Tim Carpenter

The bees

Mark Strand, the late Poet Laureate for the Library of Congress, once wrote about the passionate feelings engendered by family photographs, noting that, in contrast, "When confronted with images of the world, we are rarely stung into revisions and reassessments of ourselves in relation to it.”

Wait. What? 

If that statement were even close to true, neither you nor I would be here right now. May I suggest that in fact Strand describes precisely the reason that you and I and our like-minded friends commune: because we are so often stung into revisions an reassessments of ourselves in relation to the world by photographs of that world.

Miles from our home

"[The photographer's eye is] a dreaming eye: quick to seize the instant in which the fortuitous dance of forms reveals the essential truth, the ineffable thusness of the object. Only in such moments can the photographer be said to have conquered his medium, as the poet conquers language, to have tricked light and shade into telling the truth which is beyond themselves (and the photographer, too)," wrote Michael Gregory in Aperture in 1961.

In a song called "Miles From our Home," Cowboy Junkies make the same assertion for life and love.

Auto care, sincerely

"Personal and historical associations, irrational attachments and affections, to take their place as legitimate elements of the aesthetic experience,” wrote Dr. L.A. Reid in "A Study in Aesthetics." Last summer, the exhibition of Justine Kurland's project "Sincere Auto Care" gave me an opportunity to embrace some loaded, automobile-related personal associations and attachments, rational or not. And then an experience with the artist herself upped the ante.

A round and about

"You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate. When anybody asks what a story is about, the only proper thing is to tell him to read the story . . . I myself prefer to say that a story is a dramatic event that involves a person because he is a person, and a particular person – that is, because he shares in the general human condition and in some specific human situation."

So saith Flannery O'Connor, and so it is. Some thoughts on resistance to "aboutness" in photography.


Of all the gifts my father has given me, which are considerable indeed, the greatest may be that of close, direct attentiveness (the “natural prayer of the soul,” according to Benjamin), at least on a few rare and wonderful occasions. 

Here's what trainwatching in central Illinois with Dad has taught me about attentiveness and boredom and luck, with the help of regional literary heroes William Maxwell, David Foster Wallace, and Langston Hughes. 

Verse chorus verse

“Most artists make art precisely because they feel some sort of absence or incoherence in their lives. It seems not simply inevitable but necessary that the art they produce in some way seek to contain or heal whatever is missing or wounded or wrongful in them,” writes Christian Wiman in an essay called “An Idea of Order.” Wiman explores often and beautifully this absence and containment in relation to form in poetry, but this particular essay has been on my mind lately because of Wiman’s focus on familiar or classic forms – the sonnet, for example – and my enduring interest in the standard pop song.

Michael Schmidt

Natur vs Nurtur

Michael Schmidt always looked at the world uncompromisingly, painfully, even brutally. In his final book, a restless mind finds some measure of peace, confident in its status as a mind, as a unique self in the world. As such, it is not only a photographic, but also a literary, achievement.


Mysteries of the unexplained

Interesting photographs typically raise more questions than they answer. And sometimes those questions are utterly unanswerable – not because they are murky issues of opinion or interpretation, but rather because they point to some sort of historical “fact.” As in: “What happened here?” and, much more beguilingly, “Why?”

So let’s take a trip down the wormhole of the photographic puzzlement.

Nicholas Nixon

Sweetness follows

When I first saw some pictures from Nicholas Nixon’s “The Brown Sisters” – probably almost 20 years ago – I dismissed the collective as a gimmick. I thought just about anyone could come up with that idea: photographing the same set of friends or relatives, arranged in the same way, on a regular basis. But boy did I ever get “The Brown Sisters” wrong. All wrong. The recent MoMA show and book of the entire 40-year set finally sealed the deal.

I had to wonder why my opinion changed so drastically. It pretty simply comes down to the devastatingly obvious: 1) the Brown sisters are getting older, and 2) so am I.

The heart is attached

The photographer John Myers once said: “The world is not beautiful – it is there.” The part of me that took a Zen Buddhism class back in college – and learned of non-attachment – couldn’t agree more. Yet the photographer part of me is so often overwhelmed by the beauty of the world. How to reconcile? Or at least exist happily in the contradiction? Keats to the rescue?

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