Photographer Interview with Geoffrey Carr
There’s a lot of focus on specialization in photography these days, so it’s interesting to hear about generalists who are making it in the photography world. Louisville photographer Geoff Carr is one such generalist. Keeping his options open has allowed Carr to maintain a photography career in a small city for more than 30 years. Read an excerpt from our exclusive interview with Carr below. You can read the complete interview on ArtistsMarketOnline.com or in the 2015 Photographer’s Market.
Keep creating and good luck!
Geoffrey Carr: Viewpoints and Variety by Neely McLaughlin
Geoff Carr understands photography as a way both to experience and to shape the world. His ongoing dedication to interacting with his surroundings through photography began with a whim. “I first got interested in photography when I was in college and on a lark took a photo class,” he explains. “The instructor was very engaging, and I just felt a kinship with the idea of using the camera as a way to see the world and define a reality based within that frame.” This understanding of photography as definitional acknowledges the potential of photography as a powerful creative medium that in a sense acts upon not only the world that it is directed towards but also the artist who takes up the camera.
Carr’s work gives those who view it a chance to see how he sees the world through his lens. The variety of his portfolio is a testament to his interest in and ability to turn his attention and his camera to different aspects of the world around him—from the gills of a mushroom to the gleaming facade of a building that seems to reach the sky. His work ranges from portraits of artists and photographs of artwork, to industrial and architectural photography, food photography, and a variety of studio-based work.
Carr is based in Louisville, Kentucky, a location that has, he says, given him the opportunity to work in a variety of contexts. “Being in a relatively small urban market allowed me to pursue a variety of interests and gave me challenges to figure out,” he notes. It is clear both that he has taken advantage of the opportunities this location afforded him and that he has found ways to relish the challenges that come with them. Louisville has an artistic community and a business sector, but it is a smaller city, which has meant that a narrowly focused photographic career was not feasible. An advantage of being in a smaller market allowed Carr to develop his reputation in multiple contexts. Carr’s wide-ranging photography reflects the realities of his location as well as his personal preference. “Necessity and curiosity created the need to be able to engage in a wide variety of work,” he explains.
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Within the different contexts in which he works, there are different priorities and specific obstacles. “Each genre has its own set of challenges, and being able to problem solve and experiment with different subject matter allowed me to explore issues that are universal in creating images.” He notes that regardless of whether he is in his studio shooting a star-patterned colander with highlights and shadows, outdoors shooting a restaurant in the soft early evening light, or in a health care setting shooting health care workers using medical equipment, his concerns as a photographer remain the same. He is still focused on fundamental photographic principles such as composition, lighting, and point of view, and he sees creativity as an essential aspect of all photography including commercial work. He also believes that all photographers share certain fundamental goals. “The ultimate goal of any photographer is to make an interesting, dynamic image that pulls the viewer and informs,” he explains. “The actual form and shape of anything, be it animate or inanimate, is something you can look at and try to emphasize or photograph so as to create a look.”
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Artists in Their Studios
One of Carr’s photographic interests is artist portraits. Taking artist portraits was an early photographic project, one he focused on soon after he set up his own studio space. He ended up having the opportunity to photograph a series of portraits of artists for a nonprofit organization. The organization sought to showcase artists and their work in exhibitions. “I was doing photography for artists for quite a spell prior to this, but it was a natural evolution of work,” he says, due to his own experience at the time. “I had recently moved into a studio space, and the space made me appreciate and wonder how other artists created in a multitude of situations and conditions, from basements and garages to lofts.” Being in and developing his own creative space inspired his interest in the way other artists developed the spaces in which they worked.
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Despite having a wide-ranging portfolio and being well-established, Carr has experienced difficulties due to the changes in technology that have revolutionized photography. “The photography industry is rapidly changing,” he notes. “Along with most services, it has become highly undervalued, and budgets have been tightened.” A major factor in the devaluing of photography is technological change and the ready access of technology with photographic capabilities, which are fundamentally changing what it means to be a photographer. “Anyone with a cell phone can be a photographer,” Carr says, “and sadly, no one can tell the difference between the images that are generated in this way.” Recent difficult economic times have also posed a challenge. “When the economy tanked a few years ago, my commercial photography business took a dive,” Carr notes. “I ended up picking up a real estate license.” Since both professions give him scheduling flexibility, he has been able to pursue both.
Through these challenges Carr remains dedicated. He feels that they have shaped the way he experiences the world around him. As Carr puts it, “Photography has allowed me to see things in ways that are uniquely photographic.” The camera and photographer are not simply making a record of what exists but are themselves working to create that which exists. Carr’s belief in the unique expressive potential of photography explains his persistence. “It inspires me to create and express things visually that words, ideas, emotions lack the ability to express succinctly,” he says. Though he has been a professional photographer for years, his medium remains a source of inspiration. “I have been a commercial and fine art photographer for the past thirty-plus years,” Carr says. “It still inspires me.”
Neely McLaughlin is a writer and assistant professor of English at the University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash, in Cincinnati, Ohio.