The woodstove is the focal point of Big Al Carters favorite picture in his photo exhibition called God Has Made A Way in Leesburg: Photographs by Allen D. Big Al Carter, now showing at the Alexandria Black History Museum.
In Leesburg 20-something years ago, the woodstove was a focal point in the small house, and the black and white photo captures his impression of old, rustic, [but] it works, said Carter. It was a cooking source, and no complaints. Wed have conversations and talk, its like the woodstove is talking back, its living, Carter said.
This particular picture, titled Let Your Light Shine in Leesburg, is one of many in the show, all black and white, focusing on Carters uncles and life around this house in Leesburg. There are no computers, flat screen televisions or frills in the pictures, but for Carter, the pictures evoke memories of family and roots. Using black and white is a medium he likes because its the strongest format, he said.
Sometimes it was a rabbit or venison in the pot on the woodstove, that they had just killed while hunting, but the conversations around the woodstove would go on for hours. Man, I really miss my uncles, he said.
Big Al Carter is an artist who uses paint, drawings and sculpture to exhibit what is going on in his mind, he said, and never uses photos or posing subjects when he paints, and rarely uses photography. I draw and paint from memory, he said, and stays away from the word abstract.
In the beginning
Carter was born in Washington, D.C., grew up in Arlington, graduating from Wakefield High School, and the Columbus College of Art and Design in Ohio. He now lives in Alexandria. He taught art in high school for years and loved the interest that teenagers show towards art. He saw that they applied themselves, hands on projects and it made a difference, he said.
In recent times, with education being tied to standards of learning tests, Carter isnt happy with the way art falls by the wayside. Art is the main ingredient in education, it takes in everything, he said.
Carter worked with the Black Mountain Art School in North Carolina in the past, and when he was teaching, he frequently took his students to the Torpedo Factory to see what the other artists were doing. Exactly when the pictures in the show were taken remains unclear.