Q&A: Tim Carpenter — Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road


Have you recently been living by any life philosophy? There’s a line in that song “In a Big Country” that goes: “I never took the smile away from anybody’s face.” That’s my goal. I suppose it’s just a restatement of the golden rule. I just discovered that I’m inclined to the philosophy of Nominalism, or perhaps its variant Conceptualism. More thought is needed, but this seems important to my approach to making pictures. What will baffle future generations about our day and age? Sheesus, what won’t? What is it that interests you about photography? The camera is an utterly unique means of manifesting certain experiences of mind and world. This interests me as both maker and viewer. What is the worst thing about city life? Noise, by far. What part of the planet would you like to explore? I have this romantic idea that I need to see way-eastern old Europe, like Bulgaria and Romania. What do you think is the most plausible of the supernatural? Absolutely none of it. But I do think we all need some sort of metaphysics to fashion a day-to-day existence. I like how Marilynne Robinson says it: “What is often described as a sense of the transcendent might in some cases be the intuition of the actual.” If you had to align yourself with a leader in history, who would it be? I could see myself “aligning” with Alexander the Great, if you get my drift.

Pick a field of science to be an expert within. Sort of a mix of evolutionary biology and cognitive science. I dig the writing of Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett. What moment have you most wished you’d had a camera when you hadn’t? It’s not a moment, but I wish I had taken photography seriously while all my grandparents were alive. Choose a job you would be willing to do for free on the side. I’d be a roadie for Wilco. Describe the most important photo you’ve seen. It’s the picture of a cardboard box on the back cover of John Gossage’s “There and Gone.” Supreme evidence that a photograph can engender its own authority without reliance on or reference to anything external. How often do you take other people’s advice? The time when I most ask for guidance is when I’m working in a darkroom, and I always listen. What is the best way to educate yourself? I can’t imagine there’s any “best way,” but with respect to making pictures, it was essential for me to go to grad school. I needed the rigors and the camaraderie of the MFA program in order to improve. What is the next book you want to read? “Flights” by Olga Tokarczuk. I’ve had a copy for several months, but no time to focus on it.

Ultimate camera? Some imaginary version of the Mamiya 7ii with a minimum focusing distance more like that of an SLR. And if it were digital, that might make me switch. Most used camera? Real-world film Mamiya 7ii with the long focusing distance inherent to the rangefinder. What object do you want? Quoth Sinéad: “I do not want what I haven’t got.” What object do you need? Alas, reading glasses. How would you explain the internet to someone from the 1950’s? I’m not even sure how to explain it to my mom right now. And I mean this as a reflection on me, not her. Are you satisfied with your level of physical strength? Strangely enough, at my advanced age, the answer is yes. Describe a cheap thrill. Going off the high dive has never not made my heart race. Pick a historic moment from the last hundred years to bring a camera to. So this is exactly the way I’m not thinking about pictures these days: with respect to the subject matter being somehow interesting or compelling on its own. Which talent would you most like to have? I’m terrible at it, but time spent playing guitar is immensely rewarding. I’d love to have a natural affinity for the instrument, and for music in general. What is your plan for the next 24 hours? Just to wake up tomorrow sounds pretty good to me.

In Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road, his second book with The Ice Plant, Brooklyn-based photographer Tim Carpenter (born 1968) revisits the Central Illinois topography of his first monograph, Local Objects, with a sequence of 56 black-and-white medium-format photographs, all made on a single winter morning. In Local Objects he meandered this semi-rural Midwestern landscape through changing seasons in an abstract sequence, but here Carpenter follows a straightforward path, literally taking the viewer on a two-hour walk from point A to point B. Nothing much happens along this brief narrative arc—there are fallow fields, standing water, dormant trees, the occasional tire track on worn pavement—yet Carpenter explores the stillness of this outdoor space with a palpable, almost erotic anticipation, revealing intimate subtleties as the journey unfolds. Made with an intensity of attention and a lightness of touch, the photographs in Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road are less about the confines of this specific time and place than about a poetic strategy for narrowing the distance between human desire and the factual content of the everyday world.


Tim Carpenter is a photographer and writer who works in Brooklyn and central Illinois. He is the author of Christmas Day, Bucks Pond Road; Local objects; Still feel gone; township; and The king of the birds, among other books, and a co-founder of TIS books.

For more information visit — timcarpenterphotography.com / theiceplant.cc