Alumnus Justin Carney ’20 featured in Portrait Magazine monograph

When Justin Carney was younger, a camera was always present when his family got together. “It was sort of a family member in our household,” he says, there to record what was going on … and before too long it was Carney himself doing the documentation, with a little disposable camera in his hands.

That relationship with photography has only gotten stronger as Carney has gotten older. He graduated from PCA&D in 2020 with his BFA in Photography & Video, and is pursuing his MFA in Photography from Indiana University Bloomington. His practice of photographing family, too, remains unchanged. It formed the backbone of his senior thesis at PCA&D, Those Left Behind, and now it’s pushed him to a wider audience.

The photos from Those Left Behind form the core of work that’s recently been published by Portrait Magazine. This monograph is, Carney says, “actually done in the sequence, with the same text, that I planned my personal photobook in.” And, in the end, there are still more Carney portraits related to the theme of his family.


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First of all: How did this Portrait Magazine honor come about?

JC: In my grad program at Indiana University, we have to apply for three exhibitions/publications every semester. One of my teachers sent me a link to a site full of open calls. I saw Portrait Magazine and felt my work would fit the magazine well. … I saw that the magazine was based around the theme of portraits, and I have one completed body of work that its main focus is portraits, “Those Left Behind”, so I decided that photos from that project would be best to submit. After I submitted, the publisher got back to me saying how much they loved my work after visiting my website and that they’d like to make a monograph with my project.

In your work, are you continuing to explore the “Those Left Behind” concept, or are you working on other collections now? 
JC: I’m continuing “Those Left Behind” and also working on new projects. My family being in Baltimore, Maryland, and me studying for my MFA in Indiana, I don’t get to see them often — only during breaks. So, that’s when I continue that project. The other things I’m working on right now are completely different. I’ve been taking a lot of photos of housing complexes in the middle of construction and others that have been completed for years now. I’m not quite sure why I’m drawn to this topic yet, but I’m enjoying the process of photographing.
How did you convince family to take part in “Those Left Behind”?
JC: The funny thing is that I didn’t have to convince my family to take photos, they asked me to. My Uncle Mark asked me to take his portrait at a family cookout. After I made it and gave him a print, he was so excited, saying, “This is me!” His siblings, my aunt, and uncles saw it and wanted a photo. The only one who took convincing was my mother because she doesn’t like taking photos. She’s always been supportive of my art so it didn’t take much, though.
Was there a lot of discussion about what photos you’d take and when, or was it more of a spontaneous process?
JC: There wasn’t any discussion on what kinds of photos I’d take — I didn’t even know myself. I knew that I wanted to take portraits of them in their own space; that was it. During the photoshoot, that’s when we have a discussion about their and my life because I was working with a big camera and it took time to set up and compose. We did have to decide when to take the portraits, because we have busy lives. 
In the project, I include six, I believe, directed portraits, and the rest of the photographs are taken during family events spontaneously, done in documentary mode.
Did you come out of the project with a different understanding of those you’d photographed? 
JC: The project definitely helped me learn more about my family; that was actually the main goal of it. I wanted to know who they were as people, not just as my mother, uncle, aunt. I feel like I’ve learned a lot about my family, as well as myself with this project.
What is the appeal, for you, of photography, as opposed to any of the other majors you could have studied at PCA&D? What draws you to it?
JC: I tend to think a lot, maybe a little too much. I ask a lot of questions. Photography has always offered me a way to slow down my mind, and it has helped me understand the world around me: what different kinds of relationships look like, how people connect with those around them, and the land they walk on. It’s also shown me what love, joy, sadness, and pain not only look like but also feel like. Photography and the act of photographing have helped me connect and understand others and myself. No other art form has done that for me. 
So, what are you up to now, both with photography and in general? 
JC: Right now, I’m attending Indiana University Bloomington, pursuing my MFA in photography. I travel back and forth from Indiana, Maryland, and Pennsylvania to visit my friends and family. I always have my camera with me. I’m also working at school as the Photo GA, in a lab tech position. I’m in charge of the photo labs, printers, and photography equipment. It’s not a hard job but it can be demanding.
With my photography, I’m taking pictures of houses. So many houses. When I figure out why, I’ll let you know.