ForTress. A book about Arthur Tress by Tim Soter
The Ship Escaped, 2019
Arthur Tress’ photographs were fish out of water when I first encountered them flopping around in the library files at Magnum Photos circa 1986. These mysterious images from his series “The Dream Collector” were full of energy and imagination, truly wondrous misfits amidst Magnum’s relatively staid archive. I think the prints must have been in the subject files labelled Psychology, Fantasy, or Misc.
Later, work from the “Fish Tank Sonata” series appeared at pARTs Photographic Arts, shortly after the organization moved into a new space at Lake and Lyndale in south Minneapolis, and not long before it became the Minnesota Center for Photography. For whatever reason, and to my dismay, I didn’t meet him then. I was struck, though, by the fluidity and breadth of his photographic exploration. Knowing the black-and-white work had not prepared me for the color.
With this recent, visually-enveloping volume, which consists of scores of images and dozens of exchanges with Tress, Tim Soter introduces me—and the world at large—to this iconoclastic, irascible, and apparently unstoppable communicator through a unique collaboration of two imagemakers.
Two Questions for Tim Soter
Q1: Tim, what compelled you to publish this material in this form at this time?
After I had photographed just about all of the material for ForTress, I spent three years designing the book, not just laying it out but working it out. The process of making the book actually entered the story of the book as I would become frustrated by my limitations and would talk to Arthur (or more likely complain) about the state of it. Arthur would respond with good suggestions that were mentally freeing and the more I took his advice, the better and more imaginative the book became. The material, the photographs could not live well outside this bound project, it was always meant to be a book. The cover states that it’s “a book about Arthur Tress” which it is, but the book not only covers Arthur’s life and work, it shows in almost real time his influence as a creative teacher and friend. And the final layer is that like my previous book, ForTress provides deep insight as to who I am as a person as well.
Q2: What photobooks or zines released in the last decade stand out on your shelves? I’m interested in publications you currently own that were first published after 2010. Tell me what you admire about one or two of them.
One of books that I’ve loved from the past several years is Jan Hoek, Mental Superpowers (Art Paper Editions, 2018). My own work and bookmaking is equally influenced by comic books and heroic, mythic storytelling as it is by straight photography. In this book Hoek, a photographer/artist from Amsterdam, spent three months living in a psychiatric hospital in Brooklyn, collaborating with the hospital’s clients and other unique individuals he met in New York. Hoek dresses his collaborators up in homemade costumes and gives them powerful identities. The results are playful and every page turned reveals something unexpected, a criteria I try to employ when making books. It breaks out from a potentially stiff pattern of what a traditional photo book is!
Another book that I couldn’t ignore when I first saw it is The Pillar (Nobody Books, 2019) by Stephen Gill, a British photographer, now living in Sweden. Gill set up two pillars in his backyard: one with an attached simple motion-detecting camera and the other for the exotic fowl of the Swedish countryside to perch. What makes this book special is that we’ve all grown up with wild birds in our lives but we’ve never gotten a sense of their true rhythms and personalities. Photographically one might expect a book like this contain some true winners as well as some filler material but as I paged through the book over and over again at The Strand (NYC) it really felt like a collection of greatest hits. My brain was excited by the connection of actually getting to study the bird in the photo while also seeing it as a more abstract shape and enjoying the composition of an exciting photograph. It’s an incredibly simple execution but a fantastically smart idea.
Tim Soter is a photographer and book publisher operating under his imprint The Ship Escaped. His previous book, TIM! GO AWAY!, was about Duane Michals. Currently he is working on a collection called “Environments,” quirky spaces shot with a dry sense of humor. His books are in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, MoMA, International Center of Photography, Tate Modern, and Alec Soth.
For more information about ForTress: http://www.theshipescaped.com/books-shop/fortress