By William Carter

Photographer, Author, Jazz Musician

Posts Tagged ‘pictorial books

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

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

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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

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

Fleeting Treasures

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By William Carter

I arrived in New York City in the summer of 1962. Toting two Leicas, I hunted for a job and an apartment. I gravitated to a part of the Lower East Side which was later re-christened the East Village.

Since I had begun my career in California doing informal photographs of children, my first self-assignment was to extend that practice to these fresh surroundings. I spent a day with a couple of kids at Coney Island. I traversed dim wells behind tenements that served as de facto playgrounds. I dropped in on friends of friends living with their daughter in an artistic shack on Staten Island.

Half a century later, those freshly seen scenes keyed off my retrospective book, Causes and Spirits. Below are examples, plus a couple of images omitted from the book. I only met the Staten Island girl for a few minutes, but she graces the book’s front cover, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. has requested the vintage original print. But what happened to that girl? By now she would be around 60.

The subsequent lives of the other kids remain just as mysterious. As I mentioned in an earlier blog, photography resembles jazz in that both art forms – like modern life in general – often express moments that are the most pungent when they are the most fleeting.

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

Staten Island, New York, 1962

Staten Island, New York, 1962, Causes & Spirits, jacket & pg. 29

Coney Island, New York, 1962

Coney Island, New York, 1962, Causes and Spirits, page 39

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963, Causes and Spirits, page 31

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963, Causes and Spirits, page 33

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963. This photograph and the one below were made within moments of the one above.

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

Lower East Side, New York, 1963

 

Written by bywilliamcarter

August 17, 2016 at 3:10 pm

Them vs. Us, and Beyond

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The upper photograph of mine, below, is featured on the cover of the March 2012 issue of The Sun magazine, which, according to its website, “is an independent, ad-free monthly magazine that for more than 30 years has used words and photographs to invoke the splendor and heartache of being human.” You can sample over 50 of my photographs which have appeared on Sun covers and inside the magazine on my website here. Below the magazine cover is another photograph I took of two Yemeni children.

In 1964, when I first arrived in Beirut (where I would be based for two years as a photojournalist), I met Dana Schmidt, the New York Times Middle East bureau chief, who asked me to accompany him on a journey to Cairo, Yemen, and Aden. From Sana’a, Yemen, we traveled north toward a tribal civil war then raging between the Royalists (backed by the Saudis) and the Republicans (backed by the Egyptians). The country was extremely undeveloped in those days. We met this man on the road north. He wore his curved dagger as a traditional emblem of manly power. Stuck in his headband was a sprig of khat, a mild narcotic plant chewed by most Yemeni men in the afternoons to induce a state of semi-stupor. The photo is reproduced in my book, Causes and Spirits.  The full un-cropped print, made in my darkroom, includes the long-abandoned ruins of a castle on the hill behind the man.

In the 48 years since taking these pictures along with hundreds of others across the region, I have often reflected how long it is taking the Americans (and the British before them) to begin to comprehend the intricacies and staying power of tribal relationships throughout the Middle East and Asia — and to understand the near-futility of trying to transform these insular societies, in our lifetimes, into Western-style democracies.

Tribalism is an innate human survival mechanism. The impulse to cluster together in small bands must have embedded itself in the human brain over thousands of years of evolution. Straying beyond boundaries meant getting eaten by animals or killed by competing tribes. So, those with strong in-group affinities were selected to survive. That is my view and that of the neo-Darwinian “evolutionary psychology” movement.

Equally crucial, among these societies, I experienced traditional patterns of human relationship and economic cooperation. Mate selection, child rearing, home management, land management, animal husbandry, trading networks and handed-down occupations are elaborately codified in language, ritual, and religion to form a tightly woven fabric deeply resistant to change from within or without. Since the dawn of recorded civilization, the peoples across this vast stretch of territory, stretching from the Nile Valley across the Fertile Crescent and over to the Indus Valley, have developed complex strategies of thriving internally while resisting external threats. Layers of cohesiveness bind in-groups together in a quilt-like diversity of languages, faiths, pride and identity. Like many another outsider, I was greeted with extraordinary warmth, underwritten by strong customs of sharing and hospitality. The poorest among my hosts were often the most generous. However, ostracism — or worse —  faced one of their own whose attitude or behavior might undermine in-group cohesion.

We westerners have all experienced schoolyard cliques, ethnic slights, religious and social superiorities/inferiorities, countless other  in-group/out-group expressions overt and subtle, right down to the class warfare sometimes implicit in the Presidential debates. Nationalism is a way of belonging, as is the nuclear family. But now there are strong forces, worldwide, working working to dissolve all forms of group affinity. These include major trends such as the spreading demands for personal equality and religious liberty, the toppling of dictators, and the globalization of commerce and travel. Digital transmission may enable  tribal chatter, but it also seeds the rapid dissolution of all sorts of boundaries worldwide. Deeply rooted instincts are now confronted by commercial facts on the ground, and seamless communications in the air. The pictures of conflict I took in the Middle East, armed with Leicas and  press credentials, are now being supplanted by gritty videos shot by ordinary citizens wielding their i-Phones.

Like it or not, appropriate or inappropriate, this is how the world is going. I welcome your comments.

Yemen, 1964

children in Yemen, 1964

Above: children in Yemen, 1964

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

Written by bywilliamcarter

November 25, 2015 at 11:10 am

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