Photographs by Keith Carter. Introduction by Horton Foote.
University Of Texas Press, Austin, 2011. Hardbound. 184 pp., 78 illustrations, 10-1/2x12".
From Uncertain to Blue Photographs by Keith Carter. Introduction by Horton Foote. Published by University Of Texas Press, 2011.
The cover of From Uncertain to Blue jumps out at you. Keith Carter's reissue of his seminal early work of small-town Texas feels contemporary in design since Pentagram Austin's DJ Stout and Barrett Fry bring current touches to pictures that helped define Texas to a wider audience.
Horton Foote, in the original essay, sums up the work: "And here comes Keith Carter, with his lack of sentimentality, with not a trace of condescension or superiority, but with humor and a deep and honest respect and affection for what he has seen and observed, with his penetrating and ever-discerning eye, a poet's eye really, and makes us see all these familiar things—fresh." This essay adds to what we see in the clear-eyed images. Carter and his wife Patricia add an essay and notes from their times on the road. Few photographs are as well formed as this with the fleshed-out texts that bring depth to the work.
Carter also added some select contact sheets to the book to give greater insight into his vision. The viewer is able to discern the subtle difference of frames that at first glance seem like exact copies. His ability to frame a man leaning on a car, the perfect position of a dog's head, the possible variations of a boy at a farm stand, all of these difference are laid bare. His selection is carefully outlined in what looks like grease pencil. It is the contact sheets that have hooked me. I found myself agreeing with his choice. Each town he visited was to be represented by one photograph, so much weighed on the decisions. In places, he made the frame early in the roll and then gave himself some options. In others it took a little work to get the square just so.
The designers also added a small outline of the state to the page with the name of the town. Showing this approximation of place adds that extra information for those not familiar to places like Looneyville or Earth. Texas is also embossed on the cover of the book, which is not noticed until the dust jacket is taken off. Touches like these add more to the book. It feels modern because it is a re-issue; it is about seeing the work now, with extra information.
It is Carter's "unsentimental eye" that drew me to this work. For me, Carter's more recent work is too sentimental, but this earlier work speaks in a language that I understand clearly. The photographs in this book are full of clarity and photographic description, much like the work of Walker Evans. Carter used this language of American photography to describe the various climates of Texas. His idea of the "nothingness" that he photographed is rich.
In a few places these pictures clearly sing out Texas. But the majority of them speak of a more universal rural America. In the late 1980s, Keith Carter was at the height of his descriptive powers, more work lay in the future for him, work that was different, but based on some of the ideas he worked out during this time. Seeing this, some of the editing decisions he made along with his words, which read like a conversation, make for one complete book.
Tom Leininger is a photographer and educator based in Denton, Texas. He received his MFA in photography from the University of North Texas. Prior to that he was a newspaper photographer in Indiana. His work can be found at http://tomleininger.net.