- The Washington Times - Saturday, June 30, 2001

Photographer Arthur Tress clearly is happy about his exhibition at the Corcoran Gallery of Art.
"It's a long time since I visited my sister, Madeleine, at Georgetown University and ran around shooting pictures. I was just 16 when I photographed 'Graffiti, Georgetown,' which is in the show," he says.
Washington is a happy connection for him, bringing memories of his teen-age years and, now, his first retrospective in the United States. Mr. Tress likes to reminisce about his days here (he also shot photos at Harpers Ferry, W.Va.) and his growing-up days in Brooklyn, N.Y.
"Brighton Beach, Brooklyn, was where I grew up, and I was lucky enough to go to a high school that emphasized the arts. Photos I took there and at Coney Island are the first part of the autobiography and fantastic journey I wanted the Corcoran exhibit to be," he says. The exhibition is called "Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage, Photographs 1956-2000."
Mr. Tress learned photography and painting in Brooklyn. He remembers that the Brighton Beach Cultural Community Center helped him. It had darkroom facilities, and the director taught him printing and developing.
The photographer also explored what he calls "poetic, surreal places," such as nearby Coney Island. "It was almost closed down in the 1950s, but I found the abandoned fun houses and Lunar Park," he says.
The exhibit's "Witch With Butterfly, Coney Island" (1959) was one of his first forays into surrealism, he says. Also in the show, but more documentary in nature, is "Merry-Go-Round, Coney Island" (1957).
"Every adolescent has alienation and loneliness. Art and places like Coney Island expressed this for me," he says.
He also explored the Museum of Modern Art and the Whitney Museum of American Art in Manhattan. Mr. Tress says the Whitney introduced him to American magic realists Peter Blume, George Tooker, Paul Cadmus and Pavel Tchelitchew. "That realism combined with fantasy stayed with me for a long time, " he says.
After that were Bard College and several years of travel. "My parents were always supportive," Mr. Tress says.
He worked as a documentary photographer but always looked for surrealist elements in his subjects. Mr. Tress points to the symbolic masks in Octavio Paz's "The Labyrinth of Solitude" as inspirational. "The fluid and ephemeral qualities of Zen Buddhism" also impressed him during his six-month stay in Japan.
Mr. Tress realized that some groups of people were disappearing around the world and rushed to record their rituals in India, Thailand and Africa. He remembers he became aware of environmental destruction when he photographed the effects of Appalachian strip mining for the Sierra Club.
He turned to New York to photograph the effects of garbage and pollution on street children for the club's New York gallery. "I found the children's fearful dream images resonated with the memories I had of the primitive ritual ceremonies," he writes in the exhibit's catalog.
Finally, it all came together. "I combined the streams of documentary photography, Coney Island, tribal ritual and children's dreams for 'Dream Collector,' my first book illustrating the imaginary and fantastic," he says.
"I had found my style, and the rest is history," he says with a laugh.

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