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March 16, 2012 /Other news /

An Afternoon at de Young Museum with Photographer Arthur Tress

Every once in a while it’s good to go back to the roots of photography – the days of film and the darkroom  – where photographer Arthur Tress says, “early photography was about the element of surprise and everything was done in the camera.”

Last Friday, some members of the Adobe Digital Imaging team spent the afternoon on a special tour of “Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964” at the de Young Museum in San Francisco with exhibit curator James Ganz and Tress, himself.  It’s one thing to see photographs hanging up on the walls and quite another to hear exactly what the photographer was thinking when he captured each moment.

“You have to learn to weave accidents in…fortunate accidents feed the picture.” said Tress. “Now everyone edits too quickly and deletes too soon.”

PHOTOS: Kelly Castro

Even the exhibit itself was “accidental” in many ways. Visiting San Francisco in the summer of 1964, native New Yorker Tress found himself amid the culture clash of the 28th Republican National Convention and the launch of the Beatles’ first North American tour in San Francisco. Tress was early in his photographic career and more fascinated by the people and the culture of the city, rather than its traditional landmarks. Tress captured over 900 negatives and developed and printed his black-and-white images in a public darkroom in the city’s Castro district. The vintage prints were packed away in his sister’s house and “accidentally” rediscovered just a few years ago.

PHOTO: David Auyeung

As we walked through the exhibit, he shared the story behind some of the photos, like hanging out in a Market Street diner with just one roll of film and kids who weren’t much younger than himself. The close-up shots reflect the disenfranchised, dislocated looks of a teenagers. He felt like he could relate in many ways to these faces and expressions, given what he calls – his own “bumpy” childhood. Although the images themselves are simple, he said there was a quiet awareness of a photographer and he felt a sympathetic connection to his subjects. He wanted to show the vulnerability of the social landscape without posing his subjects.

However, he allowed himself a little fun along the way – if you look closely at one of his images you can see an elephant in the reflection of a man’s sunglasses, as he stands on the curb surrounded by a motley crew of fellow parade watchers. Tress’ images are whimsical in nature and don’t take themselves too seriously.

Tress is a charming man with a sharp wit and loads of stories. At 72 he is still fascinated with photographing people and has been spending time at skate parks documenting dare-devil skaters for his next photo book. He likens his work to that of a photo mosaic, where you capture different layers of a culture and piece them together. “It’s good to break it down, as one picture doesn’t tell the whole story…” – which is why he feels looking at a book of a photographer’s work gives you a better idea of their point of view and who they are.

We thoroughly enjoyed being among photography lovers and artists and wandering through this beautifully displayed collection of black and white images. If you live in the San Francisco Bay Area or are planning a getaway, be sure to stop by the de Young in Golden Gate Park, to see “Arthur Tress: San Francisco 1964” open through June 3, 2012. For more photos from our day at the museum, check out this Lightroom Facebook album.

de Young Museum
50 Hagiwara Tea Garden Drive
San Francisco, CA  94118

Tuesday – Sunday:
9:30 am to 5:15 pm
9:30 am to 8:45 pm (March 30 through November 30 only)

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  • By bryan farley - 1:15 PM on March 16, 2012  

    Excellent post.

    As someone who has become a digital amphibian, I remember using film cameras, and struggled with the transition to digital.

    Hopefully, the storytelling element that Tress describes is not much different now. Photographers can still be whimsical while showing vulnerability… hopefully.