You glance across the den at the twin-lens Rolleiflex, your very first camera, given to you as a birthday present by your mother twenty-seven years ago today, collecting dust on the bookshelf next to the unopened UPS package containing an unneeded CD-ROM drive for your new laptop computer. “Don’t just capture the thing itself,” your mother–an ambitious amateur photographer–had said in a calm, soothing voice, when you showed her your earliest efforts. “Look and find the thing’s sum and substance. And be more gentle with natural light,” she would encourage, “but more ruthless with your framing. Make art, Carter. You have it in you.”
As a young man you aspired to do that–to capture a subject’s spirit, its very essence, with the in-breath of a shutter: to wield your camera like a magician’s wand. Poof! Another ghost would mysteriously appear in the developer. How marvelous the process seemed to you! You felt like a sorcerer. Your favorite place in the world was in the red-lit stuffiness of a darkroom, with the delicious stink of all those exotic chemicals and the sight of your wet 5″ x 7″ prints dripping from wooden clothespins above the sink. At first you did portraits, and your best pictures captured, as if with divine help, the pure joy animating your three sisters as they glanced up, giggling, one ofter the other, from their row of coloring books. These early images could hint at the sad narrative of a widower neighbor’s alcoholic stare. They gave life to the complicated history behind your father’s forlorn smile as he watched, barefoot and alone, those beautiful California sunsets every evening on the back porch. The opening-night reception for your debut show at UCLA–an undergraduate group exhibit in the Union Cafe, earnestly titled “Visions of Time”–is to date perhaps the most glorious three hours of your life. Initially you did make art, you tell yourself. You truly did. And even after your move to New York, your best commercial work (at least in the beginning, you’d like to think), still had some spirit. But $1,800-a-month rent and print-lab fees and health insurance and the computer upgrades and the twice-weekly dinner dates soon transformed your magic wand, by financial necessity, into a cold, gray gun for hire.
–Keith Kachtick, Hungry Ghost (2003)