Thursday, 26 November 2009

Arthur Tress

He decided to do a series of photographs exploring the dreams of children. He interviewed a number of children about their most memorable dreams and nightmares. Using the children as subjects, he tried to visualize their dreams. The result…a peculiar melange of semi-surreal imagery depicted in a rather documentary fashion…was a book entitled The Dream Collector, published in 1972. The singular genius of the series is that Tress approaches the fantastical notions of dreams through a straightforward documentary style. He treats dreams almost as another form of ethnography, as if examining dreams were no different than examining the circumcision rituals of the Dahomey tribe or the practices of Hindu ascetics.


The dreams explored by Tress are diverse, but common. Being buried alive. Flying. The humiliation of failure in the classroom. Monsters looking in the bedroom window. Being lost or separated from everybody you know through a natural disaster.

Tress described The Dream Collector like this: "The purpose of these dream photographs is to show how the child's creative imagination is constantly transforming his existence into magical symbols for unexpressed states of feeling or being." I have absolutely no idea what that means. It sounds suspiciously like the typical artist's meaningless blather. I don't think it tells us much about his work, but I do think it offers us some insight into Tress himself.

Tress seems to perceive the world through the eyes of a mystic. He apparently sees still photography as almost an arcane act. He has written that a photographer is "…a kind of magician, a being possessed of very special powers that enable him to control mysterious forces and energies outside himself….[who can] can foretell the potential movements of his subjects and perhaps even by mental intimidation and expansion actually causes them to happen." Although I'm personally inclined to see this as somewhat delusional, the fact remains that this view of the world has given Tress's work a sort of internal consistency. Even though his subjects and themes may range widely, there remains a stable, congruous emotion through it all. That emotion is a sort of familiar reverence, a sort of comfortable awe.


Tress has stated that for five thousand years art was created with the intent to inspire awe. That intent, he suggests, has been diluted. "Where are the photographs we can pray to, that will make us well again, or scare the hell out of us?" he asks. Tress has attempted to make that sort of photograph.

With the exception of his nudes, all of Tress's disparate work seems to retain a consistent subcontext: the world is awful and full of awe, life is temporary and beyond our understanding, so we must bring our own meaning to it. That meaning can be found in anything from sports to prayer to science.

In a very real way, Tress's inarticulate mysticism is imbued in his photographs, and one can see evidence of it throughout his work. He believe in the child as a sort of privileged witness. He believes in oppression as a constant condition against which everybody must struggle. He believes in the release from oppression, and that death is always the final resolution.

Via: Wiki:

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