Carl Corey has a new book out. I was asked to write the foreword, and after reviewing Carl’s photos, I agreed wholeheartedly, because his work honors people who deserve honor but rarely seek it. If you’d like to read the whole foreword–or even more to the point, study Carl’s work as closely as it deserves–you’ll need to get the book, but here are some excerpts:
Looking at Carl Corey’s photograph of a worn United States flag hanging above a fresh white set of home appliances, I am reminded that here in America we fetishize the concept of the individual, and—as a subcategory of the same—laud small business, a habit of approbation so inborn that we can sing it even while sailing freely past Mom and Pop and their outdated cash register and arrive at the megastore with coupons and a clear conscience, knowing the washers and dryers are cheaper there. Nowhere is individualism touted more than in advertisements, in which the much-coveted status is achieved by purchasing a lot of just the right thing, be it a slimmer phone, a sleeker car, or slimmer and sleeker themselves. Carl Corey’s photos are a useful corrective in this regard, because he too is bringing us images of individualism, but rather than purchasing their individuality at retail, his subjects have laid their own tails on the line while crossing their fingers it’s not a railroad track.
Then I realized maybe I was making things sound too grim:
Well, shoot. In my determination to read these photographs deeply and properly honor the entrepreneurial pluck of their subjects, I fear I have failed to convey the fact that this book is a testament suitable to be read as something other than scripture for a wake. Fifty years: you do not stay in business for that long without success. Perhaps not jet-set success, or recession-proof success, or even ride-a-used-golf-cart-into-the-sunset success, but success nonetheless. Thus in many of these faces you see satisfaction. Not smugness, nothing that will leap boldly off the corporate brochure, just some quiet knowledge that certain virtues—hard work, perseverance, loyalty—are yet extant despite all postmodern cynicism and irony, and despite all post-postmodern candy-floss paens to the same in any given kitty litter commercial.
And Carl Corey is good at giving us glimpses of the humanity—and even goofiness—that give lie to the idea that survival is a nonstop grind. Consider the dark scarlet warmth of the pub shot—you think those three fellows won’t flow stories for as long as you flow beer? And the café owner who rests one arm on a plastic high chair knows that what he has his arm on there is a totem to the idea that new customers are born every day. The bright blue of the butcher’s gloves serve as their own happy little disruption in a photograph that is otherwise all sterility and meat. A group of men in casual businesswear sit surrounded by holy vestments, gilded crucifixes, and plaster angels, grouped around a table garnished with Jesus bleeding on a crucifix. The barkeep with rifles tagged for sale back above the whiskey, the store selling wine and shotguns—these are images that either catch your breath as unthinkable, or, if you’re from around these parts, let you know you’re in a familiar establishment.
I concluded the foreword with a passage based on this photo:
Look at the logger again, his leather coat so worn to his work that it has taken on wrinkles and a posture of its own, not unlike the hide of a rhino. There is something in that coat and something in that logger’s eyes that say, Yes, I know there are better ways to survive. But this is my way.
And furthermore: Define better.
Excerpted from For Love and Money, by Carl Corey.
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