Arthur Tress was born and raised in Brooklyn, NY on November 24, 1940. He took his first photographs while still in elementary school in 1952.
He attended Bard College where he studied art and art history, world culture and philosophy under Heinrich Bluecher. While studying, he continued to photograph and began making short films. He graduated in 1962 with a B.F.A.
After graduation from Bard, Tress moved to Paris to attend film school, but soon left. After traveling through Europe, Egypt, Japan, India and Mexico, he settled in Stockholm, Sweden and worked as a photographer at the Stockholm Ethnographic Museum.
In 1968 he moved back to New York with a commitment to becoming a professional photographer. He had his first one-person exhibition that year, “Appalachia–People and Places”, which was held at the Smithsonian Institute and the Sierra Gallery (New York City). He then worked as a documentary photographer for V.I.S.T.A. from 1969-1970.
Arthur Tress was one of the first artists in the 1970s to break way from street photography and develop a more personal vision, which included manipulating that realty in front of him instead of being just a passive observer.
As writer/curator Richard Lorenz has written, “Arthur Tress distills multiple viewpoints in his unique and ever evolving style of photography. The cultural and historical inquiry of the ethnographer, the psycho-social guidance and thought-seeding of the stage director, and the calculating, sometimes improvisational, imagination and creativity of the artist all coalesce in Tress the photographer. He is one of America’s most prodigious and diversified photographers, one whose documentary reportage can be so subjective or fabricated that it subverts the genre, whose manufacture of visual Eros can present seemingly incongruous dualities of beauty and violence, and whose creation of an individual mythology in a universe of kitsch can make sense of the meaning of life, death, and the hereafter.”
Tress exhibited his series “Open Space in the Inner City” at the same Sierra Gallery in 1970 and received a New York State Council on the Arts grant for the series the next year. In 1972 he got a National Endowment for the Arts grant for his “Dream Collector” series. In 1976 he received a second New York State Council on the Arts grant for his “Theater of the Mind” series.
In 1980 he published a book on the male nude called, “Arthur Tress: Facing Up, A 12-Year Survey”, which also was exhibited the Robert Samuel Gallery in New York. The same year he began to create his “Teapot Opera” photographs.
His major retrospective “Talisman” traveled from 1986-1988, opening at the Photography Gallery in London and then moving to the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, U.K., Frankfurter Kunstverein, Frankfort, Germany and the Musee de la Photographie, Charleroi, Belgium.
In 1992 Tress moved to Cambria, CA.
In 1995 the Center for Creative Photography exhibited ” Arthur Tress: The Wurlitzer Trilogy”, which in early 2002 traveled to the College of Santa Fe.
He has been published numerous times, including in the monographs, “Arthur Tress: The Dream Collector”, “Shadow: A Novel in Photographs”, “Theatre of the Mind”, “Reeves” and “Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage: Photographs 1956-2000”.
His work is in the collection of numerous museums and institutions, including the New York Museum of Modern Art, the New York Metropolitan Museum, the George Eastman House, the Bibliotheque Nationale, the Centre Georges Pompidou, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the San Francisco Museum of Art, the Houston Museum of Fine Art, the Whitney Museum of Art, the Stedelijk Museum, the High Museum of Art, the Chicago Center for Contemporary Art, the Cincinnati Art Museum, the Art Institute of Chicago and the Milwaukee Art Museum.
In 2001, the Corcoran Gallery of Art featured a retrospective of his work entitled “Arthur Tress: Fantastic Voyage: Photographs 1956-2000” which took an intimate look at his long and varied career.
He is listed in the 1982, 1988 and 1995 editions of “Contemporary Photographers”, in the International Center of Photography Encyclopedia of Photography, and in the Macmillan Biographical Encyclopedia of Photographic Artists & Innovators. He is listed in the Auer & Auer and George Eastman House databases.
His early work was most recently on exhibit at the RoseGallery, July 2012. Tress developed and printed his black and white negatives in a communal darkroom in San Francisco’s Castro district before leaving the city in 1964. The vintage prints were stored in his sister’s home, where they remained untouched until 2009. The rediscovery of this forgotten body of photographs inspired the photographer to revisit his early negatives and “Arthur Tress San Francisco 1964” is the delightful outcome. The work publically debuted in a major exhibition at the de Young Museum in San Francisco from March 3 – June 3, 2012 and is now available in the companion monograph Arthur Tress San Francisco 1964 published by the Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco and DelMonico Books/Prestel, 2012.