David McCarty is an artist & lawyer in Jackson, Mississippi. Born in Alabama, his Polaroid work has been featured at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art in the exhibition Self-Processing—Instant Photography; in the PhotoNOLA event The Perpetual Instant, juried by Time Zero documentarian Grant Hamilton; and at Light + Glass Gallery in Jackson, Mississippi. His Polaroid diptych “Biloxi Hotel” is in the permanent collection of the Ogden Museum.
How did your interest in your medium begin and how did you arrive at your current style?
I began working in instant photography around 2003. I started using a Polaroid OneStep with 600 film, which at the time was readily available, if expensive—ten bucks for ten shots. Over time I began using a Land Camera and an SX-70, which are now my main cameras.
It took years of trial and error for me to figure out what fit in the frame of the Polaroid, and how much light was needed to make a good photograph. I had an interest in drawing and composition, so the design elements were often okay, but it took practice to understand light and shadow. The technical realities of the film and cameras are also something that took quite a while to comprehend.
How do you feel about the relationship of an artist to their city or surroundings?
It’s incredibly important. Love of place will shine through a photograph, whether it’s of a neon sign or a dirt road. There’s an intangible quality of empathy that you find in some art that just brings you towards the subject matter. If you are in love with a city or a place, you care about the subject, and want to portray it with sensitivity.
How do you choose your subjects?
I’m drawn to relics of the past—my holy trinity is neon signs, just about any car until 1977, and hand-lettering. These often work well with instant film, and have plenty of beautiful details that can be captured with the cameras. In the case of neon signs, the pack film for the Land Camera will just soak them up, giving you an image of a sign floating in perfect black space. Living in Mississippi, there’s still plenty of places for me to go.
I want to take more portraits. As the physical objects of my youth fade—there’s only so many El Caminos out there still—the people of the South remain. I love the technical difficulty of a portrait, and how it pushes me out of my comfort level. It’s much harder to talk to a person and ask them for a picture than my usual modus operandi of standing in a ditch on the side of the road. The best thing is, they are normally excited by the Polaroid cameras and we can see the result together.
Who have been some of your biggest influences or your best teachers?
I’m fortunate to live in a place where there are so many artists. One of my oldest friends, Roy Adkins, is a professional photographer who has always given me technical and editing advice. His gallery, Light + Glass Studio, was home to the very first exhibition of my work in 2007.
The dynamic duo of the Delta, Maude Schuyler Clay and Langdon Clay, continue to amaze and thrill me with their photography. Maudie’s recent book Mississippi History is a testament to the beauty of light and the people of Mississippi. Langdon has a 1970s-era series of super-saturated and amazingly lit cars he did in New York City that I think of often.
The Mississippi-born artist Ashley Gates taught me about light, and how to feel it, and opened my eyes to so many new ways of seeing. My favorite thing is to hop in a car with her and drive all over to see what we can see, which has taken us through freezing swamps and in the halls of Graceland. She always manages to see something I have never noticed before.
Richard McCabe’s Polaroid series of “Roadside Ruins” is a secret map of the vanishing South that I love so much. The places he finds inevitably make me think “ah! I want to go there!”
My earliest photographic influence was William Eggleston, which is like saying the Beatles are your favorite band, but then the Beatles are a dang fine band. Roy introduced me to Sally Mann in college, and for years I worked under the pseudonym “Gorjus,” after one of her photographs.
Do you have a creative or artistic peer group in your area that you're a part of? What opportunities are there for artists like yourself in your area?
Jackson is a small town but jammed full of artists and musicians. Roy is here in town, and Maudie and Langdon are not so far away in Sumner, and I’ve been lucky to shoot and be friends with two other Jackson-based photographers, Jackie Losset and Anne Bryant.
I’m from a total DIY background—make your own fliers, make your own music, make your own shows. Jackson is very “get it done,” and I’m thankful to be friends with several artists who have gallery space in town that have hosted my work.
Where do you go to draw inspiration?
I love Instagram—an endless font of inspiration in your pocket. The Southern Glossary account has introduced me to tons of artists, all of whom have their own galaxies of beauty and influence.
Hopping in the car and driving to a new place gives me a real thrill—I turn my radar on and just start looking around
Books are an endless source of excitement and challenge—I recently got a copy of Stephen Shore’s Uncommon Places and almost can’t look at it, because it wounds me, it’s so beautiful.
The Ogden Museum of Southern Art in New Orleans is a “place of power” for me, and every time I go there I get an almost electric feeling of wanting to create.
I love the New York City subway and being in it makes me feel very alive and timeless.
Are there any aspects of the Southern aesthetic that you embrace or ones you consciously avoid?
I love the South, the physical beauty of the place, the hallmarks of a handcrafted past. I hesitate over some shots—I want to be conscious of the people and place, and not exploitative. Even though I’m from here and have lived in Jackson for over a decade, I don’t want to parachute into a place and take a bunch of photos and leave. I want there to always be a connection and empathy between me and the subject.
Do you feel creatively satisfied?
No. I have a lot to learn technically, and I carry a small buzz of frustration with my limitations, coupled with the instability of the film I use for the SX-70 and how well I can ever frame anything with my Land Camera. I want to do better. I want to make pictures that when people see them, it’s like hearing a song by your favorite band for the first time.
Tell me about a recent, current, or upcoming project or exhibition.
In October of 2015 I co-curated a show called Best Before: Instant Photography by Southern Artists, that was shown in Jackson. Ashley Gates curated the show, and we showed art by her, Maude Schuyler Clay, Langdon Clay, Richard McCabe, Anne Bryant, Jackie Losset, and myself. We had Land Camera work by Ashley, Anne, Richard, and Jackie, and work by Maudie and me that was done with an SX-70. It was basically our attempt to create a lineup of my favorite artists working with instant film, and I was in love with the work we showed. We also made a newspaper catalog of the event of which I remain incredibly proud.
In the next few months one of my Polaroids will featured at the A. Smith Gallery in Johnson City, Texas, in an exhibit called Flawed. I’m always excited about PhotoNOLA and hope to submit work for exhibits down there later this year. I also have ideas for a new zines and newspapers which I plan on releasing in 2016.