SHOTS No. 144 - Summer 2019: WATER
FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHER: Keith Carter
Interview by Douglas Beasley
© Keith Carter
Keith’s most recent book, ‘Keith Carter: Fifty Years’, is a stunning achievement in both size and scope but most of all for the sheer number of iconic images. I first became aware of Keith when we were in the same commercial publication in the early 90’s. I was mesmerized by his image of two boys catching fireflies and have been a fan ever since. It’s been a pleasure to encounter him whenever out paths happen to cross, usually at workshop centers. He kindly agreed to answer a few questions for us and our readers.
DOUGLAS BEASLEY: Do you know that a photo is ‘good’ when you make it? Or do you find the good ones later when editing?
KEITH CARTER: It happens both ways. Most of the time I have a pretty good idea that the Gods were with me and I made a significant image. There’ve been times when I found it later and just shake my head in wonder.
You are still making photos on film, right? Why film rather than digital?
Yes, I am. However, I’m pretty equal opportunity in my thinking. I tend to use everything, from antiquarian processes to the miracles of the digital world.
Are most of your photos ‘found’ or are they set up? I suspect a combination of the two.
Sometimes I tweak what I see or respond to. Mostly when I’m working, I think of what Minor White once said, “What shall I be given today?”
Do you need to enter a particular mindset to make photos or can it happen anytime?
It can happen anytime. But when it does happen I tend to get “tunnel vision” and a little electrified.
Do you usually carry a camera with you or is your image making more intentional?
I do both. However, when I carry a camera, I feel like I’m in the game. The world has brighter colors, time slows down, and my senses begin humming. I pay a heightened attention to what is around me.
Do you ever come across a great photo opportunity but hesitate thinking “that’s not my photo” but rather somebody else’s?
Occasionally, but I still make the image. Sometimes a little magic creeps in and the image is a little better, or worse, than I thought. No rules. I think rules in the arts is a pejorative term.
How do you juggle making art with the time required to help others make art?
In my experience, they both nourish each other. Photography to me is thinking. I like talking, the experience, and practicing photography.
After 50 years is your motivation different?
No. I was on fire when I was young. I’m still on fire.
What’s changed in your approach?
I’m calmer, more focused, when working.
What’s stayed the same?
Probably the excitement that revolves around possibilities. And the art of photography for me has always been about possibilities. ■
EMERGING PHOTOGRAPHER: Deb Schwedhelm
Interview by Deborah Saul
© Deb Schwedhelm
I first “met” Deb in one of her online workshops and a few weeks ago had the absolute pleasure of finally meeting her in person when I attended her workshop in Bay St. Louis, Missouri. Deb is an award-winning photographer whose work is a visual memoir. Deb’s use of storytelling depicts a lifetime of departures and arrivals. Her work is primal and vulnerable and has been exhibited widely.
DEBORAH SAUL: How did you get your start in fine art photography and what was your first big success?
DEB SCHWEDHELM: Well, believe it or not, I owe my photography start to rats, maggots, and flies — no joke! To make a very long story short, the military moved us into a house where the previous family fostered 40-50 cats. Shortly after our move, we found ourselves dealing with excessive cat urine, rats in the attic, maggots falling from all the ceiling vents, and then thousands of flies. It was a nightmare that resulted in the return of three months’ rent. When we received that unexpected ‘gift,’ I had the wild idea that maybe I could use a portion of the money to purchase equipment and teach myself photography. My husband said, “Go for it.” On January 1st, 2006, I purchased a Canon 20D and a couple lenses. I have never looked back.
After launching a successful child/family portraiture business in San Diego, my first fine art success happened when we were living in Tampa. I had been photographing in the water for about a year and thought that I had a solid body of work that I could speak about at a portfolio review. I had no clue what I was really getting myself into, but I often live by the mottos, ‘What do I have to lose?’ and ‘What is the worst that can happen?’. In 2012, I went to the PhotoNOLA thinking that I was just going to be myself and I wasn’t going to pretend to know more than I know. Having no formal art or photography education, I was a little nervous. I hoped the reviewers would enjoy my photographs and what I had to say— and honestly, I was simply looking forward to some constructive feedback. In the end, I was blown away by all the incredible work that I saw at PhotoNOLA. A week after my return home, I received an exciting phone call. My portfolio, From the Sea, had won first place. I nearly fell over! Never in my wildest dreams… it still blows my mind a bit, and I am forever grateful for the reviewers’ belief in my work and their trust in me as an artist.
How has being part of a military family impacted your work?
I was actually a registered nurse in the Air Force for 10 years, before I pursued photography, and my husband, Steve, was a Naval Explosive Ordnance Disposal Officer for 20 years (he retired last year). As a military family, we relocated every two-to-three years, which is not exactly easy. Each move brought a forced pause and restart with my photography. It took me about five or so years to begin to recognize how valuable these breaks were in my photographic journey. Each pause was a gift; a time where I stopped what I had been doing, reflected on the work I had made, and critically thought about how I might proceed. I also learned to trust in myself and my path. As I write this, it sounds smoother than it sometimes was, but these periods of down time were absolutely instrumental to my photography journey and each chapter of my work.
Also, I have always felt that military families are such a unique and often misunderstood subculture and I currently have three bodies of work: From the Sea, Spaces Between, and Home Away. They all revolve around being part of a military family.
Your work is quite personal, who are some artists that have inspired or influenced you?
I have always admired Sally Mann’s photography. Her work just resonated with me so deeply and still does to this day. It’s kind of funny that my family settled in Virginia, less than four hours from her home. I dream that one day, we will sit and have coffee on her farm. A girl can dream big, right?
I had long admired Jock Sturges’ work and one day, he reached out to me on Facebook. Shortly thereafter, he took me under his wing. Jock is an incredibly kind man. He always provided critical and honest feedback that sometimes stung, but it pushed me which I needed. It was Jock who taught me how to print and it was at his house, where I printed my first portfolio for the PhotoNOLA review.
Lori Vrba has been a beacon of light on my entire photographic journey. She is another one of my mentors and has become a dear friend. I remember the day Lori made the announcement that she was closing her portraiture business and making the switch to fine art photography and I thought — gosh, if only I could do that one day. I’ve continued to watch Lori as a force in this industry, not afraid to pave her own way, even if it respectfully ruffles an occasional feather or two.
Last but not least, I had long admired Mary Ellen Mark. In 2007, I had the opportunity to attend one of her workshops. As it happened, I was the only student staying in the same hotel as Mary Ellen. We ended up eating breakfast and dinner together each day. I felt so lucky! One might think that we spoke about photography but I didn’t dare because I knew she was spent from teaching all day. We basically sat together and she chatted with me like we were old friends. She was one amazing, powerhouse of a woman!
I know that your children have often been your subjects. Now that they are getting older and maybe less willing to participate, how are you dealing with this natural transition?
Great question, I have been dealing with this all year. My children are now 14, 16, and 22 years and no one wants to be the subject of my photography. I knew this transition was coming and I even tried to mentally prepare, yet it feels so sudden. I had two choices: be sad and put away my camera or shift my focus to something different. I chose the latter and have been making self-portraits for a while now. It’s an idea that I’ve been toying with for many years. This year also happens to be my 50th birthday so it’s fascinating how everything is unfolding. I have no idea where my self-portraits will take me, but it’s been an interesting few months of self-discovery and -exploration. A while back, when I was discussing the loss of my muse, my middle child, who was so often the subject of my photograph, I had a friend share, “One never loses her muse; the muse simply shape-shifts and moves elsewhere.” Gosh, I love that thought.
What inspires you and keeps you going when things get difficult?
I have a few really great friends who not only inspire me but also keep me going through the down times in photography and in life. We vent a little and support one another a lot. Having a solid, supportive, honest friend or two or three is everything. I wouldn’t be where I am without my friends. I also have to say that my husband has been a huge supporter. I have had a lot of wild and crazy ideas along the way and he never ceases to believe in me and that is an inspiration in and of itself.
What is next for you?
I moved to Williamsburg, Virginia one year ago. We are here to stay until our youngest graduates high school in four years. This will be the longest we have lived anywhere. I would love to get involved with my community as I’ve never really had that opportunity. I am passionate about teaching and would love to expand upon what I am currently doing in some way. I plan to continue making self-portraits. While I have no idea where this will take me, like all the other chapters, I am trusting this new chapter too. I dream of exhibiting my work similar to chapters of a book with a different portfolio on each wall. Viewing each chapter as part of the greater story being told, portfolio by portfolio, wall by wall. Last but not least, I stay very open to opportunities. If you asked me this same question at the end of last year, I would have had no idea that I would be in India, Peru, and Mississippi this year, yet I have already been to all three. You never know what might come your way if you put your thoughts out there and stay open to possibilities. ■
ARTIST SPOTLIGHT: Sally Gall
Tanah Lot, photo by Sally Gall ©1992.
I was so mesmerized by the simple beauty of this photograph of a single wave that I tried for years to copy it. I learned that a simple image of moving, changing, surging water is very hard to replicate and I failed miserably over and over. What was it about this image that so intrigued me? Power and emotion in its raw state; form elevated to art by the power of reduction? I tried to copy it in part to find out what its power was over me. And in that process, my images kept looking more and more like my images, not hers, until I learned to embrace that, even visually, “No matter where you go, there you are.” ■
—Douglas Beasley / Publisher