A Photographer’s Loving Ode to Small-Town Texas

What interests Keith Carter more than the stories Texas tells about itself are the everyday figures—idle kids, blue-collar workers, animals both domesticated and less so—that contribute to the state’s mythology.

The five decades that Keith Carter has spent documenting small-town Texas more than make up for the fact that he was born in Wisconsin. His family moved to the town of Beaumont when he was just a few years old, in the early nineteen-fifties, and his single mother took up commercial portrait photography to support them. Mesmerized by the red-tinted darkroom printing he witnessed in their kitchens growing up, he turned to photography after graduating from Lamar University with a business degree. He has since built a prolific career making art of and for the place he’s from. “My home town,” Carter has said, “is the backdrop for a rich East Texas storytelling culture, an occasional mystifying spirituality, and abundant folklore,” qualities that manifest themselves in the rich, allegorical images he produces.

Photographers on Photographers: Lori Vrba and Keith Carter

For the entire month of August, photographers will be interviewing photographers--sharing image makers who have inspired them, who they are curious about, whose work has impacted them in some way. I am so grateful to all the participants for their efforts

I first met Keith Carter ten years ago in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I had hit an all-time creative low and was thinking of throwing in the photographic towel but decided to give Keith’s workshop a try as one last desperate attempt to jump start myself. Having grown up in a small town just down the road from Keith’s southeast Texas home, we understood much of each other right away and became fast friends. He did in fact revive my photographic life that week and became a mentor of sorts as I got busy making my way as a full time working artist. Of course I have great respect and appreciation for Keith’s imagery but it has actually been his philosophies for how to sustain a creative life that I most value. I hear his voice in my head when I feel defeated or lost. It is his ideology I turn to when I am crippled by self-doubt. I would not have stayed alive as an artist without these truths and I am forever grateful to Keith for his wisdom and friendship.