“Sometimes You Just Have to Get Butt-Naked” – Keith Carter

Tue, Sep 7, 2010

Blogs, Fearless Creativity

“Sometimes You Just Have to Get Butt-Naked” – Keith Carter

Clichés are born from veneers of understanding and observation.  If you lack empathy for your subject you’re doomed to only shooting hackneyed or trite photographs. Or worse, you get busy mocking your subjects and claiming the lie is extraordinary.  I’ve taken my share of these and I’m fairly certain they won’t endure beyond my wages.

As though you’re acting the expert at a party when you know little about the subject, artists make false statements through sensational imagery but risk less since the image is a piece of reality, i.e. proof that you had a right to the statement. Most deliberate photographs start as an assumption; this is what this person is and how I feel about them.  Naturally the best assumptions are accurate but the finest photographers remain open to expanding on conjecture. They refuse to be defined by clichéd conjecture and thrive on discovery.

Artistic style, that is too much method, can force assumptions. This is the origin of my suspicion regarding pinhole photos in gallery exhibitions or an entire 30+ picture show of those quirky “tilt / shift” photos where everything looks tiny. The photographer’s discovery is easily limited to a technique; they’re lying about something because every subject fit into the “box” of the photographer’s phony revelation that pinhole, tilt/shift photography, or other, adds value to the imagery.  Yes, some lies are bigger than others but eventually all the photos in the collection lose authenticity like a politician changing their long held view to gain votes.

photo of Horton Foote by Keith Carter

I visited the National Portrait Gallery and rediscovered Keith Carter – a photographer I’ve long admired.  I saw his portrait of American Playwright and screenwriter Horton Foote in which Carter limited focus using forward lens tilts. I had forgotten him.  I saw it and mumbled, “there it is”.

Standing close enough to hear a mumble, my wife asked, “there what is”?  I launched into a forgettable monologue about how techniques are often so trendy and misused but sometimes they’re perfect. Keith Carters portrait of Horton Foote was one of those that was perfect.  The technique wasn’t trendy yet; it wasn’t an iPhone app, it was simply a technique honestly used in the process of discovery.

“I don’t think there is any great mystery about the vagarities of making art. We all start out the same way: learn your craft, work hard at trying to be coherent with your pictures, and pay your nickel and take your chance.  The bedrock in a body of work is your subject matter and how you relate to it. If you have empathy and care about your subject matter, then discoveries, deeper meanings, and understanding have a greater chance of evolving from that work. Sometimes you just have to get butt-naked.” – Keith Carter [via Calumet Photographer Spotlight]


All photos in slide show by Keith Carter

More on Keith Carter here.

Keith Carter Biography [via his website]

Keith Carter is an internationally recognized photographer and educator. Born in Madison, Wisconsin in 1948,he holds the endowed Walles Chair of Art at Lamar University Beaumont, Texas. He is the recipient of two National Endowment for the Arts Regional Survey Grants and the Lange-Taylor Prize from The Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University. In 1997 Keith Carter was the subject of an arts profile on the national network television show, CBS Sunday Morning. In 1998, he received Lamar University’s highest teaching honor, the University Professor Award, and he was named the Lamar University Distinguished Lecturer.

By The Way – in case you didn’t know :

Tilt Shift is not an iPhone app – ok, it is – but that’s not its origin and neither is the look of altering the plane of focus something native to Photoshop.

If you’re a serious photographer using the technique but don’t recognize the name Theodor Scheimpflug or understand the significance of lens nodal points, here’s a starting point:

Theodor Scheimpflug (1865-1911) stated that; ‘when the extended lines from the lens plane, the object plane and the film plane intersect at the same point, the entire subject plane is in focus.’

I owe my knowledge and practice to my college text that I first cracked in 1976 and still recommend for those interested in knowing more: View Camera Techniques by Leslie D. Stroebel.

Artistic Expression, Inspiration, Photographer

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