The Dream Collector

October 26, 2012

A long time ago in 1979 I got really lucky. In those years you were more likely to get serendipitous when browsing the book stands near Flora Fountain. There were some genuine beauties you could buy easily on a collegian’s pocket money, that is if you saved up instead of the wada pavs and movies. I was obsessed with books and still am but it gets harder each year with the devaluation of the rupee and printing costs and things going through the roof. Also work is getting slicker and more finished, wonderful print values and superlative form but don’t you get the feeling that ‘content’ is sorely lacking. Everything looks like a mass make over. So Arthur Tress comes across even today as enriched uranium.


His early book called The Dream Collector is a documentary, social commentary and artistic rendition of the subliminal, the unconscious, the REM and the John Fowles of the visual world.



The most wonderful part about Tress and all subsequent work that he has produced is his effortlessness. The Dream Collector is all about children enacting their fantasies, making real the virtual, making surreal the obscure.


Tress goes (because ‘went’ is so past tense and ‘done’) about recording on a tape machine, children’s dreams, believing that dreams are telling us about ourselves, that they are an indicator of what we are concealing, putting aside, not dealing with, in other words dreams are playing out for us a script for action to be taken, the past, present and future becoming one homogenous continuum.


Arthur Tress ‘renders several dominant themes in his photographs, the child’s expression of fear combined with intuitive curiosity his hands reaching, exploring shape and texture; and the emergence from darkness and light’.  He gets on amazingly well with children which may account for the ease with which they can relate to him. He has a child like quality that they intuitively understand as genuine.


The foreword talks about the easy conversational, non threatening style that Arthur Tress has that children trust, that he takes them seriously must throw them off. He is never disparaging or dismissive or patronising. He shows them respect and in return they give him a dream for his collection. He then plays the dream back for them and initiates an enactment in a setting and backdrop that will lend itself to the mood and the sentiment. Then he waits patiently for that flash of inspiration when the child does something spontaneous and beguiling and then he knows he’s collected the rare species in a jam jar.


The photographs are rich in photographic skill and temperament.  The images are disturbing in large part due to the illusion becoming tonal and bromide.  Like Fowles it is unnerving to see dreams like butterflies in a display case impaled on a pin. The ambience is largely desolate and lonely.  There are monsters looming out of children’s heads. He employs the diptych in many frame, the top half revealing one reality, the lower half another. If one becomes introspective which is what the book is ultimately seeking, you begin to see yourself as a child might see you, it can be ugly and cause you to stop, think and feel. Each image is a surprise as dreams are generally. Each dream is visually explicit and in black and white. The dreams connect literary to the audio which is connected to the smell to the texture and the sensation, the emotion and the intellect. What dreams are saying are seldom the obvious.


Tress is a versatile photographer a couple of his other books are available with homoerotic overtones and generally the macabre. His exhibition called Fantastic Voyage ran at the Piramal gallery for photography in 1995 and was a treat to behold, there was humour and exquisitely crafted prints. Tress is not as well known as he should be. But look out for his work which is loaded always with surprise and adventure.

water water everywhere

March 19, 2010


Numerologists must be laughing all the way to the counter. After SMS has truncated and de-grammerised the way people communicate, language has become a series of numerals and disturbingly Americanized, 24×7, 9/11, 7/11, 26/7.

The show on at the Piramal Gallery curated by Fawzan Husain is called Mumbai 26/7.

Isn’t it bad enough that most photographers talk numerals, f8, F50, 1/125, 400 ISO, 3200K! The 40 or so photographers whose work in on display hopefully speak a thousand words give or take a few more for the captions.

You would expect to see images showing a lot of water given that the monsoon that year decided to out perform its 100-year-old history and precipitate 954 inches in a day and you perhaps wont be disappointed. There is water on the tracks, water in people’s homes, streets and flowing unceremoniously onto and out of spaces where it has no business to be there in such quantities.

But the most amazing fact is that photographers were there. When such a spectacular photo opportunity presents itself most sane and well mannered photographers might want to protect their expensive equipment against the biggest enemy of fine optics and electronics, moisture, and wrap their precious Nikons and Canons in silica gel and curl up with a stiff drink, that they were out there given the fact that all transportation came to a liquid halt, and making images that are at least documentary is nothing short of wonderful. Happy of course that news agencies provide the equipment and the insurance, there were the odd free lancers taking the bigger risks.

Some of the images make you wonder about serendipity or is it that chance favours the prepared mind. Nitin Sonawane – Economic Times has a beautiful shot of Rukhmini Mankar stranded in a train at CST with her new born child after having just been discharged from the Cama and Albess hospital. Sweet photo to have in your baby scrapbook.

Mandar Deodhar – Bombay Times, has a spectacularly sharp, monochromatic image near Nilje station  of the tracks submerged on the Konkan Railway that looks like an etching.

Soumik Kar – Business Today has an image that could not escape the irony of the day with the commissioner of police A. N. Roy sitting heroically dry in an inflatable dingy while his flunkies in wet suits and other locals in very sodden tee shirts waded waist deep, pulling his survey craft through the deluge. After the comedy you begin to wonder where Soumik was to make that shot.

There are some awesome compositions in all that misery of loss of persons and property, Santosh Harare – Hindustan Times, has a beautiful shot of the residents of Diva recovering from the deluge that had their homes completely submerged. You wonder at the decisive moment or was it great art direction. There is a lot going on in the frame.

There is a ghastly/wonderful photograph of a gangrenous hand emerging out of the wet with a reflection of a man and a bus. What is going on outside the frame is suggestive and intriguing.

There are dead persons, live persons, dead buffaloes, dead transport while Neeraj Priyadarshini – Indian Express has a decapitated man pushing his bicycle laden with bedraggled chickens through a Venice like street.

And of course there is always someone who is going to make ‘vasool’ while the rain pours, a person leaping into the ad hoc swimming pool that just got constructed on the busy thoroughfare was captured in a wonderful 1/250th splash.

The images have their own stories, sometimes the captions are the only way of knowing what is going on. And on the demographic front it is perhaps noteworthy that there was a 1:39 ratio of women photographers out there.