Public radio producer Scott Carrier is known for storytelling—his voice as dry and unassuming as the west desert, spackled with the kicked-up dust and sand of yesterday’s hitchhikes and tomorrow’s open roads. However, Carrier is less well known for true-to-life photography, his eye-engaging window onto people’s lives nearby and those half a world away.
Salt Lake City’s rare book maven Ken Sanders wants to change that. Recently, Sanders urged Carrier to share his work and offered to curate and host a premiere exhibition of Carrier’s photographic art. The writer known for his radio stories on This American Life and All Things Considered—as well as his essays in Harper’s, GQ and Esquire—will for the first time put his photography front and center at Ken Sanders Rare Books in Carrier Vision: The Photographic Vision of Scott Carrier.
Carrier has always taken photographs as a matter of course. On assignment he has traveled extensively throughout North America, the Middle East and Asia—he’s always with camera in hand. He describes his upcoming show simply as “the best photos I have from the places I’ve been.”
Carrier calls himself a documentarian. “I write nonfiction, I produce nonfiction radio stories,” Carrier said. “I’m always trying to record what happened.” This goes for photography as much as any of his other work. Through his images, he wants to convey “what it looked like, what it felt like.”
The results are powerful and startling. His subjects—revolutionaries in Chiapas, bikers in Sturgis or Kurdish teenagers in Turkey—appear closer than they are. Organized geographically, the most striking collection of Carrier’s photographs are those of the Islamic world, perhaps because of its exoticism and political currency. His images capture both the familiar and the foreign, everyday life in a world many of us cannot fathom: women in burkas; soldiers with homemade weapons; a holy man.
Within this group, his images of Afghanistan stand out for their rarity. Carrier said of photos he took in a prison housing the Taliban, “I don’t think we [as a culture] have seen the enemy, the people we were fighting in that war—not like that anyway, not all dirty and beat up like that.”
Other pictures, the most gruesome of Carrier’s show, document an incident in which Taliban were bombed, burned and flooded out of a basement hideaway by the Northern Alliance. Carrier finds the decomposed and disembodied remains. “In modern war, you don’t see the visual evidence of it,” he reflected. “Even with embedded reporters in Iraq, we saw our troops firing weapons, not where the bombs landed. In Afghanistan, it was even more like that. We don’t really ever see the effects of our military.”
Not surprisingly, Carrier’s work has its liabilities. He covers a lot of dangerous territory. At one point, Esquire essentially assigned him to what his editor there called “really fucked-up places.”
Still, Carrier knows he’s not so much at risk as the ordinary people he meets and photographs, a reality that makes him very uneasy. “They’re not going to shoot the white man. It’ll be the people who helped me who are going to get killed.” His radio-familiar voice trailed off. “I could have gotten people into a lot of trouble. I may have ... I don’t know.”
No matter how perilous it may be, people invariably want to talk to American reporters like him, explained Carrier. “They think, ‘Finally, the United States has shown up. If I just tell this reporter this story, he’ll publicize it, put in on TV and people will care.’ And that’s part of a reporter’s job: to find out what’s going on, to tell the truth. The problem is that I don’t believe it makes any difference.”