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Crystal Visions Arthur Tress explores childhood fantasies and sexual identity.

Crystal Visions

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Posted: Thursday, September 11, 2003 12:00 am | Updated: 8:10 pm, Fri May 17, 2013.

Photo: Arthur Tress'' creative photography can be found at Carmel''s Center For Photographic Art.

No photographer has examined the dynamic relationship between art and perception with greater insight or inventiveness than Arthur Tress. During his wide-ranging and astonishingly productive career, Tress has created numerous, extended portfolios that explore the nexus between subliminal consciousness and a world delineated by furtive symbols of metaphoric and totemic significance.

Among Tress'' most well known and critically regarded works are his series exploring childhood fantasies, his evocative shadow pictures, homoerotic imagery dealing with gay sexual identity and gender politics, and his fantastically stylized still lifes and in situ constructions. Regardless of theme or subject matter, Tress'' work is characterized by a predilection for flamboyant theatricality and a macabre whimsicality that, when cast into the bizarre, dreamlike narratives he favors, have the uncanny ability to tap into the mysteries that reside in the wellsprings of the mind.

In Faceted Fiction, Tress returns for the third time to the Center for Photographic Art in Carmel with a wildly creative show of fractured, jewel-like images that blast through the presumptive limits of two-dimensional representation to reveal the infinite beauty that resides in the creative spirit.

Tress will be showing approximately 50 black-and-white and hand-colored images, as well as several three-dimensional photographic constructions, from a project begun almost 10 years ago, when he began photographing objects, negatives and images through a crystal ball he purchased in China while on a tour of Buddhist sites.

While likening the creative process behind the series to a "child at play," Tress acknowledges a fundamental artistic and scientific underpinning to his photographs.

"The work has a lot to do with the nature of seeing, and putting pieces together like a cubist or futurist painting," he explains. "The hexagons in the glass sphere I shoot through create spherical distortions and mimic what happens with the brain and eyeball, so viewing the work becomes a time experience. There are a lot of correspondences in the photographs to things in science, like the curvature of time and space that goes on in the crystal ball. The hexagon shape of the carbon molecule is one of the building blocks of nature, and in Buddhism the I Ching uses a hexagon."

Tress says his Faceted Fiction series represents years of experimentation with combinations of materials and objects.

"For the first few years I just did negatives and old prints, but that wasn''t interesting enough, so I took it a little farther and began getting lantern slides and adding little figures," he says. "I also began taking 19th-century drawings of travel, science and nature and copying them onto acetate transparencies. These were all Scotch-taped into a collage onto the crystal ball that made it more surreal and more of an artifact."

In addition to the crystal ball images, Tress is showing numerous three-dimensional pieces, or "pop-ups," constructed from the photo collages.

Born in 1940 in Brooklyn, New York, Tress first began photographing at the age of 12, documenting abandoned funhouses on the Coney Island amusement boardwalk. As a young adult, he was commissioned by the Stockholm Ethnograhical Museum in Sweden to document African tribes in Mali, Dahomey, Niger and Gambia; he found inspiration recording different a spects of tribal culture, including circumcision ceremonies, African music and craft industries.

Upon returning to the United States, Tress established a reputation as an accomplished documentary photographer, exhibiting a series of pictures on Appalachia in New York in 1968, shooting for VISTA (Volunteers in Service to America) from 1969-1970, and publishing 12 books.

It was his desire to expand the boundaries of straight documentary photography that led Tress to explore more staged images. Tress acknowledges similarities between his work and that of fellow New York-based photographers Diane Arbus, Les Krims, Gary Winogrand and Duane Michals, a close and influential friend.

"Duane encouraged me go further with fabricated, directed photography and I tried to push street photography to a new level, to combine it with my interest in film directing and surrealism," explains Tress. "It was controversial at the time, but we were creating a counter-movement to the social documentary movement."

Tress'' greatest accomplishment may be his ability always to find new sources of inspiration. "As I get older I try to make sure I give myself freedom to play and experiment. That''s part of being a photographer for 40 years. You''ve got to explore new areas to keep it interesting, and I enjoy doing that."

Faceted Fiction opens Sept. 12 at the Center for Photographic Art, Sunset Center, San Carlos at 8th in Carmel, with an artist''s reception from 6-8pm.

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