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.

Michele Molinari

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.




He was having a coffee at a window table, I walked down the street and saw him. What a flash, I thought I could have loved him till the end of time. But he wasn’t sitting alone, who cares, I needed to take a photo of him. I entered the place, loud, crowded, too lit, not my favorite, but the prince was there. Keeping my arm at belly level and covering the camera with my fist I approached at slow pace, like looking for somebody. He was talking to the person in front of him, not caring of others. But when I was about to shoot he gently lift his head, turned and saw me.

He smiled, I trembled and missed the shot. He nodded, and got back to his conversation.

REALITIES – a photo book by JAN SAUDEK


Jan Saudek

Jan Saudek is the visionary author of the fantastic and psycologically embedded photos collected in Realities. But he’s also a talented drawer and a gentle man. He looks at our world with the mind of a poet, having lived a life of lights and shades.

What I didn’t know is that he’s a reserved and private person, and not a tech guy at all. So, since he lives in Prague and I don’t, the interview had to be carried out via emails, mine, letters and drawings, his. It has been a unique experience, and a very enjoyable one.

Here you can see some of Jan Saudek’s letters and some of his photos. Enjoy, and slow down, since, as I learned from Jan, moments in life have a truly different flavor at a mellow pace.


Here’re some of the questions I posed (you’ll find Saudek’s answers in the drawings below):

– What steps or phases have led to your artwork as it is today. Influences, evolution.

– Step out of your shoes for a second. How would you recognize a Saudek.

– Your most recent pictures are primarily interiors, although some of your exterior shots have brought you acclaim. Is it a choice, to shoot in a studio, or is it a natural result of your photographic path.

– What do you feel is the difference between shooting in a studio versus in the streets/open spaces.

– Could you tell me about the place where you shot Realities.

– Some of your models have a peculiar beauty. What do you see in them. Where do you find them.

– What’s their role in the making of the image.

– I understand that sometimes you pose a model yourself, why.

– One of the characteristics of your images, beside the models and the composition, is the color. Do you develop and print your film yourself or use a lab.

– How do you obtain such a difference in color tones. – What kind of retouch do you do and which instruments do you use. Is it a difficult process.

– What lead you to interact this way with the images.

– Gear, film and paper. What kind of equipment, film and paper do you use.

– What kind of equipment, film and paper did you use for the making of Realities.

Michele Molinari

all images © Jan Saudek

Buy Realities.



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