Photographs by Lisa McCarty
Since moving to North Carolina in 2011 I have made regular pilgrimages to Lake Eden to experience the landscape which roused and provided refuge for generations of experimental artists. My focus has been to observe the unique features of the environment, as well as the original structures, built by Black Mountain College students and faculty, which were so attentively nestled throughout the campus.
The titles of many of my images reference works made by these artists including Josef Albers, Anni Albers, Ruth Asawa, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Robert Creeley, Buckminster Fuller, Charles Olson, Elaine de Kooning, Willem de Kooning, Gwendolyn Lawrence, Jacob Lawrence, Kenneth Noland, Barbara Morgan, Robert Rauschenberg, Cy Twombly, Susan Weil, and Marion Post Wolcott among many others. My intent has been to make images in dialogue with the College’s experimental ethos and to allow the landscape to affect me as well as my camera.
While this project focuses on Lake Eden and Black Mountain College specifically, the philosophy of the school permeates the whole of my practice as an artist and as a teacher. Ralph Waldo Emerson once said, “To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same fields, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again.” As a photographer, this rings particularly true to me. No single moment can be replicated; the light will never be the same again; I will never see this combination of shadows again; I will never be the exact person that I am in this moment again.
Goethe, Emerson, Dewey, Albers – a lineage of seers preaching the same gospel across time. Teach yourself to see, and the world will open to you. The 1951 BMC Summer Session Bulletin describes the focus of the photography classes similarly: “We try to become alert and watchful of the world around us, and we begin to see. The world is open wide to the photographer who can see. And one can never be bored if one can see.”
This quote also inspired the exhibition “Begin to See: The Photographers of Black Mountain College” curated by Julie J. Thomson. Thomson’s exhibition was the first to focus on the photographic output of the College. I couldn’t have made this work without spending many hours at Lake Eden, but without the Thomson exhibit I wouldn’t know the full extent of the history of photography at BMC. I have her to thank for my photographs, as well as the generous staff at the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center, and Camp Rockmont.
I will continue to make my pilgrimages to Lake Eden as long as Musuem + Arts Center keeps providing tours. There’s still much to see at Lake Eden, and I suspect there always will be.
Scroll through for still photographs and video:
A lyric walking tour of the Lake Eden campus of Black Mountain College, in Black Mountain, North Carolina. Images: Lisa McCarty | Sounds: D. Edward Davis. Digital Video | 34:55 | 2016
Made with support from the Black Mountain College Museum + Arts Center and the Media Arts Project, Black Mountain, NC. Previously screened at ReVIEWING Black Mountain College 8, Reuter Center, Asheville, NC, 2016 | Black Mountain College Museum + Art Center Interlude Festival, Asheville, NC, 2016
Lisa McCarty is an artist, curator, and educator based in Durham, North Carolina. McCarty has participated in over 70 exhibitions and screenings at venues such as the American University Museum, Amherst College’s Eli Marsh Gallery, Carnegie Museum of Art, Chicago Photography Center, Fruitlands Museum, Griffin Museum of Photography, Houston Center for Photography, the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, and the Visual Studies Workshop. McCarty’s photographs have also been featured in a variety of international festivals including Noorderlicht, Picture Berlin, and Sören Kierkegaard in Images, while her moving images have been screened at the New York Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Experiments in Cinema, Cairo Video Festival, Encounters Short Film & Animation Festival, and Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival. Her first book as a contributing writer and editor, William Gedney: Only the Lonely, 1955-1984 (co-written with Gilles Mora and Margaret Sartor), was published by the University of Texas Press and Editions Hazan in 2017. Her first book of photographs, Transcendental Concord, was published by Radius Books in 2018. McCarty received a MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University. She currently teaches at Duke’s Center for Documentary Studies and is curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts.