Born in Brooklyn, New York, Steve Carver received his first camera when he was eight years old. At 13 he began his formal education in photography, attending the High School of Music & Arts in Manhattan where he received training in art and music. Fascinated by techniques of creating imagery, he experimented with situations to maximize his learning experience–testing and exploring the creative limitations of the mediums.
Attending the University of Buffalo in New York on a Regents Scholarship, Carver developed an interest in photography while studying commercial art and illustration. Determined to learn the entire photographic process, he served an apprenticeship under several professional photographers and gained invaluable technical knowledge. It was his willingness to explore ideas and adapt his skills to new situations that resulted in an impressive portfolio of work.
Following the completion of his undergraduate studies at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, Carver accepted a fellowship to study classical arts at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. Inspired by insightful portrait photography, he attempted to broaden the scope of his study by serious practice. Establishing himself as a freelance portraitist, he began his career with limited success and encouragement. Determined to work as a photographer, Carver undertook a photojournalist assignment on a documentary film. By learning the flexibility and immediacy that the work required, he gained valuable experience that contributed to his artistic vision of observed life. The experience also sowed the seed for Carver’s interest in storytelling. He spent increasing amounts of time studying the creative process of filmmaking. In his final year at graduate school, Carver was a mature artist who had a passion for the visual arts and whose goals were vividly conceived. He rejected a conventional presentation of his thesis in favor of creating a film as a deliberate aesthetic choice to enhance the collective nature of his artwork with visual excitement and inventiveness. Working feverishly, Carver prepared a scenario that incorporated an assemblage of images derived from his photographs, paintings, drawings and etchings. While he labored with the arduous and complicated process, the single-minded intensity and pure ambition that he brought to the task ultimately motivated the completion of his first film. The achievement earned Carver a Master of Fine Arts degree and reinforced a new objectivity. During the next two years, Carver devoted himself to studying filmmaking while concentrating primarily on photography and art.
Resuming his freelance career, he worked as a conceptual artist, contract photographer, lecturer, film consultant and sometimes journalist. He accepted an invitation to attend a special postgraduate program in photojournalism at the University of Missouri in Columbia, Missouri. Under a core group of staff photographers from “Life” magazine, Carver began studying the techniques of pictorial journalism. By drawing upon his unique vision and the imagery of culture, he built a portfolio of photographs that explored the interstices connecting culture, art and the artist. Returning to St. Louis, he exhibited his work at a fine-arts gallery and enjoyed both critical and commercial success. That success earned Carver a teaching position at Florissant Valley College and offers of employment.
Dividing his time between working as a photography instructor and freelance photojournalist, he contributed to the “St. Louis Post-Dispatch”, ABC-TV’s Wide World of Sports (1981), “Architectural Digest”, “National Geographic” and “Time-Life”. He later became a staff photographer for United Press International, where he developed a documentary portrait style producing a significant body of work. While photojournalism inspired his creativity, Carver maintained his fascination with filmmaking. On weekends he enjoyed the challenge of experimenting and exploring its technical process by shooting and editing thousands of feet of 16mm film. For inspiration he turned to the work of documentary filmmakers and the intellectual stimulation provided by friends. Mainly self-taught, he began taking on assignments as a cameraman and film editor. While teaching photography and filmmaking at the Metropolitan Education Council in the Arts in St. Louis, he began producing educational films that documented urban life and attitudes under the auspices of the St. Louis Mayor’s Council on the Arts. Subsequently, the photo-documentaries created collections of images, dramatically increasing his productivity as well as his profitability. Despite his best efforts, however, the work exhausted Carver’s interests in art and photography of all kinds. At the invitation of the American Film Institute in Beverly Hills, California, he shifted the focus of his efforts and relocated to Los Angeles to pursue a formal education in filmmaking.
Over the next 20 years he gradually gave up professional photography and rarely used a still camera. While attending the fellowship program at the Center for Advanced Film Studies, Carver studied screenwriting, film directing and editing, exclusively as a student. His principal mentors were great directors, producers and actors. Their counsel contributed enormously to his education in film and provided an outstanding professional atmosphere. Through the apprenticeship program at the Directors Guild of America (DGA), Carver gained employment as an assistant director and developed a technical aptitude for the craft. As a result, he got a foothold in the movie industry and received his first directorial assignment, establishing himself as a feature film director. Directing feature films and TV-movies throughout the Americas, Europe, Asia and Africa, he made good use of the creative vision he developed through photography. While working on location in Moscow he receiving a still camera as a gift, and he renewed his interest in photography by undertaking a series of photographic expeditions throughout Russia. After his return to Los Angeles he was offered a partnership in a business, but decided to take a break from directing and turned his attention to a different kind of creative enterprise–establishing a photography business he named The Darkroom, located in Venice Beach. Its opening, however, coincided with the demise of the partnership, and Carver ran the business himself for five years–he was not only the owner but the operator, technician, educator and photographer, even doing the rentals and services that helped to support the facility. Largely self-taught, he quickly came to terms with the arduous business process. Since his technical skills relied heavily on the precepts and techniques that he learned over the previous 20 years, he began to focus his efforts on encompassing new photographic technology to stimulate diversity in his work. To maximize production, he practiced, concentrating more and more on photography, adapting his idiosyncratic working methods. Working independently, he explored the boundaries of his classical photographic vision in black-and-white, and by using applications of early chemical processes as a means of documenting the evolving ideas and facets of his work, he liberally incorporated the technology from his explorations into his photography as a means of expression. Gradually, it allowed him to produce photographs of exceptional depth and quality. As a result, The Darkroom gained popularity and increasingly attracted a core group of photographic artists and serious students.
While his techniques and methods became the subject and inspiration of a diverse body of photographs, as a portraitist Carver began creating sensuous and moody figure studies that he considered being among his highest artistic achievements. As expressive formalism incorporating a traditional classic sensibility, his portraiture provided a stylish and diverse cultural document, serving to chronicle life and culture while conveying the emotional, psychological, and spiritual as opposed to merely rendering a likeness. He also produced photo-transformations of people in motion, isolating successive stages of rapid movement by using long exposures to permit the intrusion of motion into the image, as both a means of expression and transformation. These images typically included insightful psychological compositions, involving precise staging, elaborate props, and direction. Psychologically probing and surreal, the images often involved the use of light abstractions, color-frequency alteration, long-exposure techniques, split-filter printing, solarization, and archival chemical toning. Carver became affiliated with conservators and scientists in an effort to interact with private collectors, archivists, and curators, to further the development of his work in archival preservation of historical prints and negatives. He appropriated images from archives and private collections in order to raise issues of cultural heritage. Primarily produced and used as source material for scholars and as telling documentation to ensure the preservation of cultural heritages, he created replicas and duplicates of photographs that characteristically challenged perception of its originality. While the closing of the lab allowed Carver to resume his career as a director, his ambition now is to create exceptional collections of formal portraiture for wide publication. It is his hope that these informative photographic studies will offer new interpretations and contribute to the necessary preservation of cultural heritages.