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"When I started to print the pictures I really liked the edge because it looked homemade…"

I was interested in environmental portraiture, the mix between the environment and the person. I didn’t know any of these people, but they knew my face and felt comfortable with me. I had been there with a medium-format camera the year before. I would have little contact sheets to show what I was doing. I would ask questions about what they were doing in the community and their lives. They felt comfortable with a toy camera, they were not threatened at all.

– Carl Robert Pope, Jr.

Carl Pope began to document the black community in Carbondale, Illinois, in 1982, using a toy camera. The previous year he made photographs in that same community using a medium-format 4 x 5-inch camera. He found the big, heavy 4 x 5-inch camera tiresome to haul around, and he was interested in being more spontaneous, more immediate, and less threatening. In 1982 he picked up a toy camera. It used 120 mm film, too big for the 35 mm negative holders that fit in the darkroom enlargers he was using, so Pope cut his own negative holders out of pieces of cardboard.

“When I started to print the pictures I really liked the edge,” he explained, “because it looked homemade, the whole look of the image was informal. And then I had very little control over the exposure, the three settings on this toy camera were ‘sunny’, ‘partly cloudy’ and ‘totally cloudy.’ I was also fascinated with the past and how, through photography, the past was illustrated with hand coloring and stuff like that.” The man in this picture inhabits the edge of the photograph, and the lonely street beyond the edges has a very worn feeling. Parking meters march down the street like poor little tilting soldiers, and the man joins them on guard with his own tilting “sword.”

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Minneapolis Institute of Arts