The Perfect Match of Craft to Idea
by Clint Willour and Anne Tucker
Carol Crow: A Remembrance Houston Center for Photography January 10-February 15, 1997
Carol Crow began to photograph at the age most people consider retirement. She had previous success as a sculptor making busts of children and of some famous adults as well as her friends. Her bust of lohn Steinbeck is on public display in California and that of Dr. Radoslav Tsanoff at Rice University. She also made busts of Angela Davis and Dr. Denton Cooley. She first studied photography in 1978 with Geoff Winningham and Peter Brown at the Media Center at Rice University, but she didn't really pursue her interest until the late 1980s when she studied again with Amy Blake-more at the Glassell School of Art. In the early 1990s, she discovered platinum printing. She took several workshops in platinum and palladium printing with John Dyes and Dan Burkholder. Most black-and-white prints are made with silver, but a print made with platinum or palladium or a combination of both yields much subtler gradations between each shade from white to gray to black. The prints are not as sharp or harsh as a silver print can be, but light can be more luminous and forms more subtly revealed. In platinum and palladium printing Carol found her true medium, the perfect match of craft to idea.
What she wanted was to make beautiful pictures and prints. Carol did not continue her interest in portraiture when she shifted from sculpture to photography. She told Fannie Tapper that after briefly photographing people, she realized that she would rather be in the park photographing roses. And photograph roses she did. Given her love of flowers, it is not surprising that she also had been president of the Garden Club of Houston. She photographed flowers both in their natural setting and in her home.
They were arranged in vases or laid simply on seamless white paper.
Between 1991 and her death in 1997, in addition to flowers, she also photographed architecture, found objects and landscapes, but rarely people. She was drawn to the formal aspects of her subjects: the geometric precision of a stairwell, the repeating circles of a display of hats, the curvaceous spiral of a nautilus, the feafy lushness of a tropical forest in Ecuador, and the heavy velvet quality of rose petals. In her last pictures made at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and in Vietnam, her pictures are more scenic and yet, still formal. At Angkor Wat she affirmed her love of sculpture by focusing on the receding lines of the stone gods. This work was partially funded by the Thanks Be To Grandmother Winifred Foundation.
Carol's pictures were never intended to be truthful documents. She was not as concerned with the details of her craft as many other photographers can be. She only learned the essentials that she needed to transfer to paper the vision in her head. But she stayed with it, until she got that vision. If her vision did not conform to how a picture was "supposed" to look, "too bad." Sometimes she flipped the negative so that two prints of the same subject were facing in opposite direc-tions, sometimes left to right and once, even flipped top to bottom. She would also change the tonality so that an image that was light and luminous in one printing became richly dark in the next. Some of the roses are printed in such light tones they seem barely to emerge from the watercolor paper she choose for printing, and in other images the flowers are darker and more erotic. In the Nautilus print owned by the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, the object is floating in light, almost ghostly; in another print the shell takes on volume and substance.
Asked about Carol's personality, people first refer to her graciousness and to her spunk. It was the latter that allowed her to travel extensively in both the U.S. and other countries, with pictures coming from all of those trips. Everyone was amazed when at age 80 she decided to make the trip to Cambodia and Vietnam. She chuckled how the Asians were themselves amazed that a woman of her age was traveling alone in a foreign country. Carol was very proud of her energy. It takes a lot of energy to photograph. One must get to places and often get into odd postures to get the angle required. The camera equipment and camera bag with film and filters are heavy. The printing process she used required long, tedious hours in the darkroom. To make a platinum print one must make two sets of negatives, and exposures on the final print can last up to an hour. When in Ecuador she wounded her art and continued to work until a doctor could be found, rather than give up the trip.
In 1994, at age 79, she had her first solo photography exhibition at Hiram Butler Gallery in Houston. Before that she had been in group exhibitions at Rice Media Center, Glassell School of Art and Houston Center for Photography. Later she exhibited in group shows at Barry Whistler Gallery in Dallas and at the Galveston Arts Center and showed her photographs from Asia in a solo show at the Waco Art Center. She had another one-person show at Devin Borden Hiram Butler Gallery in 1996. The shows thrilled her; she loved the openings because she was such a social being.
Carol was also supportive of the careers of other artists. She often attended photography openings in Houston and rarely missed one at HCP, an organization to which she was devoted and on whose board she served. After her first stroke we remember her determination to see a show, leaning on her walker as she viewed each print. She was also repeatedly interrupted by the many who wished her a speedy recovery. This was not to be, and her gracious presence, talent and energy will be missed.
Clint Willour is the executive director/curator of the Galveston Arts Center and curator of Carol Crow: A Remembrance. Anne Wilkes Tucker is the Gus and Lyndall Wortham curator of photography at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.