Photographer Keith Carter revisits his seminal work an internationally acclaimed collection of small-town-Texas portraits first published some 25 years ago
By Keith Carter
In the beginning, there was no real plan, just a road trip that became a journey. We had been married 10 years and wanted to celebrate—do something special. I suggested an exotic trip to someplace like Morocco and was met with a less-than-enthusiastic response. The next day I tried again with an idea of wandering the back roads of Texas. We could pick one hundred small towns or communities with interesting names and go see what’s there. I would make photographs along the way. Pat was all in.
See more of Keith Carter's Uncertain to Blue photographs in the March 2012 issue.
Most people know Texas as king sized and mythic. It takes 11 hours to drive from my home in the lowlands near the Texas-Louisiana border to El Paso in the west or Amarillo in the north. Along the way, Texas is blessed with an enormous number of small communities with eccentric or lyrical names, many of them based on folklore, myth, whiskey-fueled bets, family names, or simple whimsy. Names like Diddy Waw Diddy, Elysian Fields, or Poetry—which, by the way, was mostly goat ranchers, not poets.
I tried to make my working method simple and practical: one town, one photograph. I would take several rolls of film but select only one image to represent that dot on my now-tattered map. The titles of the photographs are the actual names of the small towns we visited in the years 1986 and 1987. I tried to not make the images based on the town’s name. No problem staying off the interstates as we listened to Merle Haggard sing Jimmie Rodgers while driving our meandering course. Mile after mile we’d pass nothing but desert sagebrush or tumbleweed. Other times we’d pass through fields of bluebonnets and sagging farmhouses slowly sinking into lush green fields and unrelenting heat. Pat journaled; I photographed. We went from Uncertain to Blue and scores of towns in between, marveling at what was and was not there, but mostly, those small roads and natural sights were a gift to ourselves.
In May 1986, photographer Keith Carter and his wife, Patricia, embarked on what he describes as “the first of what was to be a series of long and surprising car trips.” These journeys—to more than a hundred small towns across Texas—culminated in 1988, with Carter’s first book, From Uncertain to Blue, a landmark book of photography with a foreword by the late playwright Horton Foote. From Uncertain to Blue garnered national and international acclaim for its powerful, simple portraits of life in rural Texas and established Carter’s reputation as a premier photographer.
Some 25 years later, the University of Texas Press has
re-envisioned From Uncertain to Blue in a completely redesigned, hard-cover
edition that includes several new elements: some of Carter’s original contact
sheets, additional notes from Patricia Carter’s journal about each of the
places they visited, and an introductory essay by Carter in which he reflects on
this seminal work and provides additional insight into his creative
From the March 2012 issue.