Arthur Tress, Photographs 1956 – 2000
“I always tried to organize the immense quantity of images and inputs that reached my mind and invade my senses through my camera”. There’s in fact a continuum in Arthur Tress’ works, absolutely one of the most prolific and diversified American contemporary photographers, apparently very different but all tied by dreams and imagination.
“A lot of kids take snap shots, but I grew up in Brooklyn in the 40s and 50s, when being gay and full of ideas didn’t help to make friends. So I was taking pictures that would talk on my behalf”. Young Arthur was hiding away in the “wonders stuffed attic” of the Egyptian Collection at the Brooklyn Museum of Art, or in the nearby dream-like Japanese Garden at the Botanical Garden. With such a background it isn’t surprising that the work that gave Tress notoriety, and is still considered his most representative work, is Dream Collector, developed in the 70s and partly inspired to the Italian Surrealism. “For the making of Dream Collector I wanted to reproduce emotions, fears and expectations. I tried to remember the dreams I had in my childhood and I asked friends and kids in the streets ”.
Tress has never considered image manipulation nor digital photography as an option, he puts big emphasis in the image composition but never used models: “models are boring and unnatural, I prefer ordinary street goers, friends and kids”.
Arthur Tress has never shot fashion or celebrities to make more money. Even in commercial photography he’s always looking for the fantastic as well as seeking a strong tie with his senses. He used to take portraits for Esquire Magazine and now produces many mystery book covers that draw inspiration from the Shadow series. “Back in the 70s anthropologists were talking about shaman’s powers, mental perceptions, nighttime mental journeys and psychologic journeys. I created a mythological figure, a Dancing Shadow, that would have told one of these journeys to the outside world”. Shadow, the photographer’s self shadow, appears in many sequences composed of single images: The Prisoner, The Search, The Journey, The Town, The Labyrinth, The Valley of Marvels, The Ancestors, Initiations, The Pilgrim, Call and Messages, The Magic Flight, Transformations and The Illumination. “Somebody once told me I could have done short movies out of the sequences, but I think there’s enough meaning in every single image: every shot can absolutely stand on its own”.
As a matter of fact there’s no documentary side in Tress’ images, and once organized in a chronological order it’s clear how they reflect the changes in Arthur Tress himself. “I started from a witness-like photography to end up with an image that tells about my magical side. My image has evolved”. This is the main reason why Tress considers contemporary photography trivial: “there’s a big deal regarding snap shots, museums all over the country make huge prints out of an image of people sunbathing on a beach. It might be that photographers, fearing the digital challenge, have gone back to the origin of photography. My work is much more personal and sophisticated”.
Forty-five years of absolutely high quality work, always changing and evolving, gave Arthur Tress the honor of a vast retrospective exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery in Washington DC in summer 2001. “When they told me they wanted to make a retrospective I turned sad and told myself: How can it be? I’m not at the end of my career. And then they also showed my very last works, the ones made with the aid of a crystal paper weight. So, I told myself again: This might be the bridge toward the future: the 3D images I’m working at present time, cutting and pasting to produce something like those pop-ups in kids’ books”.
Maybe this is the secret of Tress’ art: let the day tell us what to do, play with what’s around us, look at the world through a child’s eye.
all images © Arthur Tress
Fantastic Voyage: 55 color plates, 180 duotone plates, 39 B&W plates.
Male of the Species: The naked man, fetish and dream.
Theater of Mind: A small paper Opera theatre and mind’s games.
Fish Tank Sonata: A fish tank full of weird object and dolls, and the beachm the pond, the ocean as background.