It is now almost a platitude to point out that the photograph will, because of its very success, sink into an inevitable anonymity. But it is not platitudinous to note that this anonymity simply marks photography's coming f age as an art. The painter, the composer, the poet have long known that if they are to achieve a genuine art, it must be done at the expense of lengthy colloquies with themselves. They discover very quickly after having left their apprenticeship, where the mere achievement of technique was enough to sustain their pretensions to the art, that if they are really going to substantiate the pretensions, they must, through the medium of their art, discover first who they themselves are. Thus, the art produced becomes more than a substantiation of the presumption that they are artists; it is an act of defining themselves. Up to now, photography has lolled in a constant spring of exotic images, slices of life and imitations of ,Already established art; but the season has changed. The "decisive moments" add up to decisive decades now; in fact, it has finally been established that every moment is decisive. The idea of documentation is worn threadbare and has become so decadent that the photographer verges in his quest for new subjects on documenting his failure to find a subject to document. The abstract photographer has found out that he has lost the magical function of time relative to his work and has thus lost half the mystery of photography. It comes to this: The productive, innocent, unself-conscious days of photography's childhood are over. It remains now for an occasional genius and the more common studied visionary to make a photographer's life worth while; that is, t) make him A4i artist. Charles Traub's photographs are both outgoing and regressive. They are clearly personal. They are definitely surreal, though just as definitely mysterious, in that they prod the non pedestrian reactions in the viewer. They seem to be saying things, but in a tongue that is foreign And without lexicon. For Traub, one imagines that a photograph is finished only when it has three or four levels of meaning. One doesn't feel that he deciphers these meanings consciously, or that he arranges them and waits for or orchestrates them. They seem rather to rise out of some obsessive ground that he has gotten to by pursuing himself. Imagine what he must feel in order to accept a particular photograph as his own. First , that it has an ephemeral but immediate meaning; then that a voice within him whispers, "What's hidden there? Do I really see what I think I see?" And then (and this must be startling for him) he must feel a flush of trepidation at again having discovered something that he intends to claim as an extension of himself. In short, one imagines that Traub is involved in perpetrating defining acts through art, that his photographs are particles of self snatched from the impassive face of the so-called real world. It would be misleading to suggest that Traub is wholly intuitive; he is not. He does many elaborate things to help along his process of self-examination. Some are mechanical, some purely aesthetic and others serendipitous; but they are all systematically integrated into the larger structure of his obsession with reality. Whatever he does may be innovati-m, mistake or appropriation; but once he finds it, he never lets it go. Every particle further fleshes out the Traub self. Take, for example, the function of his obsessive vignetting. First of all, it turns the photographer into a voyeur on the dark side of his own stylized key-hole, at the end of a tunnel that safely separates the explorer from the explored, the parasite from the host. It can be argued that on another level it is a device in Traub's hands, as it has been in the hands of others, to cancel out the photograph experience as "a slice of life." Moreover, Traub's vignetting can be described as a simple matting device.
that gives the photograph meaning in an art sense, that gives it a recognizability by means of a frame of lightlessness. My bet is that Traub delights in all levels of interpretation and analysis generated by this one element consistent in his work. Another thing peculiar to all of Traub's work is that the image proper almost always lurks in a tangle of lines, patterns or shadows. Hair as line shrouds some of his most unforgettable images. (Does the hair on the chest on a Traub beach man become a maze of human undergrowth behind which the wizening body withdraws? Is its white tangle a symbol of virility deferred? Is our focus initially thrust to the crotch of a beach awn or a goddess only in order to keep us from MMithree! seeing the figure itself?) Traub's use of patterns (for instance, in couples embracing or T-14-6 k...p unromantically pressed close together) obscures the meaning and the image inconsistently; and it has throughout the history of his work. The flowered prints on satin worn by one figure engage in decorative intercourse with the pattern on the adjacent figure, so that it takes the viewer sometimes minutes to discover the primary level of meaning told by an overlooked hand relative to some bulge or declevity hidden in design. Traub uses shadow the same way: It falls across the foreground of what seems to be an anonymous area. It seems to be one of those standard shots of the photographer throwing his own shadow across the image he photographs; and for a moment it holds the viewer with its formal strength. Only laterally do we realize that the ground over which the shadow is cast is not earth at all but a gigantic towel engulfing a head and that that head was originally read as a tuft of grass. How typical all of these things are of Traub's personality and obsession with the paradoxes of reality—lines, patterns and shadows all popping simultaneously, re-vealing transient tiers of reality and flashes of recognition. What the viewer retains after the experience of Traub's work is something that, though elusive, CEMOvisorOby sticks in the mind. It is his dawning vision of palimpsest reality, a vision and extension of himself that asserts that the past is never wholly past but that it bleeds into the present and stains the future. The key to the gentle disturbance of Traub's work is his lack of belief in the primacy of impersonal reality. He is one hrilf projective--his need to invest meaning by seeing--and one half regressive--his desire to reflect upon what he has seen from the security of his dark end of the tunnel. Everything seeable is raw autobiography to be extended and defined by his art. It is this that makes Traub, in this time of visual glut, a unique figure, one actually worthy of the name artist. Charles Traub stands at the threshold of the only possible future of photography.