Clockwise from top left corner: S1; S17; S28; S7; S3; S14;
Hyatt's Camera; Portrait of Carl Austin Hyatt; S18
All images are 50" x 60", archival digital print on watercolor paper
While attending college, before any thought of becoming a photographer, Carl Austin Hyatt found himself at a museum in Amsterdam one morning, staring into Rembrandt’s eyes. After twenty minutes in front of the self-portrait, he was finally ‘released’ from the gaze only to realize he had been having an intimate conversation with a master who had lived four centuries earlier. It was as if he had just met the Ancient Mariner. Such was his introduction to the soul of art.
Hyatt is known for his exacting attention to detail and technique, which began in his twenties. For several years, he and his best friend cloistered themselves in a old farmhouse where they were perfecting the intricacies of chemistry, exposure, film, and paper. After months of trial and error in the darkroom, they would drive twelve hours to New York City to compare their tests with the prints of the masters on the walls of the Museum of Modern Art. Avoiding the vigilant guards, they would unfold their latest tests in search of the secrets of tonality. The luminous tones of Hyatt's prints have become another key signature of his work.
Hyatt is a 1996 MacDowell Colony Fellow, and is represented in both public and private collections across the United States, Canada, Europe, and Asia. He works in Large Format using 4x5, 8x10, and 11x14 cameras and currently lives in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.
The Portsmouth Salt Pile Series
From Portsmouth to New York City, Carl Austin Hyatt, Opening
Co-Hosted By Greenberg Editions & The Banks Gallery
115 West 29th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001
Opening Reception - September 24th, 4-7 PM
Exhibition Dates: September 24th - October 2, 2015
Hours: Mon-Fri 10-5
As Lucian Freud once observed, there is a distinction between fact and truth. In photography the camera is assumed to be recording facts; yet in the hands of an artist like Carl Austin Hyatt, the device becomes a medium for the revelation of larger truths.
Hyatt’s work is important because in it the commonplace is made mysterious and monumental. Threads of the spiritual and the archetypal run through Hyatt’s work, including his ongoing series of photographs of the Portsmouth, New Hampshire salt piles.
The harbor salt piles, leviathan mounds, yearly appear and disappear from Portsmouth’s working waterfront, where the salt is unloaded from ships and stored for use on northern New England’s wintry highways. So much for the facts.
Hyatt’s salt piles magnificently transcend the actual. Hyatt’s lens documents a spiritual geometry: he fixes not just form, light, and shadow, but the timelessness of the contemporary moment, even as it passes. Removed from their everyday context, their scale rendered ambiguous, the images in Hyatt’s Portsmouth Salt Pile Series have an epic quality, a sense not just of grandeur, but of the cosmic and the impersonal.
Though apparently as fixed as the Egyptian pyramids, in fact the Portsmouth Harbor salt piles are ever changing, as Hyatt points out, “constantly moving and yet contained.” For Hyatt the site seems to function something like a zen rock garden, a nexus of chaos and order, inviting spiritual contemplation of the time-bound and the eternal, “a meditation on light, sky, fog.”
These images reflect a lifetime of exacting attention to detail, technique, and assimilated art history. In their begetting also are the majesty of glaciers and the sacred mountains of Machu Picchu, Peru, where Hyatt has spent significant time photographing the landscape and the shamans who intuitively understand the spirituality of nature.
It was Thoreau’s example, that of “picking a place and boring into it,” that Hyatt, who is from the Connecticut, says landed him in the Seacoast region of New Hampshire. Here he has developed his talent for profound observation and his ability to enter so deeply into a place that, as he describes it, the place begins to feel as aware of his presence as he is of it’s.
Hyatt’s photographs represent for the artist, as for us, a hard-won and meticulous record of a visceral response to the world: How alive can you be? They are a calling to a deeper, more authentic way of being in the world, to ineffable truths that transcend the facts: “Things we all know but dismiss because we don’t believe it. This is our condition. It has taken me years to believe in what I know.”
Carl Austin Hyatt’s photography suggests that art is still capable of transmitting the authentic experience of beauty and truth, however ineffably, and that both are always closer to hand than we think. “The value of great art is transmission and transmission is priceless,” he has said. It allows us “to instinctively feel someone has revealed something about life – even if it cannot be named.”
— Christopher Volpe, for the Banks Gallery
The Banks Gallery was previously featured on The Nice Niche in January 2013: