Photo: Ulrich Birkmaier ––

Photo: Ulrich Birkmaier



Narrative on Ellen Carey

Ellen Carey (b.1952 USA) is an educator, independent scholar, guest curator, photographer and lens-based artist, whose unique experimental work (1974-2018) spans several decades. Her early work Painted Self-Portraits (1978) were first exhibited at Hallwalls, one of the first artists-run alternative space, home to the Buffalo avant-garde — Robert Longo and Cindy Sherman — and led to a group exhibit The Altered Photograph at PS 1, another avant-garde institution. The visionary curator, Linda Cathcart, Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG) selected Carey’s work for this exhibition as well as The Heroic Figure, which presented thirteen American artists for the São Paulo Biennale including: Cindy Sherman, Nancy Dwyer, Julian Schnabel and David Salle, portraits by Robert Mapplethorpe; South/North American tour (1984-1986).

In 1983, The Polaroid Artists Support Program invited Carey to work at the Polaroid 20 X 24 Studio. Her Neo-Geo, post-psychedelic Self-Portraits (1984-88) were created, followed by her stacked photo-installations Abstractions (1988-95). Her pioneering breakthrough in Polaroid sees her Pull (1996) fol-lowed by her Rollback (1997) naming her Polaroid practice Photography Degree Zero (1996-2018). She investigates minimal and abstract images with Polaroid’s instant technology partnered with her innovative concepts, often using only light, photography’s indexical, or none, emphasizing zero. Her photogram work is darkroom-based and camera-less; it parallels her Polaroid less-is-more aesthetic under her umbrella con-cept Struck by Light (1992-2018). When Carey works in the color darkroom, no light is allowed except upon exposure. Carey has worked in a variety of cameras and formats: Polaroid SX-70 and Polaroid PN film; black/white to color; 35mm, medium, and large format. Her experimental images see a range of gen-res and themes; they are one-of-a-kind. Underscored by concepts around light, photography’s indexical and properties specific to the medium - silhouette; shadow; negative - in color, Carey often uses RGBYMC, photographic color theory, as a point-of-departure in palette, adding context and content, citing the history of color photography, especially the work of Anna Atkins, the first women photographer, the first in color.

Site-specific monumental installations in Polaroid include Mourning Wall of 100 grey negatives at Real Art Ways (2000), also exhibited in Part-Picture (2015) at The Museum of Canadian Contemporary Art (MoCCA); Self-Portrait @ 48 at Connecticut Commission for the Arts (2001); the gigantic Pulls XL that used the Polaroid 40 X 80 camera (shortly dismantled, never re-assembled) for her MATRIX #153 exhibit (2004-05) at The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art ( in their prestig-ious MATRIX program. Dings & Shadows are often huge color photogram installations, one seen at The Benton Museum of Art, another at Florida Atlantic University (FAU). Caesura (2016) is a photogram that introduces visual breaks in color; caesura is Greek or Latin for pause: in word (poetry) or sound (music). Her images use color theory — RGBYMC — as palette and conceptual point-of-departure, using light, photography’s indexical, as it --- blends, bends, breaks --- across the paper. What remains are vertical bands, dividing the rectangle in half, white is the break or pause, in the composition; its “ caesura” or cut, dramatic black signals too much light, colors overlap as well. Zerogram re-names the traditional photo-gram; many published in her first artist’s book “Mirrors of Chance: The Photograms of Ellen Carey”.

Photography Degree Zero (1996-2018) names her large format Polaroid 20 X 24 lens-based art, which she began using in 1983 under the Polaroid Artist Support Program. Struck by Light (1992-2018) finds her parallel practice in the darkroom with the camera-less photogram, a process from the dawn of the medium, discovered in the 19th century by William Henry Fox Talbot, both photogram and the phrase drawing with light continue today. Her experimental investigations into abstraction and minimalism, partnered with her innovative concepts and iconoclastic art making, often use bold colors to create new forms. Color and light is the link between her two practices; light, photography’s indexical, is used a lot or a little or none at all; its absence or zero.

Pictus & Writ (2008-2018) finds the artist’s tradition of writing on other artists. Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective at MASS MoCA, with Yale University Press, published the book Sol LeWitt:100 Views with 100 new essays; Color Me Real is Ellen Carey’s contribution. Her Man Ray essay on her discovery of his “hidden” signature in his black and white photograph (1935) titled Space Writings (Self-Portrait) sees an edited version At Play with Man Ray published in Aperture. On her own work In Hamlet’s Shadow, published in The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation exhibit/book/tour (2012-13); Mary-Kay Lombino, Curator, Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College.

Ellen Carey’s work has been the subject of 55 one-person exhibitions in museums, alternative spaces, uni-versity, college and commercial galleries (1978-2018) - highlights: Dings, Shadows and Pulls, Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA); Photography Degree Zero Matrix#153 Wadsworth Athene-um Museum of Art; Mourning Wall Real Art Ways; femme brut(e) Lyman Allyn Art Museum; Struck by Light Saint Joseph University; Ellen Carey: Survey ICP/NY; upcoming retrospective titled Struck by Light: The Experimental Photography of Ellen Carey, Burchfield - Penney Art Center (BPAC), received funding (30K) from Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (NY, NY) for 2020.

Her work seen in hundreds of group exhibitions (1974-2020) in museums, alternative spaces, university and college galleries, non-profits and commercial venues; highlighted in permanent collections of over 60 photography and art museums: The Albright-Knox Art Gallery (AKAG), The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA), George Eastman Museum (GEM), Museum at the Chicago Art Institute, Fogg Museum at Harvard University, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Metropolitan Museum of Art, New Britain Museum of American Art (NBMAA), Norton Museum of Art, Smithsonian American Art Museum (SAAM), Whitney Museum of American Art, Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Yale Uni-versity Art Gallery while corporate collections include: Banana Republic and JP Morgan Chase Collection; noted private include: The LeWitt Foundation and Sir Elton John Collection. Exhibitions, solo and group, include: books, catalogues, brochures, artist talks, reviews, lectures etc:

Ellen Carey, Lyle Rexer, Aperture, The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography

Solo Exhibitions 2018 – 2020

Ellen Carey: Mirrors de chance-la Photographie Experimentale, Galerie Miranda, Paris, FR
Ellen Carey: Dings, Shadows and Pulls, Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA), Forth Worth (TX) - January 10th - July 20th (2018) - lecture, book signing, reception with John Rohrbach, PhD, Senior Curator and Joy Kim, Assistant Curator, Photography.
Struck by Light: The Experimental Photography of Ellen Carey, Burchfield-Penney Art Center (BPAC), Buffalo, NY (2020), catalogue/book/tour with essays -Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts; Anthony Bannon, PhD, Director Emeritus-Scott Prospeck, Chief Curator.

Group Exhibitions 2017 – 2020

The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art & Technology, FEP and MIT, Book Cover and Essay by Ellen Carey; published by Thames & Hudson, London, UK; US, European, Asian tour (2017-2020): first exhibited at The Amon Carter Museum of American Art (ACMAA), where Carey lectured (2017).


Color: American Photography Transformed (UTexas Press), John Rohrbach, Amon Carter Museum of American Art
The Innocent Eye: A Passionate Look at Contemporary Art
, Patricia Rosoff (Tupelo Press); The Polaroid Collections (Taschen)
A Century of Colour: From the Autochrome to Digital, Pamela Roberts (Carlton Books, Ltd.)
The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation (Prestel/Delmonico Press), Mary-Kay Lombino, Vassar College
The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography, Lyle Rexer (Aperture)

“Ellen Carey is among this country's most committed experimental photographers."
– Lyle Rexler


CV includes reviews, essays, articles, brochures, catalogues, books; NEA, CAPS, Polaroid grants; inter-views on TV (Nutmeg), radio (WNPR), video (Aperture); two documentaries as Pulls (John Froats) and Mourning Wall (Real Art Ways); recent interviews/features: Brainard Carey of Yale Radio; Joe Fig Inside the Artist’s Studio (Princeton Architectural Press); Dear Dave, (#19) by Bill Armstrong; Camera Ready, documentary film (in progress) by John Reuter, Director of 20 X 24 Studio (1980s-present) sees Carey’s work with other camera artists (Chuck Close and William Wegman)


Ellen Carey has recent documented lectures at The Amon Carter Museum of American Art in conjunction with her one-person exhibition Dings, Shadows and Pulls; ACMAA also published her first artist book, a limited-edition of 200 titled Mirrors of Chance: The Photograms of Ellen Carey that can be ordered online


Pictus & Writ: Published Essays by Ellen Carey

Sol LeWitt:

Ellen Carey names her writing, research and scholarship practice Pictus & Writ; her first pub-lished essay Color Me Real for the retrospective Sol LeWitt:100 Views catalogue published by Yale University Press, Williams College, and MASS MoCA (2009) highlights LeWitt’s use of color in his monumental wall drawing Whirls & Twirls #1131 commissioned by The Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art, Hartford, CT. (2004).

Man Ray:

In 2008, Ellen Carey discovered Man Ray’s “hidden” signature in his photograph Space Writing (Self-Portrait 1935) and wrote What’s in a Frame? The ‘Space Writing’ of Man Ray*. Her dis-covery cited in: Alias Man Ray: The Art of Reinvention book/exhibition (2009-10), Dr. Mason Klein, curator, The Jewish Museum.

Under the Surface: Surrealist Photography, brochure/exhibition (2014), Andrea Rosen, curator, Bowdoin College Museum of Art, Ellen Carey discovery cited in this brochure.

Man in the Mirror interview/discovery by Krystian von Speidel; VENU magazine (2010).

Backstory: At Play with Man Ray, Aperture #204; (2011) is Carey’s revised essay*.

Man Ray discovery online: The Smithsonian and Man Ray Discovery/Ellen Carey Google; additional discovery in Space Writing finds multiple penlight portraits around and in Man Ray’s self-portrait.

Ellen Carey:

In Hamlet’s Shadow, Carey’s essay (2011) on her Polaroid work, The Polaroid Years: Instant Photography and Experimentation (Prestel/Delmonico Press, NY, NY); group exhibit/book/tour; Mary-Kay Lombino, Curator, Lehman Loeb Art Center, Vassar College, 2012-13.

The Polaroid Project: At the Intersection of Art & Technology, a group exhibition organized by FEP and MIT (; Carey’s Polaroid Pulls CMY book cover/essay Photography Year Zero: Where Art and Technology Meet (2017) publisher: Thames & Hudson (London, UK). US/Europe/Asia tour (2017-2020). The Amon Carter Museum of American Art & lecture Back to the Future: The Avant-Garde is An Address (2017) can be viewed (

Mirrors of Chance: The Photograms of Ellen Carey, limited-edition, artist book of 200 with a unique color photogram by Ellen Carey, plus her essay Mirrors of Chance (2017) in conjunction with The Amon Carter Museum of Art (ACMAA) solo exhibition (January-July 2018) of her work as Dings, Shadows and Pulls (

Struck by Light: The Experimental Photography of Ellen Carey, retrospective book (2020-21) in development, with multiple, collective essays by Carey and other art historians, critics, scholars: Andy Grundberg; Lyle Rexer; Ben Lifson, Donna Fleischer, Marc Lenot (etc.) with lead essay by Silvio Wolf (Milan); Yolanda Cuomo Design (New York); Giuseppina Leone, project manager, Scheidegger & Speiss, publisher (Zurich); University of Chicago Press, worldwide distribution.

Writing, Scholarship, Research – Ellen Carey:

Women in Colour: Anna Atkins, Color Photography and Those Struck by Light on the British Victorian, Anna Atkins (1799-1871), first woman practitioner, first in color, for: scholarship on women photographers and their contributions in color photography; project complete/curator group exhibit: The Rubber Factory, NY. NY-2017-book project/panel/lecture in development.

Robert Motherwell: Painted Polaroids - Daedalus Foundation, NY- Project in Development

e Disgeno e Colore: Drawing and Color – Cliché Verre/Color Photograms in Development

Writing, Various Authors:

Donna Fleischer, poet: The Black Swans of Ellen Carey: Of Necessary Poetic Realities, catalog/exhibit (ECSU, 2014)

Lyle Rexer, curator, The Edge of Vision: The Rise of Abstraction in Photography (Aperture) and Photography’s Antiquarian Avant-Garde: New Wave in Old Processes (Abrams).

Unpublished: Ellen Carey: From Matrix to Monumental, Ben Lifson, (2009); Drawing with Light, Painting with Emulsion: Ellen Carey’s ‘Pulls’ and ‘Penlights’, Professor Alden Gordon (2008); other essays Marc Lenot, French Scholar; Seth Endo, Lawyer and Independent Writer.


Carey is Associate Professor, Photography (1991-2018), Hartford Art School, UH; first woman granted promotion w/tenure, ranked #1 out of 45 (; UH Coffin Grant (1985, 1990, 1991); Bent Award for Creativity (1990); 4 sabbaticals (1992, 2001, 2008, 2015); HAS Assistant Professor (1985-1990) & HAS Visiting Artist (1983-85); ICP/NY, Bard, Loughborough (UK), Queens College.


Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts (2017); Polaroid Artists Support Program (1983-1988; 2002); CT Commission on the Arts (2001,1998); Te Foundation (1999); Grover Foundation-Greater Hartford Arts (1997); MASS Council: New Works (1986); NY State Federation for Artists (1986); National Endowment for the Arts (1984); Light Works (1980); (CAPS) Creative Artists Public Service (1979).


JHB Gallery, NY, NY

M+B Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Shannon Richardson:
Jonlin Wung:

Galerie Miranda, Paris, FR
Miranda Salt: (2018 - 2019)

Hostetler Gallery, Nantucket, MASS and Athens, OH
Susan Hostetler:

Heather Gaudio Fine Art, New Canaan, CT
Heather Gaudio:

All other inquiries: