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Keith Carter
McMurtrey Gallery, Houston, Texas
Recommendation by Donna Tennant

Keith Carter, “Cypress Swamp #1,” 2013, wet plate collodian tintype, 8 x 10”.

Continuing through April 26, 2014

Keith Carter’s new photographs from the series “Ghostland” are moody, mysterious and often as murky as the East Texas swamps where he grew up near the Louisiana border. A mix of landscapes, still lifes, portraits and moon studies, as well as a few ethereal double exposures, comprise this show of 30 small black-and-white collodian tintypes (and one archival pigment print), all presented in black vintage frames. The collodian process, which was invented by Frederick Scott Archer in 1850 and quickly replaced the daguerreotype, was popular for several decades before being replaced by a dry gelatin technique. The challenging collodian process requires that a glass plate be treated and exposed in the camera wet before being developed within a few minutes under a red light. Photographers like it because the shots can be instantly adjusted for lighting and composition. The historic process requires ingenuity and problem-solving, however, and if the photographer shoots outside, he or she needs a portable darkroom.

This demanding process may explain why many of the prints in the show are still lifes or portraits shot inside. The most haunting images, however, are the landscapes — “Sunlit Tree,” “Cypress Swamp” #1 and #2, “Earth Moon and Water,” “Live Oak,” and “Winding Path” — in which indigenous flora and fauna like Spanish moss, cypress knees, white egrets, pelicans and live oaks are depicted. The collodian process gives Carter the ability to manipulate and control the deep tonal qualities of the photographs. Many of the images in “Ghostland” are ghostly, as well as nostalgic and sometimes enigmatic. Carter is one of the most respected photographers working in the South today. When he was the age of 3 his family moved to Beaumont, Texas, where his mother was a portrait photographer. Although Carter has traveled abroad to shoot, he remains dedicated to capturing the essence of his homeland. As someone who is steeped in great southern writers such as Harper Lee and Horton Foote, as well as photographers who traveled the South shooting like Walker Evans, Carter understands the mythology that he has inherited and elaborates on it effectively in this new work.

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