b Brooklyn, New York, November 24, 1940
Arthur Tress began his first camera work as a teenager in the surreal neighborhood of Coney Island where he spent hours exploring the decaying amusement parks. Later, during five years of world travel, mostly in Asia and Africa, he developed an interest in ethnographical photography that eventually led him to his first professional assignment as a U.S. government photographer recording the endangered folk cultures of Appalachia. Seeing the destructive results of corporate resource extraction, Tress began to use his camera to raise environmental awareness about the economic and human costs of pollution. Focusing on New York City, he began to photograph the neglected fringes of the urban waterfront with a straight documentary approach. This gradually evolved into a more personal mode of “magic realism” combining improvised elements of actual life with stage fantasy that became his hallmark style of directorial fabrication. In the late 1960s Tress was inspired to do a series based upon children’s dreams that combined his interests in ritual ceremony, Jungian archetypes, and social allegory. Later bodies of work dealing with the hidden dramas of adult relationships and the reenactments of male homosexual desire evolved from this primarily theatrical approach.
Beginning in the early 1980s, Tress began shooting in color, creating room-sized painted sculptural installations out of found medical equipment in an abandoned hospital on New York’s Welfare Island. This led to a smaller scale exploration of narrative still life within a children’s toy theater and a portable nineteenth-century aquarium.
Around 2002, Tress returned to gelatin silver, exploring more formalist themes in the style of mid- century modernism, often combining a spontaneous shooting style with a constructivist’s sense of architectural composition and abstract shape. In addition to images of California skateboard parks, his recent work includes the round images of the series Planets and the diamond-shaped images of Pointers.
Work: Global travel images of world culture, early 1960s; studies of Appalachia folk craftsmen and rural poverty, mid-1960s; New York City landscapes emphasizing environmental degradation, late 1960s-early 1970s; surreal set ups of children acting out their dreams, late 1960s-early 1970s; adults posing for psychological portraits emphasizing repressed emotions and gay fantasies, 1970s; gelatin silver and color still lifes done in a surreal manner, often with collage or painted elements in outdoor or interior locations to illustrate “secret life of objects,” 1980-95; series of minimal semi-abstract images of construction sites and skateparks, 1996-2005. Series: Appalachia People and Places, 1967, b/w; Open Space in the Inner City, 1968, b/w; Dream Collector, circa 1969-72, b/w; Shadow, 1974-75, b/w; Theater of the Mind, 1970-78, b/w; Facing up, 1979-80, b/w; Teapot Opera, 1980, color; Theoretical Models, 1980-84; Hospital, 1984-87, color; Fish Tank Sonata, 1987-90, color; Fantastic Voyage, 1993, color; Requiem for a Paperweight, 1990-92, color; Faceted Fictions, 1999, color; Male of the Species, 1995-99; Wheels on Waves, CA Skateparks, 2002-05, b/w; Paintball Nation, 2006, b/w.
Medium: Gelatin silver prints. Cibachrome prints. Enlargements from 2¼ negatives or 2¼ transparencies, most are printed full frame. Print sizes: 7 x 7, 10 x 10, 15 x 15, 19 x 19. Vintage prints from the 1960s most often 8 x 10, 11 x 14, and 16 x 20.
Negative Sizes: 6 x 6 cm
Editions: Prints are either in an edition of 10, 25, or 50 for gelatin silver prints or cibachromes. Some unnumbered vintage prints and editioned vintage prints extant.
Portfolios: Dream Collection. 12 gelatin silver prints, 10 x 10 on 16 x 20 boards, edition of 50 (only 15 made), signed, text by Duane Michals, self-published, 1976, original price $1,250; Index: Tao of Physics: 10 abstract gelatin silver prints, 10 x 10 on 15 x 18 boards, edition of 40 (only 6 made), signed, published by Susan Harder, New York, 1984, original price $1,800; Theater of the Mind: 12 gelatin silver prints, 14 x 14 on 16 x 16 boards, edition of 75 (only 5 made), signed, text by Duane Michals, published by Twining Gallery, New York, 1984, original price $3000; Memories: 11 platinum prints, 10 x 10 on 16 x 16 arches paper, signed, texts by Apollinaire and John Wood, published by 21st, 2004, original price $8,500, up to $20,000 by early 2000s.
Availability / Price: Most often found are prints made in the last 20 years. Modern prints moderate, vintage prints moderately high.
Influences / Collaborations: Influenced by Hokusai, Frank Lloyd Wright, Picasso, El Lissitzky, Duane Michals, and W. Eugene Smith.
Education / Experience: Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson, NY, B.F.A, 1962; film school, Paris, 1962.
Professional / Noteworthy Accomplishments: Environmental and gay activist; commissioned by the Royal Mail to create the December 2000 Millennium stamp; visual consultant to the Scott Hicks film, Hearts in Atlantis.
Grants / Awards: United States Information Agency grant for Fantastic Voyage, 1993; New York State Council on the Arts grant for Theater of the Mind, 1976; Reva & David Logan Foundation grant for Shadow, 1974; NEA for Dream Collector, 1972; New York State Council on the Arts grant for Open Space portfolio, 1971.
2007:Arthur Tress- Behind the Image, Galleria PaciArte Contemporanea, Brescia, Italy.
2007: Arthur Tress-Constructed Still Lifes 1980-1987, Kramming & Pepper Contemporary, Berlin, Germany.
2007: Arthur Tress-Subliminal Vision, Kemper Museum of Contemporary Art, Kansas City, MP.
2005:Retrospective, Musara Photo Gallery, Jerusalem.
2005: Fish Tank Sonata, Chicago Cultural Center. National Academy of Sciences, Washington, D.C..
2003:Faceted Fictions, Center for Photographic Art, Carmel, CA;
2001:Fantastic Voyage-Photographs 1956-2000, Corcoran, Washington, D.C.
1986:Talisman, Photographer’s Gallery, London; traveling: Museum of Modern Art, Oxford; Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfurt, Musée de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium (1986-88).
1968:Appalachia: People and Places, Smithsonian and Sierra Club Gallery, NYC.
Selected Public Collections: AGAA; AIC; BAM/PFA; BnF; Brooklyn; CAM; CCP; Corcoran; GEH; High; Kemper; Kinsey; LACMA; MAM; Mead; MFAB; MFAH; MMA; MMoCA; MoCP; NAMA; NGAW; NYPL; Pompidou; Réattu; SAAM; SBMA; SFMOMA; SMA; Stedelijk; V&A; VSW; WAC; Whitney.
For Further Reading:
Mora, Gilles: The Last Photographic Heroes, Abrams, New York, 2007. Tress, Arthur, Richard Lorenz, and John Wood: Fantastic Voyage, Bulfinch Press, Boston, 2001. Tress, Arthur: Fish Tank Sonata, Bulfinch Press, Boston, 2000; and Edward Lucie-Smith, and Michel Tournier: Male of the Species, FotoFactory Press, Venice, CA, 1999. Weiermair, Peter: Arthur Tress, Editions Stemmle, Zurich, 1995.
Arthur Tress / Krista Hanley
© Arthur Tress. Flood Dream, Ocean City, New Jersey, 1970. Gelatin silver print.
Courtesy Arthur Tress.
Signature Variations / Other Identification: Stamp with 46 Riverside Drive address indicates a print from before his move to 2 Riverside Drive in the late 1960s. Since 1992 he has lived in California.