There is a reason why terms like “corporate drone” and “cog in the machine” exist. They are the result of the mundane routine of everyday life that can sometimes be too much to bear. Add to that the hopeless feeling of working for nameless billionaires who run massive corporations, bent on squeezing as much work as they can out of their employees for as little compensation as possible. For some, the future looks bleak; for others, the present is bleaker.
What is waiting at the finish line of this corporate rat race? Is it a race toward a non-existent reward or away from a hideous end? Humans have relinquished control and are governed by schedules and deadlines. Freedom is absent when shackled to calendars and appointment books. Of course, this is considered normal, adult activity. It is the life of an accountable grown-up with grown-up responsibilities and grown-up self-loathing. It is as if humankind knows the rat race is a façade and a sham, but has succumbed to the monotony anyway.
This must be why creatives stand out and are so often rejected by the masses. Creative individuals like artists, photographers, writers, actors, musicians and the like tend to see life from a different perspective. That perspective is not always dramatic, but it is often just different enough to make others take notice. When the cog no longer turns smoothly with the others in the machine, it is a clear sign that art is happening. Sometimes that art is the result of simply looking down instead of mindlessly staring ahead, steadily shuffling toward nothingness.
When a person looks down, he or she is forced to acknowledge that their feet are carrying them in a certain direction. In the stillness of stopping to consider this implication, one is undoubtedly struck with the question all humans dread, “Am I going in the right direction?” This question can be so frightening that some just surrender and laugh off the soul-killing routine of adult responsibility. To acknowledge that one is quite possibly going in the wrong direction in life can be enough to keep the wheels and cogs turning, forever distracted, forever racing towards a finish line at the edge of a cliff.
Chris Carr is one of those creative individuals who no longer turns smoothly with the other cogs. He is an artist determined to free humans from the race, and does so by compelling each person who views his work to look down, stop, and reconsider the direction of his or her life. Carr photographs the clues that help answer that ominous question, “Am I going in the right direction?” The images he captures plead with the viewer to stop racing and come to a complete stop before something beautiful and wonderful and magical is missed. Carr assumes the responsibility of photographing a different perspective that requires the viewer to look down and stop moving, and that is where the real journey begins.
Carr photographs puddles, or rather, the reflections captured in puddles. It sounds so simple, but therein lies the complexity. The resulting images are not altered in any way. Photoshop and Lightroom have no place in the process. The photographs are not edited, tweaked, or filtered through any digital program. The images are analog in the best possible way, like vinyl is to music recordings. There is a raw, organic quality about his work that entices and allows the viewer to actively participate, much like Alice through her looking glass.
Photographing a puddle is much like photographing a mirror, and the reflection is the focal point. In Carr’s case, the “mirror” is water collected in some sort of shape. It is an imperfect mirror, not only collecting water, but also detritus. The trace amounts of oil, or the cigarette butts, or the tiny weeds struggling to grow through cracks in the pavement are all imperfections playing a vital role in each photographic story and are just as important as the reflection itself.
In Carr’s 2015 piece, Oil Slick Walk Among the Clouds, the reflection of a robin’s egg blue sky and cottony white clouds is merely the first layer and the beginning to this piece’s story. The sky and clouds are set on a background of rough asphalt, its texture emphasized by the automotive oil also contained in the puddle. Oil and water may not mix, but in this case, they are complicit in transforming this puddle into a window to another dimension.
By photographing a reflection of the sky in an oil-infused puddle, this piece takes the viewer on an adventure fit for an astrophysicist. Beyond the sky, the texture of the oil-covered asphalt suggests stars scattered through the heavens. The streaks of oil in blues, purples, and greens are reminiscent of galaxies, or nebulae seen through a space telescope. This surreal image came about naturally, through the meeting of water and oil collected in a pothole. But it was Chris Carr the artist, the creative, who stopped, looked down, and documented this glimpse into deepest space.
Carr wholeheartedly accepts that everyday life can be more surreal than real, and that there are clues to support his theory in puddles everywhere. He believes his photographs “evoke the idea of two worlds, colliding in one image, all brought together from one small view.” And for Carr, it is not only that human existence is more surreal than not, but also that anyone, anywhere can tap into that wonder and amazement. He explains that their “true beauty is that the images are raw visuals, unchanged, allowing anyone to find the same imagery in the world around them.”
Clouds Melting on the Hot Asphalt, his piece from 2016, is a breathtaking interpretation of this idea. In what appears to be a tiny retention of water, hardly large enough to be considered a puddle, Carr has captured yet another surreal moment. It is a meteorological phenomenon so intense that clouds fall to the earth under the weight of oppressive heat and seemingly melt into liquid silver upon touching the scorching asphalt. This moment is shockingly intense given how simply the stage is set. There is just enough water collected on the road to reflect clouds on a bright day, and Carr just happened to be there to photograph it. To leave the art-making process at that point ignores the intention of the piece. It is not just that he was in the right place at the right time or that he saw something spectacular in the commonplace. He is teaching the viewer to look for these things, too, empowering the viewer to seek out the surreal in his or her own life.
Carr is documenting the clues and giving humanity a tutorial on what to look for when searching for one’s “right direction.” In drawing attention to these surreal, yet ordinary, events he is instructing the viewer to look closer at everything—even the smallest puddle of water. Carr has confidence that every human can find the unusual in the everyday if given the right opportunity and the right direction. The key to it all is perspective.
For Carr, perspective is the catalyst for change. To move from the mundane to the surreal is wholly dependent upon one’s perspective. He explains that his goal as an artist is to provide the viewer with “a perspective that many of us never take the time to notice, one right below our feet.” Indeed, perspective is an essential element of his artwork. In the 2015 piece, Fall Is in the Air, perspective allows for the earth to become sky and for the sky to become water. The trees imply that they are planted steadfastly in the earth, but the solitary leaf almost seems to fall up.
Perspective in Carr’s photography is not distorted. That definition tends to imply a negative connotation, like the artist is trying to mislead the viewer. Instead, his perspective is curious and inquisitive, almost childlike. Carr taps into the childlike curiosity found in all of humankind and attempts to awaken the naturally inherent creativity that has gone dormant. These grown-up lives full of responsibility and schedules and deadlines essentially suffocate the wonder and amazement that is bestowed upon each person. The oddly satisfying joy of jumping into puddles on rainy days is gone because responsible adults are too busy falling in line with the other corporate drones.
This is the moment when Chris Carr’s work is needed most. His photographs not only tell stories and document the clues that encourage humanity to look down and stop; his images also help remove the sting of that fateful question, “Am I going in the right direction?” It is the perfect balance between simple and complex. The simplicity is that Carr photographs reflections in puddles. The complexity is that it can turn a person’s world upside down. He is the artist, the creative, providing humanity with a new perspective and a chance to go in the right direction. Chris Carr is a cog no longer turning smoothly, inspiring the rest of the cogs to join him.