any jazzman,  photographer, or Zen master would add that preparing for that moment is crucial. Any advocate of the “cutting edge” wanting to tear down old establishment walls can proclaim the supremacy of the Now. Expressing that moment meaningfully — artistically — is something else.

The two upstart arts share another similarity: technology has been key to their histories.

Willie Humphrey Album Cover

Willie Humphrey album cover: photograph © William Carter 1974

After the invention of the camera in 1839, photography evolved rapidly. It continues to do so. From plates to films to sensors, its myriad processes and techniques have influenced, and been influenced by, history itself. From colonial times and the U.S. Civil War to today’s cell phone revolutions and satellite imagery, photography has been as intertwined with the history of science as with the historical events it was picturing.

Jazz first appeared in the 1890’s — roughly the same time as sound recording. It was invented in New Orleans as a medium of locally styled dancing, parading, and other social functions.  Not until it migrated to Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles — where the recording studios were — did “America’s classical music,” as it has since been called, take off. The first jazz recordings were made in 1917, and the first by black musicians in 1922. These sparked the Jazz Age, positioning musicians and listeners for the worldwide boom, with its myriad stylistic developments, that continue to unfold.

Absent sound recordings, jazz could never have developed as an art form. The highly personal sounds of Louis Armstrong or Bix Beiderbecke or Benny Goodman or Duke Ellington or Charlie Parker or Bill Evans or George Lewis or Miles Davis, or hundreds of others, would have been lost, other than in the fading memories of the relative few who would remember hearing them live. Unlike music whose essence is preserved in written manuscripts, this music of the moment required recording to filter into that cumulative memory we call civilization. Absent recordings, jazz’ own inner development would have been stunted: generations of younger players, having had far less access to the sounds that preceded them, would not have been able to power the medium forward down the many new tracks it has taken.

Guitar Slim Album Cover

Guitar Slim album cover: photograph © William Carter 1959

An interesting, if comparatively minor, factor in the development of both photography and jazz has been the direct dialog between them. From the earliest days, jazz bands have needed publicity photos of themselves and their prominent individual members. Creative photographers have often responded to the special, sometimes romantic-seeming conditions and atmosphere of the jazz scene. For me, having my feet in both worlds has often been rewarding, both personally and professionally.

Among my earliest paid photo assignments, around 1960, were shooting album covers for an obscure blues label (see above, right and below). In the following decade I began accumulating the pictures and interviews that would come together in my book on early-style New Orleans jazzmen, Preservation Hall  (W.W. Norton, 1991). But my first real job of any kind had been in 1955, at age 20, when I toured the U.S. as a clarinetist, performing nightly nationwide and recording with Turk Murphy’s Jazz Band out of San Francisco. I would play professionally and semi-professionally ever since, and would come to know countless wonderful musicians.

Here’s a track featuring me on clarinet playing Sidney Bechet’s “Blue Horizon.”

Magnolia Jazz 5 album cover

Magnolia Jazz 5 album cover, 1985. Author in lower left.

Numero uno, however, was the night I met and photographed the great Satchmo (below).

As I said, happy accidents happen everywhere, all the time. But creating them, recognizing and treasuring them, preserving and framing them — that’s a special preoccupation shared by photographers and jazzmen. And creating those moments? That’s the most arcane, edgy aspect — and the mysterious heart of both activities. In practical terms, you can only create the conditions and hope something great happens — and you don’t miss it. Trying too hard—too consciously setting up the picture, or over-arranging the music—is opposite of the process I’m talking about.

The night I met Louis, he just happened to be positioned that hundredth of a second on that gym stage at Cornell University, under those stage lights, in a way that would work on film as later processed (with some difficulty) in my darkroom, and much later translated onto my computer. I just happened to be there holding that camera with that lens and film, ready to celebrate that moment, partly because I so loved the expansive human with whom I had just chatted backstage in his dressing room. I just happened to cut a slice out of infinite time with that particular shutter speed, and just happened to cut a slice out of infinite space with the bright line viewfinder in that particular Leica.

And Louis?

Louis Armstrong at Cornell

Louis Armstrong at Cornell.

Click here for a larger version. 

Louis just happened to be doing one-night stands across the U.S. at an age, and in a degree of uncertain health, when many others would have long since hung up that horn. Nearly half a century earlier, he had just happened to walk into a studio to record a few sides including “West End Blues” (click below),

and happened to improvise a solo intro lasting less than half a minute which happened to  change the course of American music. That intro has since been imitated, repeated, re-interpreted, re-arranged thousands of times — but never with that same elemental, accidental-sounding force of its first moment.

Another of my early idols, photographer Henri Cartier-Bresson, called his most influential book The Decisive Moment.

Which says it all.

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

Interview in Artillery Magazine

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Please click the link below to read an interview by Robyn Perry in the June/July issue of Artillery Magazine. In it I talk about emotional reactions to photographs; the acquisition process inside major museums; printing digital photographs; art vs. commerce, Gregory Crewdson and other topics.

William Carter Artillery Interview 2012

Here is a link to Artillery’s website.

Fresh Light

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Are traditional & modern / old & new media, really at war?

William CarterFor fifty years I shot worldwide on film, printed in darkrooms on four continents, published in a wide variety of traditional media.  I would not trade those experiences.  To quote from my forthcoming book, “I count myself fortunate to have been seeded in the warm loam of classic photographic practice.”

But then I add, “Equally, I’m glad to make use of whatever new developments prove useful.”   Most useful, indeed, are digital photography and the digital media, in their countless flowerings.  Literally and metaphorically, I find myself emerging from the meditative close focus of the darkroom into the fresh broad brilliance of the “blogosphere.”

The frontier-minded U.S. has always been spellbound by the “new all new,” whereas traditional cultures located their main value clusters in the past.  But the greatest artists often seem to  surpass such timely strictures.

Near the end of his life the painter Paul Cezanne said, “Even though I am already old, I am only a beginner.  However, I am beginning to understand…”  Photographer Paul Strand said, “We are all students.”

In that sense, we are all, always, “emerging.”  Every morning, the light on our doorstep is as fresh as Genesis.  We only have to see it.  A great teacher said, “One sees the world as one is.”  The sculptor Constantine Brancusi said, “It is not difficult to make things.  What is difficult is to reach the state in which we can make them.”

Some such quotes were printed in my 1996 book on the nude, Illuminations.  Others appear in my Causes and Spirits, due out this summer, which opens with the lines of the Star Spangled Banner — “Oh, say, can you see?” — and riffs on the realization that the camera, besides being a profession, was a way for me to discover, at once, the world and myself.

A sampling of the results are on view at

Photographing people of many backgrounds, in many places, one becomes acutely aware of their sharply differing tribal, social, and other identities – the source of seemingly endless conflicts.  There are no easy answers, and indeed the future seems ominous on that level.  In later postings here, I hope to say something more about tribalism, its possible origins and future.  Blogging and the web seem to have raised the stakes.

For now, suffice it to say that in my work as a photographer, writer, and sometime jazz musician, my (unfashionable?) mode has always been not to dwell on the surfaces that seem to separate us, but to try to look behind and below those surfaces, to that which unites us.

Stay tuned.

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

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