Arthur Tress: Dreaming in Color

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“I always felt that I could use the language of dreams and Jungian archetypes to create stronger, more effective photographs that would reach people on a kind of subliminal, unconscious level, because they dealt with deeper anxieties, and themes of mostly death and fear and alienation, which pervade certain parts of the urban landscape and the way people inhabit it.”—Arthur Tress, interviewed by James A. Ganz

“Dreaming in Color” presents a series of color photographs—many published here for the first time—from the archive of legendary photographer Arthur Tress. In his introduction to the portfolio, curator James A. Ganz notes that Tress’s unique approach to the genre of street photography reproduced in these unforgettable images “varied from pure photojournalism documenting endemic urban problems, such as abandoned vehicles and warehouses, to staged surrealism in a directorial mode for which he is better known.” The portfolio is followed by an interview Ganz conducted with Tress earlier this year.

Born in 1940, Arthur Tress became interested in photography as a 12-year-old in Coney Island, New York. He later graduated with a B.F.A. from Bard College. He is best known for photographing in a directorial mode of magic realism, combining elements of actual life with staged fantasy. This approach was explored in the books The Dream Collector (Westover, 1972); Shadow, A Novel in Photographs (Avon, 1975); and Male of the Species (Fotofactory Press, 1999), among others. In the mid-1980s, Tress began work on a series of color still lifes that were later published in the books The Teapot Opera (Abbeville, 1988) and Fish Tank Sonata (Bullfinch, 2000). Tress has exhibited widely, including his first one-person show, Appalachia People and Places, at the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C., in 1967; the 50-year retrospective, Fantastic Voyage, at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., in 2001; and Arthur Tress San Francisco 1964 at the de Young Museum in San Francisco in 2012. Tress has received grants from the New York State Council on the Arts and the National Endowment for the Arts. In 2014, the Getty Center in Los Angeles acquired 66 of his vintage prints. Tress’s photographs are also in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York; the International Museum of Photography and Film, Rochester, New York; Centre Pompidou, Paris; and the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam. 

James A. Ganz is the Senior Curator of Photographs at the Getty Museum. Previously, he served for ten years as the Curator of the Achenbach Foundation for Graphic Arts at the Legion of Honor, part of the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco. Ganz received his Ph.D. in Art History from Yale University, his M.A. from Williams College, and his B.A. from Trinity College. He has organized dozens of exhibitions, including Jewel City: Art from San Francisco's Panama-Pacific International Exposition (2015), Portals of the Past: The Photographs of Willard Worden (2015), and Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964 (2012). Ganz lives in San Francisco.