by A. D. Coleman
It takes the passage of time before an image of a commonplace subject can be assessed. The great difficulty of what I attempt is seeing beyond the moment; the everydayness of life gets in the way of the eternal. — George Tice
Garry Winogrand once said of Walker Evans’s classic 1938 book American Photographs that it “showed that America was a place you could photograph in.” He was echoing — probably unconsciously — Beat Generation novelist Jack Kerouac’s wishful midcentury boast that he could “make Topeka holy,” presumably by locating and exposing the soulful core of that stereotypical midwestern city.
And both, in turn, spoke from the same set of inspirations: those who, from Whitman and Twain through Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Charles Ives, Alfred Stieglitz, Georgia O’Keeffe, Martha Graham, William Carlos Williams, and Evans himself (among countless others), have asserted and demonstrated by example that there is a uniquely American art and music and dance and literature to be made. And that the precepts and raw materials and subjects and themes of such work can derive not from Europe but from the specifics of this land: its history, its culture, its terrain and topography, its people, its languages, and — especially for visual artists — its light.
Though he has made some fine photographs elsewhere, George Tice has spent his working life showing that America is “a place you can photograph in” and, in the spirit of Kerouac, making it holy. Not in any sanctimonious sense; just providing tangible evidence that this country is as soulful, as imbued with mystery and magic, as anywhere else, and that prolonged meditation on it, even on its mundane particulars, will serve no less well as a path to exaltation and transcendence than a cathedral in France or a rock garden in Japan.
“No ideas but in things,” wrote William Carlos Williams in his epic poem Paterson (1946), embodying this thought most concretely in his famous lyric poem “The Red Wheelbarrow.” Photography, by its nature, deals with particulars — with specific things and the light that bounces off them. Because they form his immediate context, the “things” to which Tice has devoted most of his attention are found along the eastern seaboard of the United States, especially within his native New Jersey, where his roots go back for ten generations. Over the years he has concentrated much of his activity in and around the city of Paterson, sharing with Dr. Williams the conviction that it could serve as ground and subject for an epic statement.
Like Williams, who wrote and published his long poem in installments, Tice has returned again and again to this archetypal North American city, and has now entered his fifth decade of scrutiny thereof. Paterson exemplifies the cities of the eastern United States, compressed by the ocean on one side and the vastness of the continent on the other. Tice’s first book on this theme, Paterson (1972), was celebrated with a solo show at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, making Tice one of the few living photographers ever to have exhibited at the Met at that time, and certainly one of the youngest. That book brought Tice considerable critical recognition, as well as personal notes of appreciation from such cognoscenti as Berenice Abbott, Harry Callahan, Robert Adams, Ralph Steiner, and John Szarkowski. It remains the most long-term, extensive, and serious response to this city that any creative photographer has undertaken. (In 2006 he published Paterson II, which gathered the images he’d made there since the first volume appeared.)
Tice tends to work on large-scale projects, and to resolve those projects in coherent book and exhibition forms. His work has taken him across the continental United States, and abroad to England and the former Soviet Union. He’s drawn particularly to small, nondescript cities and ever smaller towns, where one or more centuries of human occupation remain visible. His ninth book, Lincoln (1984), celebrated the 175th anniversary of the birth of U.S. president Abraham Lincoln by presenting images made in cities named after Lincoln, civic statues of him, and various sites and objects that use his name, including a motel and a luxury automobile. For his 1988 book Hometowns: An American Pilgrimage he visited the birthplaces of three very different but now iconic Americans: James Dean (Fairmount, Indiana), Ronald Reagan (Dixon, Illinois), and Mark Twain (Hannibal, Missouri).
Born in 1938, Tice came to photography via what was then a traditional route. Beginning as a teenage hobbyist, he joined the local camera club to hone his skills, studied commercial photography in high school, dropped out to work as a darkroom assistant in a Newark portrait studio, then enlisted in the U.S. Navy at the age of 17, quickly becoming head photographer aboard the U.S.S. Wasp, an aircraft carrier. A photograph he made in that role, of the Wasp’s crew pushing overboard a helicopter that had accidentally caught on fire, appeared on the front page of the New York Times. There it caught the eye of Edward Steichen, then director of the Museum of Modern Art’s Department of Photographs, who requested a print for MoMA collection. Tice was 20 years old at the time.
For a decade after he got out of the Navy, Tice supported himself and his family by working as a home portrait photographer. During that period he turned to large-format cameras for his personal work and mastered the craft of printmaking. Fortuitously, he also met the late Lee Witkin and helped him establish the Witkin Gallery, which became the the first successful commercial gallery in New York City dedicated to creative photography. The resulting exposure to classic works of 19th- and early 20th-century photography led Tice to explore the then-obsolete process of platinum printing, which he first recuperated for his own work and then began teaching to others at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan and elsewhere.
This made Tice a charter member of what’s now called the “alternative processes” movement, which has reintroduced many previously abandoned techniques for negative and print production to the toolkit of contemporary photography. By 1970, the combination of demand for his prints and income from teaching enabled Tice to concentrate entirely on his own photography and the custom-printing of creative work by others. His skills as a printmaker, plus his association with Witkin, led to commissions that involved Tice producing, from the original negatives, limited-edition portfolios of works by such figures as Edward Weston, Frederick H. Evans, Francis Bruguière, Ralph Steiner, and Lewis Hine.
In 1973 Rolf Petersen, who had printed Steichen’s work for decades, retired from that role. Grace Mayer, who had served as Steichen’s assistant at the Museum of Modern Art, recommended Tice to Steichen as a replacement. Tice thus became the last person to print for Steichen in his lifetime, and continued in that role for years after his death in 1973. One project that came from that collaboration was the posthumous set of limited-edition portfolios issued in 1985, in which, image by image, Tice strove to match Steichen’s original vision with prints made on a range of contemporary photographic papers — certainly the most ambitious group of estate prints produced up to that point, and the only one undertaken by a photographer internationally recognized for his own work.
As all this suggests, Tice’s models are not the “New York School” photographers — Winogrand, Robert Frank, Lee Friedlander, Helen Levitt — whose quick glimpses with small cameras defined urban America in the popular imagination during the second half of the last century. What Tice shares with them is a search for the poetics of the quotidian, the epiphanies that lurk in the humdrum. But Tice works primarily with a nineteenth-century instrument, the 8×10 view camera, which encourages (indeed, requires) a more deliberate, considered approach to the construction of images, and whose large negative encodes vastly greater amounts of data than does the 35-mm. negative. These images are not fleeting glances but long, hard looks at their subjects, contemplations, loaded with detail, so rich you can get lost in them.
And, though Tice’s pictures sometimes include people, their visible presence in the flesh is rarely central to his vision, which instead investigates a largely depopulated urban and rural environment, a set of physical structures rather than social interactions. To the extent that he concerns himself with the past and present inhabitants of these locales, he addresses them through what they have built there and the marks they have left behind, not through the activities and behaviors of the present-day citizenry. In that sense, his motive is more archaeological than sociological. His predecessors are figures such as Walker Evans, Berenice Abbott, Eugène Atget, and Frederick H. Evans.
“It was, above all else, civilization I was after,” Tice affirms in a statement about his Paterson project that applies to his entire body of work. He has given us the unmistakable traces of civilization here, in all of what he calls its “sad beauty.” In most of these images humans are transient, usually invisible; the man-made structures deteriorate gradually but inexorably; a tamed nature persists, survives, and, relentlessly, wherever it can, asserts itself, encroaches. The melancholy decrepitude of these settings suggests a loss of energy that could prove irreversible. The overall mood of Tice’s project is elegiac.
Yet Paterson endures, as do the other towns and cities Tice has shown us. Like Atget before him in Paris, Tice in his photographs does not contemplate a context that will cease to exist, but a representative cross-section of spaces, imbued with human history, that await their next transformation.
© Copyright AD Coleman, shall not be reproduced in any form without permission.
A. D. 柯曼
盖瑞·温诺格兰德（Garry Winogrand）在谈到沃克·埃文斯（Walker Evans）1938年那本著名的《美国照片》（American Photographs）时曾说，它“展现了美国是一个你能拍摄的地方”。他可能无意识地反照了“垮掉的一代”小说家杰克·凯鲁亚克（Jack Kerouac）世纪中叶那句一厢情愿的大话：他说，他可以“让托皮卡变为神圣”，大概是在寻找并揭示这座老套的中西部城市的灵魂精髓。
两方所说的，都是从同样的奇思妙想出发：从惠特曼（Whiteman）和马克·吐温（Mark Twain），经路易斯·阿姆斯特朗（Louis Armstrong）、艾灵顿公爵（Duke Ellington）、查理斯·艾夫斯（Charles Ives）、阿尔弗雷德·施蒂格利茨（Alfred Stieglitz）、乔吉亚·奥吉弗（Georgia O’Keeffe）、玛莎·格拉罕（Martha Graham）、威廉·卡洛斯·威廉斯（William Carlos Williams）和埃文斯本人（还有其他无数人），以身作则地证明并且展现了一种独特的美国式艺术、音乐、舞蹈和文学被创造出来。这类作品的规则、原材料、主题和主旋律可能都不是源自欧洲，而是这块土地的细节：其历史、文化、地形地貌、人民、语言，对于视觉艺术家而言，尤其包括那里的光线。
“伟大的思想不过是空洞”，威廉·卡洛斯·威廉斯在叙事诗《裴特森》（Peterson，1946年）中这样写道，而在著名抒情诗《红色手推车》（The Red Wheelbarrow）中又将这一思想更具体地表现出来。从本质上讲，摄影所涉及的就是细节——具体的物和它们所反射的光。因为这些构成了直接的语境，而泰斯最关注的“物”，都是在美国东部海滨找到的，特别是在他的家乡新泽西，他的家族在那里可以追溯十代。经年累月，他的活动主要围绕着裴特森城，和威廉斯博士一样，深信这里可以充当一段史诗性陈述的依据和主题。
威廉斯分期写出并出版了他的长诗，泰斯也一样，一次又一次回到这座典型的北美城市，现在已进入详细考察的第五十个年头。裴特森成了美国东部城市的典型，一侧受海洋的挤压，另一侧则是广袤的大陆。泰斯关于这一主题的第一本书《裴特森》（1972年），用以庆祝在纽约大都会博物馆的一次个展，这使得泰斯成为当时在大都会展出的少数几位仍在世的摄影师之一，当然也是最年轻的一位。这本书让泰斯在批评界获得了相当的认可，也得到贝列尼斯·阿博特（Berenice Abbott）、哈里·卡拉汉（Harry Callahan）、罗伯特·亚当斯（Robert Adams），拉尔夫·施泰纳（Ralph Steiner）和约翰·沙考斯基（John Szarkowski）等行家的赞赏。至今为止，这仍然是任何一位有创意的摄影师对这座城市做出的最长期、最广泛、也最为严肃的回应。（2006年，他出版了《裴特森之二》，收录了自第一卷出版以来在那里拍摄到的照片）。
泰斯往往致力于大型项目，并且以连贯的书籍和展览形式来还原这些项目。他的作品让他横跨了美国大陆，甚至远及英国和前苏联。他尤其被那些很小、又不起眼的城市甚至小镇所吸引，一个或数个世纪的人类居所仍可以看到。他的第九本书《林肯》（Lincoln，1984年）是为庆祝美国总统林肯诞辰175周年，呈现了为以林肯的名字命名的城市、城市雕塑以及各种冠以他的名字的场所和物品拍摄的照片，包括一家汽车旅馆和一辆豪华汽车。为了1988年的《故乡：一次美国朝圣之旅》（Hometowns: An American Pilgrimage）这本书，他走访了三个完全不同、但现在成为标志的美国人的故乡：詹姆斯·迪恩（James Dean，印第安纳州费尔芒特）、罗纳德·里根（Ronald Reagan，伊利诺伊州迪克森）和马克·吐温（密苏里州汉尼拔）。
这使得泰斯成为今天所谓“可替代工艺”运动的创始成员，这一运动重新引入了很多早已废弃的底片和照片制作工艺，使之成为当代摄影的工具。到了1970年，照片的需求和授课的收入使得泰斯能够全身心投入到自己的摄影创作中，以及为别人的作品进行定制印放。他作为暗房制作师的技能，加之与威金的联系，带来了各种委托工作，其中包括由泰斯用原底片制作限量版作品集，例如爱德华·韦斯顿（Edward Weston）、弗雷德里克·埃文斯（Frederick H. Evans）、弗朗西斯•布鲁吉耶尔（Francis Brugière）、拉尔夫·施泰纳以及刘易斯·海因（Lewis Hine）的作品。
1973年，曾印放斯泰肯照片达数十年之久的罗尔夫·彼得森（Rolf Petersen）退休。曾在现代美术馆担任斯泰肯助手的格雷斯·迈耶（Grace Mayer），为斯泰肯推荐了泰斯作为替补。至此，泰斯成为斯泰肯有生之年为他印放照片的最后一人，在他1973年去世之后仍继续数年担任了这个工作。那次合作形成的一个计划，就是1985年作者去世后发行的限量版作品集，其中的每一张照片，泰斯都在一系列现代相纸上努力达到斯泰肯原来的标准——这确实是至当时为止制作出来的要求最高的一批照片，也是由一位摄影师承担的国际上公认为他自己作品的唯一一例。
所有这一切表明，泰斯的榜样并非纽约派的摄影师们——温诺格兰德（Winogrand）、罗伯特·弗兰克（Robert Frank）、李·弗里德兰德（Lee Friedlander）、海伦·莱维特（Helen Levitt）——用小型相机快速一瞥，在上个世纪后半叶在大众的想象中确立了美国的都市形象。泰斯与他们所共有的，就是探索寻常之中存在的诗意，潜伏在单调乏味中的灵光一现。但是泰斯主要是用十九世纪的设备，即一台8×10英寸机背取景相机来创作，这促使（当然也要求）对图像的构建采取更加从容不迫、深思熟虑的态度，而大幅底片扑捉到比35毫米底片更多的信息。这些照片并非对被拍摄主体的飞快一瞥，而是长时间努力观察，经过思索，满载着让你完全沉入其中的丰富细节。
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