The 74 photographs that compose "Local Objects," the new book by American photographer and author Tim Carpenter, printed by The Ice Plant publisher, reinforce the tradition of a well-known iconography typical of the American Midwest. The house, the road, the field, the tree, the fence and everything that apparently is not remarkable, unforgettable, noteworthy. Nevertheless in this kind of wandering through the rural spaces of the local and vernacular areas, there are always elements that make the description unusual and unexpected. A discontinuity, a rupture, a curious detail in the center or in the margins of the image capture us and lead us to stop and look ever longer, always better. Almost reinforcing the idea that watching is something different from seeing. As if in the gray scale shades of each photograph, physical space and literary space were combined till getting blended and the echoes of a near past or a distant memory reappeared to us immediately. Robert Adams or the choral work of Walt Whitman's everlasting pages, William Faulkner, William Least Heat-Moon, Marilynne Robinson can come back to our mind.
Gianpaolo Arena: Could you tell us something more about how your project "Local objects" started? Tim Carpenter: It may sound trivial, but I became interested in how the camera and lens I was using organized the picture in the vertical format. Specifically, I was keeping the camera very level (not pointing up at all), which created a lot of foreground that can seem like dead space. But I liked that physical distance from the subject matter, and the emotional dislocation that it implies. At the same time, I had been thinking very much about Marilynne Robinson’s novel Housekeeping, the major theme of which is our disconnectedness from the world and thus our transience in it. It wasn’t a “working title” exactly, but in my head these photographs were called “the Housekeeping pictures” because of how they felt to me.
GA: Did you start the project with the idea of making a book? TC: I’m a lover of the photobook form, so in one sense I’m probably always thinking about eventually making a book. But really no, at first I had no idea that the vertical pictures - as much as I enjoyed making them - would properly add up to a book, especially on their own. I made very very many of this kind of picture over a period of about 18 months, just enjoying what I was learning. But after that much time, I began noticing in the contact sheets that, without planning it, I had done two things that I could maybe base a book around: one was that I had photographed the same subject matter multiple times at various times of year, and the other was that I had made short (2-4 images) sequences of a few things. These repetitions - one through time and one through space - became a way to ground the eventual edit and sequence of the book.
GA: How do you approach the landscape and the urban spaces while working on your project? TC: Much of it has to do with the formal approach I described earlier with the camera, but also there’s a physical/logistical aspect: for the most part, I just walked around my home town and stayed on the sidewalks and roads, not trying to get closer to things by trespassing or gaining access. Again, this may sound trivial, but keeping that physical distance and using a fixed normal lens was in line with how I was wanting the pictures to read. Now of course, there are some pictures in my book that are closer in; I found that the distance had to be varied in order to establish another theme that’s important to me: that we are constantly calibrating ourselves in relation to the landscape and objects around us. Sometimes we’re near, and sometimes far. More often far in this book.
GA: How did your collaboration with The Ice Plant and start? TC: I made a maquette of the book and showed it to a few trusted friends. Ron Jude has long known Tricia Gabriel and Mike Slack of The Ice Plant (they published Ron’s books “emmett” and “Other Nature”), and he suggested that I send it to them. It’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them; both Tricia and Mike have a pitch-perfect sensibility for making photobooks, and they were highly attuned to what I wanted to communicate with the pictures. My final edit and sequence were set, but they deeply influenced every other aspect of the book, and I couldn’t be more grateful; it’s really everything I ever wanted it to be.
Tim Carpenter (Illinois, 1968) is a photographer and writer who works in Brooklyn and central Illinois. He received an MFA in Photography from the Hartford Art School in 2012, and later that year co-founded TIS books (tisbooks.pub), an independent photobook publisher. His books include A house and a tree (TIS); The king of the birds (TIS); Local objects (The Ice Plant); township (TIS/Dumbsaint); and Bement grain (TIS/Dumbsaint).