Wheels on Waves by Arthur Tress
Arthur Tress is one of the most accomplished and talented photographers of his generation. He's widely published and very well known for a certain genre of work — none of which looks anything like this project. That in itself is a marvelous part of the story of this portfolio titled Wheels on Waves. It does, however, make perfect sense if you understand the basis of his work.
Tress has always made photographs that are somewhat diaristic. He doesn't separate his life from his artwork, but considers his life the starting point of inspiration for his artwork. Knowing that helps us understand why a famous and accomplished photographer would do a portfolio of a skate park so unlike any he'd done before.
Tress had suffered for over a year with an extreme case of vertigo. He was essentially bedridden and during those long torturous months the world was constantly spinning. Only after he had recovered was he able to once again pick up the camera. One of the first things he wanted to do was to photograph that experience of the topsy-turvy world he had lived in during his illness. He came across the idea of using a skateboard park as the subject because of its curved lines, angled shadows in the visual sensations he was able to create in his photographs. Knowing all of this, this portfolio makes perfect sense — indeed it even makes visual sense.
When I interviewed him for LensWork #57 he confessed that he never had any interest in photographing sports, let alone youthful athletics. In fact, he doesn't really consider this a portfolio of skateboarding at all. Instead, he use this little bit of real estate to create images that matched his vertigo experience of the world. I find this fascinating. So often photography is about capturing the world and trying to present it as it is. In this project, Tress captures the world and presents it as he experienced it. This project is not so much photography as a "window to the world," as it is photography as a window to Arthur Tress himself.
What particularly intrigues me about this project is how different it is from so much other work that proposes the same premise. The typical photographic project that is "all about me" devolves very quickly into "art as therapy." Dream states, nightmares, psychological stress and fears, childhood memories — we've seen so many portfolios along these lines that they've become cliché. Tress breaks new ground this portfolio by avoiding any sense of psychoanalysis and instead presenting us with the visceral experience stripped of any psychobabble. As a visual exploration, I found the project mesmerizing and even somewhat dizzying. I suspect this is precisely what Tress had hoped for when he was making these photographs.
The portfolio can be seen in its entirety in our back issues — print (while still available) and our PDFs for computer, iPad, Android, and other devices. Plus, bonus audio commentary about this image is available to full-access members of LensWork Online.
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