Ellen Carey

experimental | independent | inventive | visual | imaginative

Ellen Carey (b.1952 USA) is an educator, independent scholar, guest curator, photographer and lens-based artist, whose unique experimental work (1974-2020) spans several decades. Her early work Painted Self-Portraits (1978) were first exhibited at Hallwalls, one of the first artist-run alternative space, home to the Buffalo avant-garde — Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman — and led to a group exhibit The Altered Photograph at PS 1, another avant-garde institution. The visionary curator, Linda Cathcart, Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG) selected Carey’s work for this exhibition as well as The Heroic Figure, which presented thirteen American artists for the São Paulo Biennale including Cindy Sherman, Nancy Dwyer, Julian Schnabel and David Salle, portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe; South/North American tour (1984-1986).

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In 1983, The Polaroid Artists Support Program invited Carey to work at the Polaroid 20 X 24 Studio. Her Neo-Geo, post-psychedelic Self-Portraits (1984-88) were created, followed by her stacked photo-installations Abstractions (1988-95). Her pioneering breakthrough in Polaroid sees her Pull (1996) followed by her Rollback (1997) naming her Polaroid practice Photography Degree Zero (1996-2020). She investigates minimal and abstract images with Polaroid’s instant technology partnered with her innovative concepts, often using only light, photography’s indexical, or none, emphasizing zero. Her photogram work is darkroom-based and camera-less; it parallels her Polaroid less-is-more aesthetic under her umbrella concept Struck by Light (1992-2018). When Carey works in the color darkroom, no light is allowed except upon exposure. Carey has worked in a variety of cameras and formats: Polaroid SX-70 and Polaroid PN film; black/white to colour; 35mm, medium, and large format. Her experimental images see a range of genres and themes; they are one-of-a-kind. Underscored by concepts around light, photography’s indexical and properties specific to the medium – silhouette; shadow; negative; outline – Carey often uses RGBYMC, photographic colour theory, as a point-of-departure in palette, adding context and content. She cites the history of color photography and the work of Anna Atkins – first photographer, first in color – highlighted in Carey’s project: Women in Colour: Anna Atkins, Color Photography and Those Struck by Light (2014-2020).

Site-specific monumental installations in Polaroid include Mourning Wall of 100 grey negatives at Real Art Ways (2000), also exhibited in Part-Picture (2015) at The Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MoCCA); Self-Portrait @ 48 at Connecticut Commission for the Arts (2001); the gigantic Pulls XL that used Polaroid 40 X 80 camera (shortly dismantled, never re-assembled) for her MATRIX #153 exhibit (2004-05) at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art (www.wadsworthatheneum.org) in their prestigious MATRIX program. Dings & Shadows are often huge colour photogram installations, one seen at The Benton Museum of Art, another at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). Caesura (2016) is a photogram that introduces visual breaks in color; caesura is Greek or Latin for pause: in word (poetry) or sound (music). Her images use color theory — RGBYMC — as palette and conceptual point-of-departure, using light, photography’s indexical, as it — blends, bends, breaks — across the paper. What remains are vertical bands, dividing the rectangle in half, white is the break or pause, in the composition; its “ caesura” or cut, dramatic black signals too much light, colors overlap as well. Zerogram re-names the traditional photogram; many reproduced and published in her first artist book  – Mirrors of Chance: The Photograms of Ellen Carey  – by The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (www.cartermuseum.org).

Photography Degree Zero (1996-2020) names her large-format Polaroid 20 X 24 lens-based art, which she began using in 1983 under the Polaroid Artist Support Program. Struck by Light (1992-2020) finds her parallel practice in the darkroom with the camera-less photogram, a process from the dawn of the medium, discovered in the 19th century by William Henry Fox Talbot, both photogram and the phrase drawing with light continue today. Her experimental investigations into abstraction and minimalism, partnered with her innovative concepts and iconoclastic art-making, often use bold colors to create new forms. Colour and light is the link between her two practices; light, photography’s indexical, is used a lot or a little or none at all; its absence or zero.

Pictus & Writ (2008-2020) finds the artist’s tradition of writing on other artists. Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at MASS MoCA, with Yale University Press, published the book Sol LeWitt:100 Views with 100 new essays; Color Me Real is Ellen Carey’s contribution. Her Man Ray essay on her discovery of his “hidden” signature in his black and white photograph (1935) titled Space Writings (Self-Portrait) sees an edited version At Play with Man Ray published in Aperture. Writing her own work: In Hamlet’s Shadow, published – The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation – exhibit/book/tour (2012-13); Mary-Kay Lombino, Curator,  Vassar College, plus Polaroid Year Zero, Carey’s essay, for the international tour/book/group exhibition The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology (www.fep-photo.org); Thames & Hudson Ltd. (London, UK) cover features a Carey Pull (CMY); her –  Mirrors of Chance: The Photograms of Ellen Carey –  a limited edition book, published concurrently with her one-person exhibit – Dings Pulls & Shadows – Amon Carter Museum of American Art; Mirrors of Chance names her one-person at Galerie Miranda (Paris).

Ellen Carey’s work has been the subject of 60 one-person exhibitions in museums, alternative spaces, university, college and commercial galleries (1978-2018) – highlights: Dings, Shadows and Pulls,  at The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA); Photography Degree Zero Matrix#153 Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art; Mourning Wall Real Art Ways; femme brut(e) Lyman Allyn Art Museum; Struck by Light Saint Joseph University; Ellen Carey: Survey ICP/NY. An international tour/book/group exhibition: The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art and Technology features a Carey Pull (CMY) on book’s cover, her essay Photography Year Zero inside; international tour (to date) includes museums in: Hamburg, Vienna, Berlin, Singapore, Montreal, seen at MIT Museum, end of June 2020 (www.mitmuseum.edu); 2017 opened the exhibit – The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA). 

Her work seen in hundreds of group exhibits (1974-2020) in: museums, alternative spaces, university and college galleries, non-profits and commercial venues; highlighted in permanent collections of over 60 photography/art museums: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG), Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA), deCordova Museum and Sculpture Park, George Eastman Museum (GEM), Museum at the Chicago Art Institute, Fogg Museum at Harvard University, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA), Norton Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), Vassar College, Whitney Museum of American Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Yale University Art Gallery while corporate collections include: Banana Republic and JP Morgan Chase Collection; noted private collections: The LeWitt Foundation (CT) and Sir Elton John Collection (Atlanta, GA and UK). Her website: www.ellencareyphotography.com and Wikipedia.

Dings and Shadows (2018) © Ellen Carey

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