An Eye for the Phenomenal

Arthur Tress has always been a photographer with an eye for the phenomenal, whether happening upon a fantastical scenario or staging one himself. He once stated, “A photographer could be considered a kind of magician- a being possessed by very special powers that enable him to control mysterious forces and emerge outside himself.”

The Early Years

Born in the Coney Island neighborhood of Brooklyn, NY on November 24, 1940, a place populated with circus freaks, amusement park rides, and illusions, Tress was able to transform his early childhood environment into the inspiration that set the tone for his future photographic career.

At age 12, Arthur Tress began to photograph the decrepit buildings and the bizarre social classes surrounding him which inspired him to choose abandoned hospitals and derelict farms as the scenes for many of his emblematic images. Much like photographer Diane Arbus before him, Tress had an eye for the unusual, and with the same sense of curiosity, he familiarizes himself with his subjects before using them in his photographs. He received his BFA from Bard College in 1962 and from there went on to film school in Paris, France. While in Paris he traveled across Europe and to locations as diverse as Japan, Mexico, and Africa, where he encountered different cultures and tribes that previously fascinated him. With the belief that “so much of photography fails to touch upon the hidden life of imagination and fantasy” Tress feeds that hunger and provide viewers with photographs that are eccentric and original.

Arthur Tress, Bride and Groom, 1970, Silver Gelatin Photograph

Bride and Groom

Influenced by Duane Michals and Les Krims, Arthur Tress produced a diverse body of work embedded with hidden dramas. He imagined and shot the photograph, “Bride and Groom” in 1970. This silver gelatin print of Stephen Brecht portrays him as half bride, half groom; half woman, half man. Within the square frame, the subject is centered in the foreground amongst the rubble of what looks like an old church, with the motifs of alter-like molding in the background. Photographed straight on, the ceremony and ritual of a wedding is referenced in the hand gestures of the figure. While the male side has his hand raised affirming the oath of marriage, the female side curtsies in confirmation.

The picture can be interpreted as a parody of marriage and references ideas such as the intersubjectivity of identity and notions of sexual and gender fluidity. With a sense of humor, the photograph is smart, whimsical, and surreal. It merges husband and wife, creating a unified identity from two different people as Tress embodies the desires, dreams, and the fears associated with marriage. This photograph is a perfect representation of Arthur Tress’ signature style of “magical realism” where he combines elements of real life with strange fantasy. His job is to not merely record what he sees around him but to reveal that which is typically left unseen.


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