Carl Toth, An Appreciation

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(Photo Credit; Copyright Cranbrook Archives, 1990 by Nina Hauser Swanson)

I received my M.F.A. in photography from Cranbrook Academy of Art. A small art school located in a suburb outside of Detroit, Michigan. My decision for going there was that it was not New York. I needed to get away. I flew out there for a day, toured the school, met Carl, and decided, yes, this was the place for me. It was different from everything I knew. Close to, but far enough away from a big city, small student body – only 150 students or so spread across 6 or 7 disciplines.

And then there was Carl. I was familiar with his work from it being published, and he received his M.F.A. in creative writing, having studied with Robert Creeley, my favorite poet!

Carl was more intellectual then most teachers I had in the past. Post modernism was the flavor of the day at the time, and he constantly wondered why not one of his students were involved with this movement. None of us liked it or cared for the work being done.

At the end of my first year, I was packing up my car to head back to New York for the summer. I had it in my mind that I might not come back. I constantly fought with the second year students who felt my work was too “emotional”. I didn’t get why that would be a problem. Isn’t that the part of how art should function …. to make one feel?

My car was parked in front of Carl’s house. It was about 1 o’clock in the morning. Carl saw me through his window came out with a beer. He sensed that things were tough for me and that I might not return. We sat and chatted for about two hours under the street lamp. Afterwards, I couldn’t say if I would return, but if I did, he said, it would be good for us both.

I did end up returning.

Thank you Carl for opening my eyes and learning to accept that which might not be comfortable. Thank you for the endless games of softball.

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Carl Toth’s art is influenced by contemporary literature and poetry, and is included in collections at museums and centers including the Museum of Modern Art, The International Museum of Photography at the George Eastman House, The Center for Creative Photography and The Art Institute of Chicago. Toth is the recipient of three fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Published by Keith Goldstein

Photographer, husband, dad, and passionate cyclist. Lives and works in New York City.

14 thoughts on “Carl Toth, An Appreciation

  1. ‘Carl was one of the first to work with Xerox Machines. He believed the copy machine to be yet another type of instant camera’.. …this from Google. This was quite an instructor you had, Keith.

    1. He was one of many special people I was fortunate to cross paths with. The other truly inspirational person for me was Tad Yamashiro. He ran on the opposite side of the spectrum from Carl.

  2. I got my Photo MFA in 91 with Carl at the helm of the photo dept. We may not have agreed on a lot, but sometimes that in itself was my challenge. To make work that was undeniably better so even he could appreciate it. I am not sure that I ever accomplished that goal. But, I am forever grateful for the challenge. And the fact that I am still shooting all these years later, is testament to the fact that the best gift I got from my time at Cranbrook, was allowing myself to be an artist.

    1. Carl was great. It is so sad to hear what he’s going through. We kept in touch, especially when he came to New York. I would run into him all the time. Funny. I gave a presentation on my work to his class some years ago when they all were last here.

      1. I saw Carl on a trip back to Cranbrook probably 10 years ago. I was after his accident but while he was still artist-in-residence there. I know he is not longer there, but have not heard much more then that. If you would be willing to fill me in, I would appreciate it. And please, if you are still in contact, say hello for me. Thanks.

  3. Nice article. I had a similar experience studying under Carl (I graduated in ’98). I last saw Carl in 2006, in Chicago. He was doing ok then, but from what I hear isn’t doing as well now.

    1. Recent news Tyler, Carl suffered a stroke not long ago and lost the ability to speak. I understand he is receiving therapy. That is the extent of what I have been told.
      Very sad.

    1. Bruce is a good friend of mine. Judy and Carl are no longer together. A lot of us would like to see Carl get his due. Hopefully s monograph someday.

      Thanks Glenn.

  4. Nice “appreciation” website Keith!
    On a related note, I am working with Andrea Eis, Jim Abbott, Tom Brummett, Ted Hadfield, and several others, to present a small retrospective of Carl’s work here at Endicott College. Here are the exhibit details:
    Carl Toth, Photographic Artist and Educator
    Tuesday, September 1 – Friday, November 7, 2015
    Gallery Talk / Lecture: Thursday, October 15, 4-5pm.
    Reception: Thursday, October 15, 5-6:30pm.
    Spencer Presentation Gallery, Walter J. Manninen Center for the Arts, Endicott College
    Furthermore, there are plans for an auction to financially help Carl, and possible subsequent exhibits.
    All the best to you and all our mutual friends!
    Mark Towner, M.F.A.
    Dean of Visual + Performing Arts
    Eijk and Rose-Marie van Otterloo Endowed Chair
    Endicott College
    376 Hale Street
    Beverly, MA 01915

  5. Too emotional; it’s like everybody is determined to become Spock. I am not a Star Trek Vulcan. I am a human being. I have feelings; physical feelings and emotional feelings, and that’s the way I roll. I will continue to paint, draw and shoot with feeling, and aim to make my art impact with the evolving Vulcans of our species on an emotional level because I know that deep down, they’re still human too.

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