2015 between fantasy and reality. The Art of Arthur TressThe new Fassi calendar has the signature of one of the most famous photographers in the world. In this interview, Tress tells the behind the scenes of 12 months of unique images
He played with the cranes like a child does with his favorite toys and he was able to wear these special trucks with a poetic and fantastic dress. Arthur Tress is a famous photographer and his own unique way to "play" with images, has been chosen by Fassi to illustrate the company's new 2015 calendar. As he says in the interview, the goal of his art is to mix reality with fantasy to create a real theatrical environments. And now, thanks to its mastery, through these images, everybody can go back to the best moments of his childhood.
The meaning of the concept of crane is been reproduced by you thanks to a scale models. Have you had difficulty in combining the realism of the action of the cranes with the symbolic value given the size of the scale models?
I asked to use the scale models because I thought it would be a chance to be 'playful' with my concepts. I would be like a “kid” again playing with his trucks, believing in them as if they real. I don't have or know how to use “Photoshop” which was used for almost all the images in the past calendars. So I would have to build by “hand” any imaginative ideas in the real world.
This was old fashioned “table top” photography making a tiny still life in a studio. I saw them as small sculptures and I was very careful with the compositions to have a kind of Baroque swirling quality of lines and colors to draw you into their meaning.
I wanted it to look very “low” tech because personally I know of no other way of doing things and it gave them a certain “naïf” charm compared to the usual slick productions of commercial corporate photographers. All the photos are lit only by natural window light on the right side and a single ordinary light bulb on the left side, very minimal.
Because the models were “toylike”, I could play with scale contrasting them with other larger or smaller objects sometimes creating a surreal feeling of fantasy.
In my personal mental universe I believe in these tiny trucks as if they were just as “real” as the bigger ones in the actual world.
They were my friends that I visited each morning and put to bed every night, like a child does with his favorite playthings.
Normally it is very difficult to make an image of a crane exciting because it's only for us a working machine. How did you overcome this difficulty in your work?
In Tress world I don't see the difference between things which are mechanical and biological.
They are both filled with a vital energy that is born and can also break down and decay.
The crane is very much like things in nature a tall giraffes neck, a powerful hand, or a delicate cat's paw.
But it is also can be like a violin players bow, a fisherman's rod, or a spaceman's ray gun
There are a hundred metaphors if the crane is seen poetically with its unique action of moving and lifting and carrying.
You have worked with crane models for obvious reasons of space and organization of work. The crane models are a representation of our cranes. Have you never been tempted to work with a real crane before to start this job for Fassi?
Yes a few years back in 2008, I was asked if I would be interested in doing some images for the Fassi calendar and I thought it would be a great idea and when I was in Pittsburg a few months later I found a construction site using Fassi cranes.
I took a roll of 120 tri-x film with my Hasselblad camera in black and white and they came out very well but could of have been any typical images in an annual report by any other professional photographer.
So it probably was not really necessary to hire Arthur Tress to make such images. However, in our new series of Fassi Still lifes, I went back to my files and found those images and enlarged them into two small 6x6 inch inkjet prints one I toned red and the other blue that I included in the composition of the strong man to show an actual Crane doing real work in the real world to emphasizes the great lifting ability of the Fassi Crane.
In all the 6 still lifes I tried to include a snapshot from so called realty. Some are actual ones of my own family, my brother and his wife getting married and having children, my older sister's cats or ones that I have bought at some flea market for 50 cents.
I thought these vernacular photos bring back the still life into the real world and show that the world of fabricated fantasy and documentary photography actually are very close a bit like the mixups of the real and dream as in a play by Pirandello even in the story of Pinnochio where the wooden puppet becomes a “real” boy in the end.
I am always playing with reality and asking what it is, so our narrow minds are shaken up a bit.
Is true that the job for Fassi is it your first experience with a digital camera? Is it the beginning of a change or was it just an exception?
Yes, I won a very high quality $4000 digital camera in 2010 in an online book contest for my inventive book called"Barcelona Unfold's (http://www.blurb.com). I put it in a closet for the past four years. I thought that the Fassi project must be done in color, and that digital camera would be an excellent choice.
Color has always been difficult using costly regular film and digital cameras seem to be able to easily adjust for complicated combinations of color temperatures..of mixtures of bluish indoor shade and outdoor bright sunshine.
Plus you could take many more photos and change the image as you progress along. And see the result right away.
I read the instruction manual and it seemed fairly simple so I taught myself in one evening. When I had a problem with the uploading to the computer I called a professional photographer friend who told I need to get a card reader which I did I always believe that you can teach yourself much of the things in this world. Actually, when I began seeing the first images I was amazed how good they were coming out for a first time effort and gave myself a pat of the back for a job well done for an old guy.
I would definitely use my Digital camera for any future color projects.
Right now I am still using my Hasselbald for black and white as it is something I am used too.
Also I love having the feel of a real negative in my hand, one that I know will last 50 or more years (I still have my negatives from High school in 1956!).
I asked around to other photographers where they store their digital images and they gave vague answers “in the cloud”, “on DVDs”, “on external hard drives” etc. which seem to be continually have to be upgraded as the technology evolves. Doesn't seem like much fun to me.
We in the past we have used for an advertising campaign the image of the ant. The efficiency of this insect is equal to the lifting capacity of our cranes. Both raise 10 times their weight. Why did you think at the bees in a work of your job?
I thought of bees for a few reasons. One because like ants they do something very unusual that is not easily apparent. They can fly through the air quickly to the flowers even though their bodies are much too big in proportion to their small wing size, like a Fassi gru which is tightly compact but can have great flexibility in the variety of it's potential destinations to the right or left. Two, they are very endangered and disappearing now but are extremely important to the survival of all the agricultural life of all human beings through their delicate function of pollinating for which they have complex and intricate dances and internal route mapping much like the gru of a Fassi truck that can move side to side or up and down with great pointed precision using computer logistics.
The face of the moon is not a new element in your work. What is the meaning of the combination to the crane?
The Moon to me represents the ever repeating cycles of change and return. The Fassi truck is carrying the Moon as if across the sky showing its universal function. The series of four portraits, taken at different stages in her life, show the same person going from an optimistic young girl to an aware young woman who has had more experience of life, and also indicates how time has gone by.
Since this is a 50th anniversary calendar, the photo was made to indicate the many phases and evolution that the Fassi company has gone through, as it is matured, in its one half century of making better crane trucks .
With the "Transformer" film Hollywood has showed the machines as steel robot to fear, it was hard for you to overcome this commonplace?
I don’t think of robots as menacing. I think they can be very helpful in medicine, manufacturing and other fields.
When I read about the Fassi's company newest techno chips and radio remote control Smart Phone functions, I thought how the company was preparing for the future with all kinds of innovative research and development to make their giant cranes work better, be stronger, and more safe through advanced digital applications.
The Fassi crane can be seen as a mechanical giant lifting arm that is now becoming enhanced by robotic technology to make it move and lift better and more precisely so it is a fascinating thing of beauty to watch in action.
Arthur Tress was born in 1940 and began his first camera work as a teenager in the surreal neighborhood of Coney Island. Tress is best known for photographing in a mode of “magic realism” combining elements of actual life with staged fantasy that became his hallmark style of directional fabrication.
This approach was shown in his early books “Dream Collector”, “Shadow”, “Theater of the Mind” and a recent collection of homoerotic fantasy, “Male of the Species”.
In the mid 1980’s Tress began doing a series of color still lifes that were later published as “Tea Pot Opera” and “Fish Tank Sonata”. Tress has exhibited widely beginning with his first one man show at the Smithzonian Institute – “Appalachia People and Places” in 1967 to his recent 50 years retrospective at the Corcoron Gallery of Art – “Fantastic Voyage”.
He has received grants from the N.Y. State Council in the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts.
Museum of Modern Art, New York
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York
International Museum of Photography, George Eastman House, Rochester, New York
Centre for Contemporary Photography, Chicago, Illinois
Bibliotheque Nationale, Parigi
Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam
Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Los Angeles
Museum of Fine Art, Houston, Texas
Whitney Museum of Art, New York
Museum of Modern Art, San Francisco
The Gallery Paci contemporary (Brescia) ) hosted in the past years two shows of Arthur Tress: “Behind the image” in 2007 and “The Visionary” in September 2010, dealing with works from some of his world-famous photographic series such as “Open Space in the Inner City”, “Dream Collector” and “Shadow”.