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A Photographic Treasure Hunt With Fred Cray

The idea of the ‘unique’ is a concept that has daunted the practice of photographers for many decades now. With fear of loss of the aura in a work, many artists opt to push the boundaries of a single medium into a dynamic multi-media piece that not only involves photography, but steps into the grounds of painting, sculpture, and more rarely, performance art.

Fred Cray the wild magazine

Last summer, while browsing through some books in a library in Chelsea, I came across a photograph that clearly did not belong to the book I was holding in between my hands. The 4″x6″ print revealed a number of superimposed buildings into a single image; a collage of radiant colors and surreal content. Upon a closer study, I found a stamp on the back that read, “Unique Photograph, Fred Cray” along with the hand-written number 8883. As I held this image in my hands, I couldn’t help to ask myself: “Did I find the photograph, or did the photograph find me?”

After immersing myself into this game of hide and seek, I started following the steps of Mr. Fred Cray into a treasure hunt to find out the meaning behind these “Unique” photographs.

fred cray the wild

Cray is a New York based artist, who since 2008 has left or hidden over 10,000 unique photographs in New York, the United States and different parts of the world including Europe, Asia, Australia and South Africa. Each photograph is printed, stamped, and numbered by hand; quite a meticulous work for a print that might not ever see daylight.

The content of this body of work is completely enigmatic. Cray complies images found in film, photography, cartoons, pornography, movies, animation, and the Internet, and appropriates icons drawn from pop culture (whether they be found in Bizantine murals or Banksy), eventually collaging them with his own photographic work into a sensual composition of objects and color. With the digital era upon us, the access to imagery can be infinite. Each of Cray’s photographs is completely unique, since the digital files are then either altered in some way or deleted. Now, going back to Walter Benjamin’s idea of the aura, the work of Cray explores the concept of authenticity by locking down the work of art in a certain space and time, and then destroying any means to reproduce it.

By weaving a connection between photography and performance,  Cray gives action to artwork by allowing the viewer the unique physical experience of finding, representing a totally new approach to art. Here, The role of the viewer has evolved from a passive stance and has become an active participant in the completion of the artwork itself.

fred cray the wild

See Fred Cray’s Visual Interview

text by: Alejandro Jassan










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