Lisa McCarty: Transcendental Concord
In the woods, we return to reason and faith. There I feel that nothing can befall me in life, — no disgrace, no calamity, (leaving me my eyes,) which nature cannot repair. Standing on the bare ground, — my head bathed by the blithe air, and uplifted into infinite space, — all mean egotism vanishes. I become a transparent eye-ball; I am nothing; I see all; the currents of the Universal Being circulate through me; I am part or particle of God. – Ralph Waldo Emerson
As we move into the New Year, considering the power of the natural world – the miracle of a shaft of light moving silently across time and space, the changing seasons, the sounds of wind in the woods or the brilliant hues of late desert light, nature provides a sense of calm in our frenetic and stress filled lives. Artist Lisa McCarthy has expanded that consideration by creating a body of work that speaks to the the spirit of Transcendentalism, the literary and philosophical movement that arose in the mid-19th century. Her project, Transcendental Concord, published by Radius Books, parallels her own reverence for the natural world with photographs that point to large and small variations in environment, season and light, using long exposures and camera movement in order to capture variations open to experimentation and chance.
In addition to nature, over the course of a year and in every season, Lisa photographed the sites where the Transcendentalists lived and wrote in Concord, Massachusetts, noting changing light and shifts in nature. She also considered texts and locations that were pivotal to Transcendentalist thinking.
“While the circle of Transcendentalists in New England was wide, at its center was a core group that lived in Concord, Massachusetts. Bronson Alcott and daughter Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau lived within a few miles of each other for nearly 20 years, regularly meeting in each other’s homes and on the paths of Walden Woods to discuss their writings and beliefs.”
The book includes essays by Rebecca Norris Webb and Kirsten Rian and a special Library Edition is also available, which includes 18 archival prints in a handmade portfolio. For further information about this exclusive edition of eight, please contact Radius Books.
Transcendental Concord (Radius Books, 2018), visually interprets Transcendentalism, the philosophical and social movement that arose from Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-19th century. Just prior to the Civil War, and in the face of widespread industrialization, the Transcendentalists defied social conventions by pioneering models of communal living, modern environmental thinking, education reform, and secular spirituality. Transcendental Concord connects this past American movement with the present moment by combining original texts by the Transcendentalists with photographs I made in their homes and the surrounding landscape. The series pays homage to the Transcendentalists not only by capturing the environments that inspired their way of life, but in my technique: using the camera to frame changes in environment, paired with an openness to photographic experimentation. – Lisa McCarthy
How does a photographer try to capture the spirit of Concord, a place whose literary inhabitants—Henry David Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Bronson and Louisa May Alcott—forever changed the way we Americans look at ourselves and at the natural world? For Lisa McCarty, her map was her own dog-eared copies of Walden, Nature, Concord Days, The Journals of Louisa May Alcott, and other volumes by these 19th Century luminaries. Following their words, McCarty walked where they walked, looked where they looked, all the while doing so deliberately, to use Thoreau’s famous directive. For a photographer, seeing this attentively is akin to listening with one’s whole being. For the Transcendentalists, being this open invites poetry, insight, and mystery to visit us—as well as that ever-so-elusive spirit of place.
“Books can only reveal us to ourselves,” Thoreau once wrote. This beautiful and thoughtful book of McCarty’s you hold in your hands can be your poetic map to the world of the Concord Transcendentalists—that is, if you choose to look and to read and to look again deliberately.
Rebecca Norris Webb
Cape Cod, Massachusetts
Lisa McCarty is an artist and curator based in Dallas, Texas, where she is Assistant Professor of Photography at Southern Methodist University. A former librarian and archivist, her work explores disruptive technologies, communities, and philosophies across time.
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, Houston Center for Photography, McEvoy Foundation for the Arts, the Nasher Museum of Art, 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, Internationale Photoszene Köln, 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.
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