About the Photographer
American, b. 1940 Brooklyn, NY
Born in Brooklyn in 1940, Arthur Tress took his first photograph at the age of twelve. After completing a BFA in 1962 at Bard College, located on the Hudson River in New York state, he moved to Paris to study filmmaking at the Institutes ds Hautes Etudes Cinémathographique. Dissatisfied with his experience, he soon dropped out and until 1966 he spent time in Europe, Mexico, India, Japan, Egypt, and other countries in Africa. During this extended tour he spent time learning about and documenting the cultural practices and ceremonies in these respective locations. In the early 1970s, as he supported himself as a documentary and ethnographic photographer, Tress began to pursue a more personal direction in his independent projects. Starting with his now well-known series The Dream Collector, Tress embraced elements of imagination and fantasy, staging elaborate yet convincing tableaux that visualize dreams or desires, explore archetypal imagery, or evoke the workings of the unconscious.
In 1974, continuing in this vein, Tress created a series of photographs that portray his shadow as the mythical protagonist of a visionary quest. The concept for the project in part grew out of Tress's engagement with the writings of anthropologists and historians dealing with myth and religion. In the catalogue for his 2001 retrospective, Tress states, "By the early 1970s anthropologists were publishing a great deal of new information about the out-of-body trances of shamistic healers who ventured beyond the realms of normal life into other spheres of mental perception via 'night flights of the soul.' These ancient psychic journeys seemed to me similar in their imaginative themes to the subjects of our own private dream voyages. I could act out these transformative travels by using my own partrticular body to create a dancing mythical shadow figure that would tell the story of just one such trip to the otherworld." Published in 1975 as Shadow: a novel in photographs, the series of nearly 100 photographs is divided into 13 sections, giving shape to a sequential visual narrative. In this progression the shadow escapes from imprisonment and travels through natural and urban settings, as well as a labyrinth and a valley of wonders; along the way it faces a number of encounters and ritual intituations before finally undergoing a transformation and reaching a state of illumination.
Since completing Shadow, Tress has gone on to pursue a wide range of photographic projects in the ensuing decades. His subsequent projects have included metaphorical still lifes, a set of male nudes and homoerotic photographs, black and white abstractions, and sculptural works made from photographic paper. Tress resides in Cambria, California.