About the Photographer
American, b. 1948 Madison, WI
When I was younger I used to think I had to go to New Guinea to make an exotic photograph if that was my intent. I see now I live in the most exotic place. It depends on the eyes-how you view it.
Part documentation, part fantasy, Carter’s work shows that mysterious beauty can be found in the people and things one knows best. For Carter, inspiration is often found in the folklore and mysticism associated with his longtime home of East Texas. His image, Stars (1995), celebrates not only the vibrant soul of Southern culture, but also the subjective power of sight. By playing with light and composition, Carter casts wonder onto a portrait of two boys holding up toy blocks like binoculars. A fence’s shadow cloaks the pair while echoing the diagonal lines of the wall next to these boys and the star shape on their blocks. The children’s starry eyes seem to become both mirror and metaphor for the photographer’s gaze as he seeks out the spectacular in mundane settings. Working with a Hasselblad single-lens reflex camera at a proximity close to touching distance, he prints his two and a quarter negatives full frame, enlarged to almost life-size in 15 inch square gelatin silver prints. Selective toning in a fair number of prints gives an added warmth and life to his images.
Championed as “a poet of the ordinary,” Carter defies literal readings of the everyday through elusive titles and images. His lyrical approach emerges with the visual distortions of Wedding Rings (1981). In this image of a reclining woman, Carter employs depth of field to bring the subject’s hand and head into sharp focus, dramatizing the roughness of her wrinkled skin and the softness of her hair. Serving as a focal point, the subject’s wedding band appears to anchor her person in the material world as her body fades into the distance. Carter’s penchant for ethereal imagery partially stems from what he calls his “great love of 19th-century photography, when films were slow and many of the backgrounds were out of focus..." Carter’s hazy passages also relate to transitional states of spirituality and consciousness. In Wedding Rings, for example, the pale backdrop gradually blanches the woman’s figure as if sleep or death is overtaking her. By portraying the strangeness of common experiences, Carter draws attention to the illusionary moments that punctuate and permeate our familiar routines.
Keith Carter was born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1948. A self-taught photographer, he completed a degree in Business Management from Lamar University in Beaumont, Texas (1970). Currently, he works at Lamar University as Professor of Photography and the Walles Chair of Visual and Performing Arts. He is the recipient of the University’s most esteemed teaching honors: the Distinguished Faculty Lecturer Award (1998) and the University Professor Award (1998) as well as the Texas State University System (TSUS) Regents Professor Award (2010). He earned the Lange-Taylor Prize from the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University (1991) and the Texas Medal of Arts from the Texas Cultural Trust (2009). To date, there are eleven monographs of Carter’s black and white photographs: From Uncertain To Blue (1988); The Blue Man (1990); Mojo (1992); Heaven of Animals (1995); Bones (1996); Keith Carter Photographs - Twenty Five Years (1997); Holding Venus (2000); Ezekiel's Horse (2000); Opera Nuda (2006); A Certain Alchemy (2008); Fireflies (2009). His work is in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, and the private collection of President and Mrs. Barack Obama at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, Washington, DC.