Lisa McCarty is a photographer, filmmaker, and curator based in Durham North Carolina. Lisa has participated in over 50 exhibitions at venues such as The Ogden Museum of Southern Art, Chicago Photography Center, Houston Center for Photography, Griffin Museum of Photography, Asheville Art Museum, and the American University Museum. Lisa’s photographs have also been shown internationally in Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Argentina. Additionally her moving images have been screened at the New York Film Festival, Chicago Underground Film Festival, Cairo Video Festival in Egypt, and Alchemy Film & Moving Image Festival in Scotland. Today we share her series, Transcendental Concord.
Transcendental Concord is a project to seek out & document the spirit of Transcendentalism, the literary, mystical, & philosophical movement that arose from Concord, Massachusetts in the mid-nineteenth century. While the circle of Transcendentalists in New England was wide at this time, at its center was a core group that lived in Concord. Bronson Alcott and daughter Louisa May Alcott, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry David Thoreau lived within a few miles of each other for nearly twenty-five years, regularly meeting in each other’s homes and on the verdant paths of Walden Woods to discuss their writings, inspirations, observations, politics and spiritual beliefs. This daily communion with Nature, neighbors, and one’s own mind is at the heart of the Transcendental ethos. For Transcendentalism was not simply a new approach to writing about the world, but a new approach to living and being present in it. As Emerson himself stated, “The Transcendentalist adopts the whole connexion of spiritual doctrine. He believes in miracle, in the perpetual openness of the human mind to new influx of light and power; he believes in inspiration and in ecstasy.”
The Alcotts, Emerson, Hawthorne, and Thoreau found that inspiration, that ecstasy, in the lives they shared in Concord. Each conversation shared on a walk to Walden Pond and every leaf encountered along the way, had the potential to arouse a new line of thought or poetry. And from this way of life sprang such works as Bronson Alcott’s Concord Days, Louisa May Alcott’s Transcendental Wild Oats, Emerson’s Nature, Hawthorne’s Mosses from an Old Manse, Thoreau’s Walden, as well as many other novels, essays, poems, and countless daily journal entries. These plentiful written works have since inspired generations of writers, artists, and radicals to, as Thoreau said, “live deliberately,” including McCarty.
McCarty considers this project to document the sites where these five Concordians lived and wrote, as well as the landscape that nourished them, akin to spirit photography. Through this work she sought to pay homage to the Transcendental movement and to resurrect their ideals by making images that witness their philosophy. In the course of a year and in every season, she photographed simply, wandering on foot and with a film camera; she photographed deliberately, seeking out specific places in Concord that are referenced in Transcendentalist writings; she photographed with reverence to the natural world, observing variations large and small in the environment; And she photographed experimentally, incorporating long exposures, camera movement (from photographing while walking), and embracing mediations of light that I often could not explain. The resulting images make up the series Transcendental Concord. They provide a glimpse into a world that is both past and present, a conduit to another way of seeing and finding meaning that is perhaps more relevant today than ever. There is still beauty, wonder, and inspiration to be found on a walk to Walden Pond and in every leaf encountered along the way.
Lisa holds an MFA in Experimental and Documentary Arts from Duke University and is currently Curator of the Archive of Documentary Arts at Duke University’s Rubenstein Rare Book and Manuscript Library as well as an instructor at the Center for Documentary Studies.
To view more of Lisa’s work, please visit her website.