I am a non-fiction narrative photographer, specializing in single-frame stories. My subjects are mostly humans and other creatures, captured in their natural states. My ongoing theme is relationships. What I seek are the telling moments when relationships of subject, object, and setting reveal themselves.
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I’ve been doing this since I was a young teenager in the mid 1970s, so I’ve got a practiced method, aesthetic, and philosophy.
My philosophy is simple: keep it upbeat.
Aesthetically, I work a style with purposeful limits. In short: I draw on mid-20th century photojournalism for my visual signature.
My philosophy and aesthetic are intertwined with and depend on a method. For me, it is all about composition and timing. The composition sets the context, the timing catches the moment.
I shoot horizontally, with a wide-angle lens, up-close, and in black-and-white.
I’m big on horizontal framing. I believe in the horizontal frame because it mimics cinematography, which mimics eyesight, which is, in turn, oriented to the horizon itself. A horizon within a rectangle readily accommodates the placement of the subject and other compositional elements within the frame—foreground, mid-range, and background—which are often crucial to telling visual stories.
Similarly, my optical relationship to the world is almost always through a wide-angle lens. The wide-angle lens presents the horizontal frame in a way that resembles our eyesight: we see wide. And, when shot at a “conversational distance,” the wide-angle lens puts oneself and the viewer within the scene. By getting right in there, I am engaged with the scene, serving as an unseen secondary party to the action, lending to the “personal reportage” quality of my images.
Finally, timing is where the story is told.
Every scene and every subject has its own rhythm. I key into the rhythm, sympathetically, often unconsciously, and look for clues and cues. As the moment approaches, I ride the rhythm to the up-beat, to the apex moment, and …
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And because it is a sympathetic rhythm that I am engaged with, the image itself has an almost automatic empathy built in. We—me as the photographer, you as the viewer—have just participated in a little dance with the subject, often no greater than the eye contact exchanged with a stranger in the flow of a busy sidewalk. And when you make that eye contact, you are almost invariably in a momentary state of empathy. That is what I am recording with my camera.
In terms of presentation, because my subject is “the telling moment”—that is my art right there: that moment. Certainly, I’m fussy about lots of little and big things in my presentation. I seek a rich grayscale on a glossy print, for instance. But the aesthetic quality of my art is almost exclusively in its composition and timing at the moment the shutter was tripped.
I rarely present my photography as color pictures, because I find that black-and-white delivers the composition and timing of telling moments best. Color elements within a frame can complicate the visual narrative, making the eye stray from the actual subject-object relationship to, say, the yellow shirt in the background. And, I also love black-and-white for its timelessness (which is part and parcel to it not complicating the visual narrative with the distraction of color elements).
All-in-all, as a black-and-white moment, my art can work with little regard to quality of the medium: like a pop song on a transistor radio.
Finally, I want one single shot to tell the story. I edit pictures sets down to the one moment that tells the best story of the scene. And I give it a title. That is the story: one picture with a crafted title. The title is almost as important as the photo, because the title confers closure to the work. The title also acts a verbal frame. The single image, titled and presented as a stand-alone entity, thereby becomes a work of art.
When I present a “collection of images” in a portfolio, rarely are they categorized by chronology or location. My preferred method of grouping is through verbal themes, e.g.: Selected Reading, Now Performing, Field Trips, Assisted Living, Under Cover. My overarching theme is, of course, Relationships.
Fundamentally my pictures have an old-fashioned quality—in terms of philosophical sensibilities, technique, and presentation. But, I’m not engaging in historical reenactment with my photography. I’m not trying to time travel. I’m trying to create classic images of universal, eternal human character.
Through it all, after four decades of reporting visual stories, I’ve amassed something of a unified view of the humanity.
I was born in San Francisco in 1960, and grew up 40 miles upstream from the Golden Gate, in Martinez, California. I attended San Francisco State University for a bachelor’s degree in creative writing (1982) and a master’s degree in American history (1988). As a photographer, I am almost purely self-taught (beyond what I learned in the photography program at Alhambra High School). My biggest influences came mostly from the Magnum photo agency, mid-20th century, especially: Elliott Erwitt (known for his wit — achieved through his superb timing and framing); W. Eugene Smith (who was a somber genius of composition); and, of course, Henri Cartier-Bresson (whose breadth of tone was the definition of maturity). A notable non-Magnum photographer of the era was Robert Doisneau, whose tenderness and charm, combined with his aesthetic and technical excellence, probably serves as my most direct model.
I have never been a professional photographer. I have done some assignment work through the years, I’ve exhibited on occasion, and I’ve even done a three-year “residency” at the Oakland Museum of California, but I’ve never earned money with the craft. Rather, for me, photography has always been my primary creative visual medium, which I’ve been able to pursue through the decades without client/editorial/or economic pressures—loving it, only.
In 2008, I published my first photo monograph: Relationships. Many of the images in this website appear in my book, which I am deeply proud of for almost perfectly presenting what I do exactly as I’d hope for it to be. It is available through Amazon for list price of $35.00 (Oakland House Press. ISBN: 798-0-9773770-1-5. Hardbound, 9×12?, 144 pages, 137 duotone illustrations).
Verbally (where my real ambitions reside), I am an author. My first book-length narrative, Among the Fourth Graders, is a non-fiction novel about an elementary school classroom in San Francisco through a school year. Though not containing even a single photo, I mention it here because my writing occupies nearly the identical emotional and aesthetic place in me as my writing, and arises from the same interest in humans in the the act of living. That work can be found here. I am currently (2014-15) working on a biographical novel about a young woman in love in the early 1920s.
I am married, with two cats, no kids, and I live in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland, California.
All of the photos on this website are available in one form or another.
I would welcome gallery and/or commercial representation.
Contact me: terry at terrycarroll dot com to inquire.
Hubcap Wide-Angle (Martinez, California, 1975)