Keith Carter is a Texas-based photographer whose ethereal style and beautiful depiction of “truth and beauty” have often led him to be referred to as a “poet with a camera”. In this moving 15-minute interview with The Art of Photography, Carter discusses his career, how his projects come together, illness, and his legacy.
Keith Carter grew up in South-East Texas, raised by his mother who was the local portrait photographer of the town they lived in. His own photographer career began in the early 70s and focused on the Southern landscapes and its storytelling tradition.
Make the picture. Just make the picture. You’ve got the rest of your life to figure out what it means.
Since the ‘80s, Carter’s photographs have been published in over 10 acclaimed monographs, and he has earned the Texas Medal of Arts and the Lange-Turner Prize from the Centre for Documentary Studies at Duke University.
In 2009 his career took a turn when he was diagnosed with a rare form of melanoma in his left eye, which was treated with a radiation implant that left him with severely limited vision in that side. Once he recovered, he decided to weave his condition into his storytelling. “Why don’t I try to make some photographs about vision itself, or about how I see?”.
Experimenting with chemicals on silver gelatin, Carter went on to create many images with a distressed and dirty style to mimic his own vision.
I think in my mind, I was trying to be brave when I was scared. [The photography] helped me get over that.
When Carter’s wife later fell ill, he turned again to photography to help him get through the difficult time. His experimentation with wet plate collodion was a direct response to his wife falling ill, he said. “I knew I was going to be tied to the studio, and things needed to change,” he said. “So I was looking for a process that would be interesting to do. … It resulted in a project that I call Ghost Land. In a lot of ways, that body of work was like a metaphor for our lives at that time.”
Sometimes you just stand mute in front of the mystery of your own life, or those who you love.
Do yourself a favor and take 15 minutes from your day to watch the interview at the top. Carter is a great artist, and the Art of Photography interview is brilliantly made, providing great insight into the mind and life of a man at the top of his craft.