Poetry, rising suns, and oleander: Tony Carter-Hill's work captures quiet moments

The first time I met Tony Carter-Hill, he took my picture.  

Something about having your picture taken is completely personal, and in any other situation, it probably would have made me feel awkward if not angry. A portrait is a complex thing: it has been used as a way to document moments in time (graduations, birthdays), identify criminals (mugshots), or, in 2018, to practice a little self-love (the selfie.) It takes preparation. 

Interestingly, I didn't feel uncomfortable as Carter-Hill squinted behind the lens of the old, film camera.

"I use a Yashica Electro 35 GT, a Japanese 35mm camera from 1970," says Carter-Hill. The camera had been passed along to him from a friend at CalArts. "During this time, I was learning about photojournalists that had crossed over into documentary film. I didn't know this was possible and this realization inspired me. I began to play with the camera immediately but an entire year passed before I had that first roll developed. The images came out great. I think photography found me." 

I immediately got the impression he had taken many portraits before, and probably of people he didn't even know, such as myself. Afterward, he promised to send me the photo. The result is a little blurry. There's something sweet about the unpreparedness of it—I didn't have time to check my appearance in the mirror. Rather, it was a reflection of how I present myself to the world—how I look when I'm not thinking about how I look. You can see it below, I have my arms crossed and a slight smile.  

That's kind of the central tenet of Carter-Hill's photography—he captures moments and people in their most organic moments. In many of his photos, the subjects are turned away from the camera or had just noticed it was there. If it is not a portrait, it still exudes quiet reflection. 

"I sense them meditating," Carter-Hill says of photo subjects. "They are peaceful, for a fraction of a second. When I look and find a person in uninterrupted thought, I know they are making a self-discovery from within."

The result is a collection of beautifully unposed and relatable images—ones that jog your memory and bring back specific experiences, smells, or emotions. Carter-Hill is able to focus in on the smallest, minute details and emphasize their importance. 

"Reading a poem by a friend, reflecting on the perfume of an oleander, waking up before a rising sun," Carter-Hill muses. "That's inspiring." 

You can view more of Tony Carter-Hill's work on his website

I also highly recommend watching his film Wearing the Big Heart, documenting the Women's March in Los Angeles.