OD Photo Prize 2023 | Shortlisted Artist
Owen McCarter [b. 1998] is an artist living and working in Providence Rhode Island. His photographs have been exhibited in The Berkshire Museum, The Norman Rockwell Museum, and galleries across New England. He has been the recipient of The Norman and Rose Avnet Fellowship Award, the T.C. Colley Award, the FPA Student Project Award, and Monson Residency award. He recently completed his BFA in photography at the Rhode Island School of Design.
Artist Statement | “The river winds through the hills like a caught snake.
It’s dark body, twisting back and forth.
It’s mouth is always open, always swallowing.
I remember when we made our own fishing rods and caught trout in the bend by the old church. We returned home beaming, holding their lifeless bodies like treasured silver. It was then that we learned more about our river, that we had killed the animals, but we could not eat them. That the mud around our ankles and on our arms was contaminated sediment. Like a day in English class we memorized new vocabulary: superfund site, bioaccumulation, Polychlorinated Biphenyl. The list went on and on, but one word stuck out. My grandfather had recently died because of this word, so I knew it. Cancer.
This project centers on the Housatonic River and pollution caused by the General Electric superfund site at the river’s source. Using both documentary and constructed narrative imagery the work examines our cognition of place and identity through past, present, and anticipated future experiences. I want to question what it means to inherit toxicity? How does my generation reconcile with loss and what does our imagined future look like? The work exists within this murky area, each element a transitory symbol. The river is never the same: it is a site of death, it is a womb, it is holy water.
The project’s title, Et in Arcadia ego, is a direct reference to Nicolas Poussin’s moralized landscape painting of the same name. Poet Théophile Gautier wrote of the piece, “The picture of the Shepherds of Arcady expresses with a naïve melancholy the brevity of life and awakens among the young Shepherds and the girl who look at the tomb they have found, the forgotten idea of death.” Contemporary photographic representations of the environments use epic scale to describe a world irrevocably damaged by humanity. It is my intention to play against these conventions. To show my home as not just a classified waste site, but a place in the process of healing. The Arcadia of my childhood. In my project I work collaboratively with my community to visualize a reciprocal relationship to the space we inhabit. We position The river, as a site of ongoing remediation, is uniquely positioned to speak not only of environmental disaster, but of hope for the future.” — Owen McCarter
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