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.