Editing film footage, Long Island, New York, c. 1976; photo by Adelaide de Menil.
In the 1950’s at the University of Toronto, Carpenter and his friend and colleague Marshall McLuhan developed their pioneering work on modern media. In 1959, Carpenter was invited to chair the anthropology department at San Fernando Valley State College (later renamed the University of California at Northridge), where he remained through the 1960’s. Carpenter’s mission was to train anthropology students in the visual arts, and to combine anthropology with filmmaking, folk music and jazz. His influential film program at Northridge is credited for establishing some of the foundations of visual anthropology, inspiring numerous students to take up film as a tool in their anthropological research. Following his collaborations with McLuhan in Toronto, the 1960’s were for Carpenter an extension of his creative and groundbreaking work across disciplines.
At Northridge, Carpenter collaborated with Bess Lomax Hawes (sister of Alan Lomax) in the creation of a series of four films documenting the Gullah folk dance traditions of the Georgia Sea Islanders: Georgia Sea Island Singers; Bright Star Shining in Glory; Yonder Come Day; and Buck Dancer (1963-64). Carpenter’s short film College (1964), with a script by Jacob Bronowski and voiceover by Vincent Price, was based on an article (“Classroom without Walls”) that Carpenter had co-written with McLuhan and was intended to stimulate young people to further their educations.