For several years, Brooklyn photographer Fred Cray has traveled to an unfamiliar city to spend the summer. He’s stayed in Tokyo, Rome, and Berlin, taking photos of the landscapes. The architecture. The people. Snapshots of everyday life. “If you live in New York, you get overly familiar with what’s right in front of you,” says Cray. “I go to a new city and tell myself, ‘I’m here. There’s no better place to be.’ It forces me to really keep looking at what’s right around me.” Touching on the element of chance, Cray always stumbles into exactly what he’s looking to shoot. And in his latest series, everything relies on chance.
In the current exhibition at his alma mater, the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, Cray’s multilayered photographs resemble the work of a watercolorist, implying a sense of movement in both time and the image itself. First, Cray prints his image, whether a self-portrait, landscape, or person, on a surface that repels ink. Then, the timer begins. With only a short time before the ink completely dissolves the image into something unusable—anywhere from two to 20 minutes—Cray must make a choice: Did the ink disperse where Cray wanted to capture the dissolve? Did chance prove to be on his side? If yes, he immediately scans the image into a larger, digital file before it’s unrecognizable. What transpires is a masterful combination of a realistic photograph, transformed by manipulation and, well, luck.
But what’s possibly the most fascinating about Cray’s work is his desire to display photographs as objects, and not the other way around. He does so by superimposing several variations of lush colors, fabrics, textures, and exposures onto each image—a nod to his printmaking background.
Take this month’s cover image—a quasi-straightforward self-portrait covered by a silhouetted, ink-dripping rooster, part of Cray’s ongoing self-portrait series, or “spirit photographs,” as critics have called them. These shots reflect a different kind of intimacy into the artist’s interior self. “The same person is in all of these images,” says Cray, “but how far can I transform photographing myself and not have it repeat?” He’s shaved his head and set himself on fire; he’s stuffed his mouth with dirt; and he’s blurred out his face with color and distortion until it’s ghostlike. The options for Cray are, well, limitless. “I instinctively just want to do something different. It’s what I’m most drawn to the most.” What he means is—whatever’s most unfamiliar, whatever he can transform, and whatever he stumbles on by chance.
Fray joins his Hotchkiss photography teacher Robert F. Haiko for the exhibit “Photographs by Robert F. Haiko, Sandra C. Haiko, and Fred Cray ’75,” on display at the Tremaine Art Gallery at the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT, through October 22. (860) 435-4423.