Jeff Schewe, Carl Corey In Conversation With Kevin Raber
A Fine Art Photographer/Documentarian/Cultural Topographer/Guggenheim Fellow
Portrait by Borkowski – Story by Jeff Schewe
Carl Corey, a Chicago native, is a photographer based in River Falls, Wisconsin. He graduated from Southern Illinois University (SIU) in 1976 with a BSFA in photography. Upon graduation, Carl returned to Chicago and started his commercial photo studio in 1979. This gives you a hint that Carl is a bit of a “graybeard” in the field of photography–he’s been there, done that, and has the t-shirt! His initial foray in the biz was as a commercial advertising photographer which is how I first met Carl. He was a “friendly competitor” of mine, which is a special relationship for photographers. We competed but as gentlemen, not enemies.
I first remember seeing some of Carl’s photos in an industry promo book titled The Art Director’s Index to Photographers. I had an ad in the same issue and while looking through the book I noticed an image that I thought was pretty special. Black leather shoes and a red shoestring. So simple yet so graphic. I’ve tried to remember the date but neither Carl nor I can be sure, sometime around 1980 or 1981. So, we’ve been friends for almost 40 years.
Throughout the 1980’s Carl worked as a highly successful award-winning advertising photographer. He worked on numerous campaigns with a variety of ad agencies both here in Chicago as well as throughout the country. The images below are examples of both samples and jobs Carl worked on.
Carl also produced personal work that didn’t really fall under the category of commercial work. In particular, he encouraged friends and clients to submit to his desire to shoot portraits. I’ll admit that Carl convinced me to submit and wear pajamas while holding a teddy bear. He claimed he wanted to show a softer, “teddy bear” version of me. While packing up my old studio for moving, I found a stack of test prints in an old paper box. Low and behold I found a test print of a portrait I did of Carl at about the same time. I also found a portrait my daughter Erica drew based on a snapshot of Carl I took. I’m not sure Carl remembers this image. I’ll have to send him a print!
While Carl was successful as an ad shooter, he was always looking for additional ways to express himself. One way that presented itself was to shoot film. Carl had shot film as personal projects for as long as I have known him. He would pack his trusty 16mm Arriflex camera kit when we took photo trips. It started out as a labor of love but got turned into a career change in 1988 that led to him packing up and moving out to LA in 1990.
He started out working as a film director for the commercial division of Lucas Arts (yes, the Star Wars George Lucas). He even had an office at Paramount Studios in Hollywood. Unfortunately, Carl didn’t get much of a chance to flourish since Lucas Arts hired over a dozen directors and failed to bring in much work. Carl decided to break off and start his own production company based in Venice, CA.
I actually found a copy of Carl’s commercial reel from about that time. Please note that this video was transferred from a ¾” tape deck and the original was from the standard 64×480 video that broadcast TV used. So, by comparison to today’s HD, it’s pretty low rez. I was with Carl when he shot the Go West, Young Sedan spot. Carl needed to drive his car out to LA and wanted company. I actually got to drive his Mercedes (that was me behind the wheel driving at sunset).
The Carl Covey Demo Reel (6:13)
LA wasn’t a place that Carl and his family really enjoyed. I remember one time in particular, I had called Carl but he hadn’t returned home from work yet. So I talked a bit with his wife Kay while waiting for Carl to get home. I vaguely remember something about coyotes and rattlesnakes when she yelled EARTHQUAKE! As we were talking, a relatively minor earthquake hit in their area. Not a lot of damage other than a large crack in their living room ceiling, but I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Shortly after this episode, Carl and family moved back to the Midwest and settled on a “gentlemen’s farm” just outside Hudson, Wisconsin. When I say a gentlemen’s farm, the only farming Carl did was growing pasture-although Carl and Kay had a garden that they shared with the local deer. The farm was about 9 acres of timber and pasture. He did have a real barn which was useful for storing his various motorcycles and farm tractors. He also had a “granary” that had been converted to a garage. The top story was converted to an office with printing and scanning workstations. He also acquired a large format Epson printer to do fine art digital printing. While Carl was still trying to shoot print ads and commercials in the Minneapolis/St. Paul market, he also started doing fine art printing for himself and other photographers and artists.
One agency Carl had worked with a lot was Leo Burnett. While out in South Dakota shooting for Marlboro, he met a location scout and local liaison named Robert Dennis who worked for film and still production companies. Robert took Carl all over western South Dakota and introduced him to a variety of Robert’s friends, mostly ranchers that Carl photographed. He got to know a lot of the families and returned many times over the years. The result of all of these trips was a collection of photographs that Carl assembled into his first book, Rancher: Photographs of the American West (Bunker Hill Publishing Inc; First Edition 2007). Signed copies are available for sale on Carl’s website and unsigned copies on Amazon.
During this time Carl expanded his fine art photography and gave up working for commercial clients. He was successful in developing a reputation as an excellent fine art digital printer and started a business named Gallery Print which was both a fine art digital print atelier as well as a printing supplies vendor offering printer inks and papers. He continued to develop new projects including HABITAT Man-Made America which was an exploration of houses, buildings, and other dwellings made by man–often shot at night or early evening. From his photographic wanderings, he hit upon several other projects including THE WISCONSIN TAVERN LEAGUE comprising photographs of Wisconsin taverns and their owners or bartenders and BLUE – A PORTRAIT OF THE AMERICAN WORKER. Carl expanded beyond the blue-collar workers’ portraits to include not only workers but the family-owned businesses that employ so many workers in Wisconsin in the project called FOR LOVE AND MONEY.
Both The Tavern League and For Love and Money projects were successful enough that the Wisconsin Historical Society decided to publish Carl’s second and third books: Tavern League: Portraits of Wisconsin Bars in 2011 and For Love and Money: Portraits of Wisconsin Family Businesses in 2014.
Carl’s success in landing the book deals didn’t happen by chance. They were the result of a lot of hard work. Schlepping folios around to museum directors and gallery owners. Carl printed a lot of shows that hung in places all over Wisconsin and beyond. His reputation was also expanded by coupling his photography to a social media platform he titled Americaville. While in fact, it’s a WordPress blog, the only words on his posts are an image number, and the location the photo was made. Ironically, while Carl doesn’t really like social media, Americaville has caught the attention of important people in the fine art photography industry and has helped advance Carl’s work considerably. In addition to loading images up to Americaville, Carl also posts to his Instagram account carlcoreyphotographer.
Carl is a self-described workaholic. In addition to running his gallery business and producing fine art digital prints for his shows and other artists, Carl also had to mow the pasture, cut firewood, travel to photograph, and go to shows–always busy as a beaver. But even a prolific fellow like Carl has to slow down sometimes. He decided to sell the farm and “retire” to a smaller homestead just outside River Falls, WI. In 2015 he bought a nice house with less land (and less grass to mow–I think he said something about hiring somebody to do it now). But Carl, being both practical (read cheap) and handy with tools decided to add a studio building on his property. I think he bought the plans on the internet, but aside from the job of finishing the cement floor. He built his studio with his own two hands and that of a few helpers.
Actually having a studio again–someplace where he could have a set and shoot–prompted him to hang a background and start shooting studio portraits. Not satisfied to use a current modern digital camera, Carl decided to get an old Mamiya Universal 6×9 rangefinder camera. He also came across a bunch of outdated FujiFilm Instant Film and used it to start a new project called STUDIO PORTRAITS. In addition to having film backs for the camera, Carl also had a custom adapter fabricated so he could mount a Leaf Aptus digital back on the camera. Carl named his camera The Lud-O-Flex. (I call it a Frankencamera)
Select Studio Portraits
As I mentioned, Carl and I have traveled a lot, usually to photograph together. Carl is a good photo-buddy as long as a) you’re willing to go where Carl wants to go and b) you let him drive. In all the trips we’ve taken together, I can barely remember doing any driving unless Carl couldn’t keep his eyes open (or he wanted to shoot his car). One of our first photo trips was back in the winter of 1985. Carl and I had both had jobs canceled the same week. Since the canceled jobs were still going to pay 50% of the shoot fee, we decided it was a free week. We took off in early January with the purpose of driving as far south as we could and still get back in time for Sunday. Why Sunday? Well, the Chicago Bears were in the playoffs so, of course, we had to get back in time to watch the game! We took off in Carl’s VW Vanagon Westfalia camper. The Vanagon was a sturdy little van with fairly high clearance but a rather puny engine. It could get just about anywhere as long as you weren’t in a hurry. As I recall, we ended up in Mountain Home, Arkansas in the middle of a blizzard and camped in an Army Corp of Engineers campground. When we woke up, we were in pristine snow and drove for a couple of hours before finding any tracks in the snow. We made it home to Chicago in time to see the Bears win their playoff game. That was the year they won the Superbowl.
Fast forward to 2017 and Carl and I took another photo trip together. This time not in the freezing dead of winter but in the mild month of May. We weren’t in his VW van but in a recent purchase, a Minnie Winnie Winnebago mobile home. The term “home” is a misnomer…it’s more like a mobile “room”. Not only is the passenger seat way small–no way to skootch back–and crowded by the engine (which gives off a nice blast of heat), the camper portion is tiny. It does have a small kitchen, bathroom, dining area, and couch, but I think it’s more of a one-man vehicle. Which is perfect since Carl loves to use it to drive where he wants to shoot and lives in it while shooting. Not only can he stay almost anywhere, but he also doesn’t need to spend the money a hotel/motel would cost. Did I mention Carl is practical?
The trip we took was up to Superior, WI. Carl had wanted to shoot the town and docks where both domestic and foreign ships have bulk solids like grain loaded. Superior. Like so many cities in the “rust belt”, Superior has seen better days but there’s still a sense of civic pride and the citizens’ dedication keeps the city going. It was during this trip that Carl shot the beginning of a project he titled The Strand. It was an auspicious beginning to what would become a pinnacle project in Carl’s career. I’m delighted I was there with him for the beginning and darn glad I didn’t have to go with him to all the cities, towns and villages where he took that darn Minnie Winnie.
In April 2019 Carl was informed that he was one of 12 photographers awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship by the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation. His proposal was to travel around the cities, towns, and villages that border the American Great Lakes. Carl’s short statement says:
The Strand – A cultural topography of the current Great Lakes Community preserving through still photographs the integrity of the current communities on the Great Lakes Strand for the benefit, review, and education of current and future generations by building a photographic archive of the largest megalopolis in North America. Focusing upon the American Great Lakes secondary cities from Two Harbors, Minnesota to Rochester, New York this documentary investigates the current cultural and economic landscape with an eye towards the historical significance of the Great Lakes Strand.
If you were wondering about the term “Cultural Topographer” I listed after Carl’s name, this is why. He uses the term cultural topography rather than landscape to describe what he’s trying to capture. Carl has posted a digital copy of a portfolio of the images he has submitted to the Guggenheim. You can purchase printed copies for $25 USD (for US shipping destinations). Carl has also created the Strand Small Print Guggenheim Portfolio which is a portfolio of thirty titled, signed & numbered verso pigment prints in a linen clamshell box. The edition is limited to an edition of five.
You might think Carl may be happy to just rest on his laurels and you would be wrong. He’s got other projects he’s working on. He and a friend Dan Gerber started a FaceBook Group titled the Visual Conservancy. Carl describes it as: “A self-curated group designed to encourage interesting and informative dialogue about photography. You must apply to be a member (anybody can see the images) and agree to only post one image per week. No shares, ads or links are allowed (you’ll get one warning). The other rule is no politics, and you must be polite and honest. It’s a breath of fresh air on Facebook I’ll tell you! As part of the VC Group, Carl and Dan curate a printed booklet published each year. I was honored to have one of my images in PEER Volume 1. They are working on PEER Volume 2 right now.
I sincerely hope you get the chance to watch the video that Kevin Raber and I shot with Carl over Zoom. You’ll get a better sense of Carl Corey and his wit and humor. Please check out Carl’s website as well. In particular, check out his Books & Special Editions pages where you can review and purchase books and special folios. Oh, did I mention Carl also sells Prints?
Jeff Schewe has been an award winning Advertising Photographer in Chicago for over 30 years. He is accomplished in tabletop, location, portraiture and particularly accomplished in computer imaging. Jeff shoots a variety of subject matter and likes to control as much of the production as possible. He does this by making his own models, designing and building his own sets, painting backgrounds and employing computer imaging. He has been doing his own imaging for almost 20 years in house on his high-end Macintosh systems. Jeff Schewe has been described as a Photoshop Guru’s Guru. He’s on the inside of the development and testing of Photoshop, Camera Raw and Lightroom and has helped guide and direct many features since Photoshop 4.0. Short of some of the Photoshop engineers, there’s probably not many people who knows Photoshop like Jeff. As an indication of his skills and knowledge of fine art printing, he has been named an Epson Stylus Pro. He is a past Apple Master of the Medium and has been inducted into the Photoshop Hall of Fame (2006).