© Owen McCarter

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Owen McCarter

Great Barrington, Massachusetts

Artist Statement

The river winds through the hills like a caught snake.

It's dark body, twisting back and forth.

It’s mouth is always open, always swallowing.

We used to tread the bank’s edge like ducks in a line.

Skipping stones, smashing sticks.

One, two, three, we’d jump downwards into muddy water.

Little bodies glimmering under the surface.

I remember when we made our own fishing rods and caught trout in the bend by the old church. We returned home beaming, holding their lifeless bodies like treasured silver. It was then that we learned more about our river, that we had killed the animals, but we could not eat them. That the mud around our ankles and on our arms was contaminated sediment. Like a day in English class we memorized new vocabulary: superfund site, bioaccumulation, Polychlorinated Biphenyl. The list went on and on, but one word stuck out. My grandfather had recently died because of this word, so I knew it. Cancer.

This project centers on the Housatonic River and pollution caused by the General Electric superfund site at the river’s source. I began photographing the river using a 4x5 view camera by reconstructing memories. Rather than just photographing a site of contamination, I was placing my body, and that of those I grew up with, within that site in the same manner as when I was a child. I use film because of its physicality. The negative is all too often a hidden object, something to be archived. I want to make it visible. After imaging sites along the river I return to bury the processed film, degrading the emulsion into abstract marks. In this manner the material production of the work mirrors the act of photographing, becoming a performance of our construction of place. Using both documentary and constructed narrative imagery the work examines our cognition of place and identity through past, present, and anticipated future experiences. I want to question what it means to inherit toxicity? How does my generation reconcile with loss and what does our imagined future look like? The work exists within this murky area, each element a transitory symbol. The river is never the same: it is a site of death, it is a womb, it is holy water.

In the following year I intend to work collaboratively with my wider community to contextualize our relationship to the space we inhabit and increase involvement with remediation. I would use the Hopper Prize to conduct local workshops and purchase a 4x5 field camera. I plan to conclude this project by the summer of 2023 with a published monograph. I hope that this project will not only serve as a witness, but actively engage people in addressing the environmental issues that we face today.

© Owen McCarter

Owen McCarter's Portfolio

© Owen McCarter

Artist Biography

Owen McCarter (b.1998.) is a documentary and performance based artist living and working in Western Massachusetts. His photographs have been exhibited in The Berkshire Museum, The Norman Rockwell Museum, and galleries across New England. In 2021 he was the recipient of The Norman and Rose Avnet Fellowship Award, the T.C. Colley Award, the FPA Student Project Award, and Monson Residency award. He recently completed his BFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design.



© Owen McCarter

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