Fred Cray


Produced by Scott Newman & Marc Santo
Camera by Rainer Evans
Edited by Kyle Gilman
Introduction by Marc Santo
Interview by Scott Newman

Brooklyn-based photographer Fred Cray has gone through significant lengths to fully explore himself. For his self-portrait series, he’s set himself on fire, eaten dirt and covered himself with tar. “In the beginning,” explains Fred, “I was expressing the young man’s angst and needed to express the rage I was feeling towards war. I have a literary background and based a lot of these portraits on a character from a Marquez novel, but at this point, my work has become less about these motifs and moreabout the ability to transcend myself.”

As an artist, Fred obsessively wanders the boroughs of New York City, exploring the back streets and lesser-known margins of the map in search of meaningful frames as they appear at that moment. Combine these photographs with his found imagery and distorted, multiple exposed frames shot from his computer screen, and the end result is a dreamy, ambiguous scene of the multi-layered world around him.

Fred’s work has been exhibited by a prestigious array of galleries and museums that include White Columns, The New Museum, The Brooklyn Museum The New Orleans Museum of Art and The George Eastman House. He is a graduate of Yale’s MFA program and is represented by the Janet Borden Gallery in SoHo.

Scott Newman: Some of your photographs incorporate layers of images and text that seem strategically printed on the page. To us, they represent less of a captured scene and more of a longer story that takes place over time. Where does this style come from?

FRED CRAY: My background is in painting and literature. I’m always trying to convey a sense of ambiguity. I tell stories with my photographs, but they aren’t always true. I think a lot of photography is capturing what exists at that moment and I think it’s fascinating to see different layers of time at once. I used to travel a lot, and in Rome I saw 1500 years of different architecture in the same place. I’m looking for things that have a story that both me and the viewer can relate to. It’s then up to the viewer to add the element of what actually happened for the photograph to get to that point. I hope that when people view the photograph, they feel they’ve shot that photograph, which then adds ambiguity to the story. The text is generic and could be interpreted as the thoughts of the viewer or the thoughts of the photographer.

Scott: So the end result is a collage of images and text that are easily identifiable, translatable and generic enough for anyone to relate to.

FRED: The multiple exposures with text could definitely be called collage, but I just call them multiple exposures. They’re really about thinking and the attempt to make sense of the chaotic images we collect in our head. We’re flooded with images constantly, but how we put them together so they make sense is always an interesting challenge.

Scott: Would you say a lot of the inspiration comes from your surroundings in New York?

FRED: New York has an amazing amount of cultural institutions that are very inspirational. People are always trying new things with art and not always succeeding. Places like the Met or MoMA show amazingly successful and extremely potent artwork but if they were totally perfect it wouldn’t be that inspirational. It’s great when things are two thirds right and one third wrong.

Scott: When shooting in New York, what are you looking for and how do you go about finding it?

FRED: I like photographing Brooklyn. I’m attracted to street chaos and grit, which there’s less and less of in Manhattan. The street action in Brooklyn is incredible. People just walk around in different clothes there. I go to Brighton Beach a lot and walk home, which is a six-mile walk, and I’ll go through Russian neighborhoods, Caribbean neighborhoods and all sorts of different ethnic neighborhoods. There’s still a slight time warp aspect. Whatever it is I’m looking for can be found there.

Scott: The commercialization of Manhattan is a common complaint. Do you think it’s become harder to work here?

FRED: What I think about New York doesn’t matter. I think New York is a place about commerce and change. People come here to re-make themselves. They come here to make money. They come here because it’s anonymous in certain ways. They don’t have to have a past and people can come here to start all over. I think people will always do that here. The city has changed a lot. The rough edges have been polished. The street interactions one used to have here have changed dramatically. I remember walking by this guy breaking in to a car on the Lower East Side, which you wouldn’t necessarily see anymore. It was broad daylight and he said to me, “Look, I don’t bother you when you’re working. Leave me alone.” Things like that seem to have vanished. The stoop life has changed; the new buildings have less character. We can all say we miss this and that about the old days but really New York is about change. I have to keep reminding myself of that and look for what’s happening now. That’s always one of the challenges–to remind myself to keep looking for what I see changing and not harp on what it used to be.


Fred Cray's NYC

Fred Cray
  • "The Met always has some temporary exhibit that can knock one's socks off. There's always a bunch of works in their permanent collection that function like old friends - there no matter what, providing comfort. There's some of the best stuff in the world and one can just walk in and look at it almost any day of the year."
  • "I always go back and forth between feeling like photography just doesn't quite provide enough sometimes, so here I can dart in and out and see some photos then go see some paintings. MoMA doesn't quite integrate photography and contemporary art as well as the new addition of the Art Institute in Chicago, but they have a really good permanent collection for times when I want to feel grounded in the medium. They have a decent bookstore and the artist's membership, which I really like because I can just walk in, show my card and look at art briefly then leave. Then I can do the same thing the next day. It makes going to the museum not a big deal."
  • Brighton Beach - Source:
    “Brighton Beach is Brooklyn’s Russian neighborhood and one of the more interesting neighborhoods in the city. It borders Coney Island, so you can visit two iconic neighborhoods in one afternoon. It’s crazy to see all those cyrillic letters all over the place. I suggest a snack of Russian food, enjoy the beach and boardwalk, then take a walk down Coney Island Avenue.”
  • “Al di La in Park Slope has consistently great food. The pasta is to die for, especially with clams. The pork is always fabulous. It’s my favorite restaurant in New York. They’re fairly priced and offer a homemade ice cream trio or the affagato, that makes for the perfect finish to a perfect meal. If I were offered a last meal, it would be a regular meal from here. No real attitude and sometimes one feels an actual appreciation towards the customers from the owner. It’s sometimes a disaster that they don’t take reservations.”
  • "The Strand is just a great New York Institution. They have a ton of books. One can look at photo books, art books and cookbooks for recipes. I've also hid a bunch of my own photos in books there."
  • "She's my gallerist and it's a comfortable size gallery. She has hall of famers and she knows her stuff. All the photo people know and respect her and she's been a big supporter of mine despite the fact that my work is hard to sell."
  • "ICP probably has the best selection of books in the city. It's not that inviting but if I want to see photo titles that I won't see anywhere else I go there. It's too bad they don't have a better space to sit and browse, but I'm sure if they did, they'd lose a lot more books and have some damaged."
  • “The performance artists who put on work at BAM are among my favorite things about living in New York City. I’m really going to miss seeing Pina Bausch, but you’re almost bound to catch an excellent show any time of the year. BAM has done a lot for this city.”
  • “I like the Brooklyn Museum, but it could do a lot more. It’s fighting its history. It’s struggling because it doesn’t have the money or cache like other museums. They do good shows once in a while, but not often enough. Sometimes it just feels too tired, and sometimes I love that tiredness.”
  • William Lamson - No 15, 3/11/2006, Digital C-Print
    “The Pierogi Gallery in Williamsburg is fairly democratic in certain ways. They have great solo shows and the Flat Files, which is an archive of original artwork by over 700 artists, is a great idea. The art in the files are relatively affordable and a great way to make quality art available to a large audience.”
  • Jonathan Schipper  - The Slow Inevitable Death of American Muscle
    “The Boiler Room Space that the Pierogi Gallery opened is housed in an old warehouse’s boiler room. This space is one of the new gems in New York City where one can find larger works of art, like sculpture and installation exhibits, as well as groundbreaking performances.”
  • The Coney Island Museum - Source:
    “The Coney Island Museum brings up old memories of New York from the times when people still vacationed by the Brooklyn seaside. There’s a darkness that they conjure up from the past and a great bonus to spending the day in Coney Island.”
  • Adel Abdessemed  - “Like Mother, Like Son.”
    "This gallery has great shows. Despite being blue chip, it shows work that transcends trends, takes chances, or hits a solid home run."
  • "If one needs to pick up from good art, it can almost always be found just by walking into this space."
  • "Sunset Park is a culturally diverse neighborhood. On one avenue you have Brooklyn's Chinatown and two avenues down you have Brooklyn's major Mexican thoroughfare with some great taquerias. For $4 one can have an amazing meal."

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