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Photographer Extraordinary

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Photographer Extraordinary

The following article is one written about my grandfather by one of his friends.

Photographer Extraordinary

The man you see walking down the street just ahead of you… he looks innocent enough. He’s dressed like any other 20th century gentleman – the conventional business suit… neat fedora… conservative tie. And he appears to be going sedately about his own business—bound for his office or home or some such prosaic place. Nothing extraordinary about him at all.

Ah, but he is far from innocent, he is most extraordinary! That gentleman is on a secret mission. He is, as a matter of fact, a spy in the pay of no one… a sleuth engaged at this very instant on a private project that is as vast as life. Yes, he is out for something, out to catch something. His conventional dress is a mere camouflage. He doesn’t want you to see him, he doesn’t want you to notice him; it is his precise intention to disappear into the anonymity of the city crowd. The better to fool you, the better to go about his own private business undisturbed! Oh, he is a sly fellow!

Come now, catch up with him... do a bit of sleuthing on your own. Walk alongside him for a moment, and observe him closely. You will see that under the brim of his brown felt hat, his eyes are very shrewd, very busy. They are perhaps, the busiest eyes on the street. They are searching the faces of passers-by, they are appraising buildings to left and right, they are darting swiftly skyward, and just as quickly down again to the cracks in the sidewalk; they are taking in everything. Ah, there now—you’d better fall behind quickly and resume your walk in back of the gentleman. He saw you, yes he took you in from head to toe-just when you least expected it. You can be quite sure he noticed even the mole under your right eye. That gentleman doesn’t miss anything!

Who is he? He is Arthur S. Gray, free-lance photographer extraordinary of Cleveland, Ohio—out to catch life in an unguarded moment.

One time commercial photographer for Standard Oil, instructor at the Cleveland Photography Society, author of magazine and text-book articles on picture-making, Arthur Gray has a unique working method which he has pursued resolutely and successfully over the last forty years. It is a method which produces pictures that give you the same feeling you get from looking at great paintings by the old masters. Yet Mr. Gray works within the most stoically defined limitations of the camera. He does not set the stage for his subject-matter. He does not alter his photographs by one iota in the developing process. He works directly from and with life, life in the raw. How is it then, that his photographs achieve an artistic synthesis of light, composition, mood… all the balance, unity and symbolism of a great painting, yet still maintain their candid, factual, unvarnished reality? Let us see if we can ferret out his secret.

If you had trailed Arthur Gray a little longer, you would have seen him come to an abrupt standstill before an old alley stretching between two towering office buildings. You would have seen him squinting at the light, scanning the length, breadth, and height of the alley, evaluating all the photographic possibilities, making all the necessary calculations. Next, you would have seen him reaching deftly under his coat for the camera which he always carries with him, slung in a black leather case over his shoulder. You would have observed him quickly making speed and shutter adjustments, fixing his eye to the view-finder, taking one step forward, two backward, then suddenly freezing his position and pressing the cable release.

Thus the photograph is accomplished… sane models, tripod, lens cloth or light-meter… in less than a minute, in the midst of a busy city street. A striking, unusual city scene—perfect in lighting and composition—symbolic of any city anywhere.

This is how Arthur Gray works. Minutes, seconds, fractions of seconds are the essence of his art. All his photographs are products of just such emergencies. Each picture bears the un-mistakable Arthur Gray hallmark—a simple, honest naturalness together with the high symbolism and technical perfection of a fine painting.

Honesty is perhaps the key-word in Mr. Gray’s philosophy—the motif you will find in all his pictures. His is indeed an uncompromising honesty that begins with the tireless, exacting search for pictures—in city streets, parks, alleys and industrial centers… down country paths, in woods, meadows and over broad stretches of farmland… besides streams and waterfalls. His is an honesty relentlessly pushed to its conclusion in his unique, completely original process of developing the negatives.

Arthur Gray does not follow the universally accepted process which is based upon the premise that the exposure determines the density, and the developing the contrast. On the contrary. In his process, it is the exposure that determines the contrast, and the developing that determines the density. Mr. Gray has invented his own chemical formula to reproduce the original lighting as determined by the exposure time at the moment the picture was snapped. No tampering with lighting effects for him.

Equally uncompromising is his attitude toward the dark-room devices of painting in with a pen or brush, or of using chemicals to remove an undesirable telephone pole, billboard, or otherwise obtrusive object. To him this is trickery, chicanery, a base violation of the true function of the camera. For him the photographic moment is over with the clicking of the shutter. The function of the developing process is but to confirm—never to alter, the original inspiration.

Honesty: a straight-forward, unalterable rendition of reality. Artistry: the selection of scenes with esthetic significance, emotional appeal. Craftsmanship: a back-log of 40 years of experience which has given Mr. Gray his uncanny lighting skill. These are all clues to the Arthur Gray technique; but perhaps the most important clue is this – he is never without his camera. He puts it on with his clothes in the morning. Wherever he goes, on long journey or simple errand, that vest-pocket camera loaded with 127 pan film goes with him. “It is essential,” says Arthur Gray “That I be prepared at all times. I cannot make pictures happen… but I can be there with my camera when they do happen.”

This is, after all, the inevitable corollary of Mr. Gray’s philosophy. Since he refuses, on principle, to set the stage for his pictures, he must not be caught unprepared when life sets the stage for him. Wherever he goes, his eyes must be constantly searching for the perfect photographic moment. His camera must be ready when it comes… that miraculous moment when lighting composition and mood merge spontaneously… out of the chaos of life… into an art form.

When this happens (and it does not happen often), life seems to enter into a compact with art… a sort of divine conspiracy. The compact is swiftly made, as swiftly broken. Another instant and the light shifts, the human figures move out of the camera’s range, the clouds float away.

But if a man is as cunning, watchful and spry as Arthur Gray, he will have clicked his shutter in the interim. He will have recorded the conspiracy forever on the silver emulsion. And that is why Mr. Gray’s pictures have all of life’s direct freshness and truthfulness together with that miraculous artistic completeness that is the envy of all studio photographers.

Some day you may see Arthur Gray on the street yourself. He’ll be dressed in his usual conventional business suit… neat fedora… conservative tie.

But this time, you won’t be fooled. You’ll know that under his coat, that man carries a vest-pocket camera filled with 127 film, as ready for action as a loaded Luger pistol.

You’ll know that he is a vigilant, well-armed sleuth, eternally on the trail of some divine conspiracy.