Charleston photographer uses old-time techniques to preserve history
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CHARLESTON, S.C. -- Magnolia Cemetery in Charleston dates back to the 1850’s. It’s the sort of place to which photographer Julia Cart is drawn.
"I think most photographers are drawn to cemeteries, especially when you work in black and white," said Cart." It's, it's kind of a big cliche, but what the heck."
Damaged during the Civil War and subject to present-day vandalism, Cart is attempting to capture as many of the cemetery’s sculptural elements as she can before they are gone. That’s been the template for her entire career in photography.
"I call myself a visual preservationist," she said.
At a time when seemingly every photographer has gone digital, Cart captures images with box cameras. Those employ 19th century technology and when Cart goes underneath the hood the subject on which she has focused appears upside down and backwards.
"It kind of forces you into a different place and it's, it's really, I love that about it," she said.
It’s completely different than the way most photographers work. The pace is slow and the process takes patience.
"It's being receptive. It's being quiet and open," said Cart. "I never really start out knowing I'm gonna have a good picture. It kinda, it's a nice surprise when it happens."
Even after the image is on the negative, Cart uses throw-back techniques.
She develops the prints in her home darkroom using chemicals and ultimately metals such as platinum and gold to create the finished product.
"That is platinum printing. That platinum printing was developed in the 1850's," said Cart.
"The metals are embedded in the paper. It's timeless and it's, it's very archival."
The results are deep and rich photographs and Cart’s subject matter is just as deep and just as rich. It ranges from a series of portraits of members of the Low Country Gullah community to local landscapes and structures, some of which don’t even exist today because of progress and development.
The work of a visual preservationist is bittersweet.
"A sea of faces and places that are no longer something I can go visit," said Cart.
Cart is intent on continuing to aim her cameras at endangered features in and around Charleston. In many instances, it’s a race against time.
"There's more work to be done out there," she said.
Cart's work is available at a Charleston gallery and on her website.