Fred Cray, Dissolve @Janet Borden

By Loring Knoblauch / In Galleries / October 4, 2017

JTF (just the facts): A total of 15 photographic works, framed in white and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival ink prints, made in 2017. The show includes 14 single image works and 1 grid of 36 prints. The single images are sized either 14×9 or 28×18 inches (or reverse), and all of the prints are unique (a few have additions of small swatches of fabric). The prints in the grid are each sized 7×5 inches and are also unique. A limited edition self-published artist book is available from the gallery. (Installation shots below.)

Comments/Context: Few artists have rejected the inherent reproducibility of photography more consistently than Fred Cray. Throughout his career, he has restlessly experimented with approaches designed to deliberately break down the medium’s mechanistic nature, from darkroom manipulations and multiple exposures to punching holes in his prints and adding collage elements. His various (and often mysterious) forays into process have inevitably led to unique pictures, where the native precision of photography wrestles with the hand of the artist.

Cray continues this innovative exploration of the edges of the medium in his newest works. Starting with a range of fairly standard photographic imagery (sunsets, landscapes, portraits, nudes etc.), he has printed the images on paper that repels the ink. So instead of resolving into pictures with crisp edges and sharp details, the ink piles up into wet pools that blossom into abstraction. The aesthetic is something akin to watercolor paint with just a bit too much water, where droplets alternately expand and dissolve into fluid and uncontrolled washes of color. Coming from a starting point of photography, the images seem to be breaking down, their rigidity collapsing into ephemeral essences.

The best of the works in this show embrace the uncertainty created by the unconventional process, allowing the chance dispersion of the ink to bring something unexpected to the underlying subject. A black and white image of the Empire State Building melts away, as if the famous spire was engulfed in swirling black smoke. A night scene in a quiet Los Angeles neighborhood takes on an anxious film noir mood as the dark sky wanders across the rooflines. And a melancholy female nude becomes a gestural color study, where the details are softened into fleeting impressions.

When Cray lets the process run a bit wilder, the results fully decompose. A Brooklyn sunset disappears into intermingled layers of pink, green, and orange. An airplane in the sky becomes a tiny smear against a tactile wash of creamy white. And what looks to be a beach scene with palm trees completely falls apart, becoming splotches of bright color and gentle watery conflict. The German photographer Joachim Schulz has used a similar process to turn images of Dutch floral still lifes into explosions of expressive color, the pools bleeding together into swirls of intense energy.

In the end, Cray’s core impulse seems far removed from some sort of neo-Pictorialism – he’s not trying to fawningly emulate the look of painting, but instead trying to forcefully deconstruct photography. Such a process doesn’t always yield compelling results, given its reliance of uncontrolled chance, but when the inks move beyond blur into slippery distortion, the images often find an element of magic. Held right at the tipping point of representation and abstraction, Cray’s dissolved photographs allude to more amorphous and nuanced realities, revealing that there can be much more to a photograph than its obvious clarity.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The 14×9 prints are $3200 each, the 28×18 prints are $7000 each, and the grid is $6500. Cray’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.


Collector Daily October 4th, 2017

*************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************************** two part article on work and books



Chronogram Magazine Cover Image (October, 2017) and Article by Zan Strumfeld








NY Times Alex Vadukul Article







January 21, 2014

Collector Daily:

Fred Cray, Unique Photographs @Janet Borden

Fred Cray, Unique Photographs @Janet Borden

By Loring Knoblauch / In Galleries / January 21, 2014

JTF (just the facts): A total of 77 color photographs, framed in black and unmatted, and hung against white walls in the main gallery space. All of the works are archival inkjet prints, made in 2013 and 2014. 42 of the works are sized 4×6 (or reverse) and have money, lottery tickets, or other photographs hidden inside the frame; there is also one set of 20 prints, also each sized 6×4. The other 11 prints are sized 35×24 (or reverse). All of the works are unique. The show also includes two artist books in a vitrine, Unique Photographs andChanging of the Guard, in editions of 200, both from 2013.

Comments/Context: Last summer, I was poking around in the 2nd floor bookshop at MoMA, and I pulled down Thomas Demand’s Executive for a closer look. As I flipped through the pages, something fluttered to the floor; I thought it was a response card from the publisher, but on closer examination, it turned out to be one of Fred Cray’s unique photographs. In contrast to the perfect sterility of the Demand images, it was a picture of a guy with no shirt in an overstuffed messy office, perhaps taken from a TV, with two holes punched in it, and a stamp and number on the back (see last install shot). Here was another artist interrupting Demand (in the confines of a hallowed museum no less), subtly commenting on the work in the book with a photograph of his own, bringing guerrilla intervention and artistic serendipity back to photography. I thought it was incredibly smart.

As it turns out, Fred Cray has been leaving/hiding his photographs all over the place for years now, some 10000 unique prints deposited all over the globe, so clearly, I’m not the only one to have experienced this unexpected moment of intimate visual conversation. This show brings together a broad sampler of Cray’s unique photographs, both in the handy small size (perfect for surreptitious delivery) and in a larger size that is more visually striking, as well as a pair of artist books that document the ongoing project.

In an age when we are drowning in seemingly endless photographic reproduction, Cray is using digital technology to make unique objects; it’s almost a contrarian position to take in such an environment. And the “how” of his work seems almost intentionally opaque – are the works multiple exposures, or layers of sandwiched images, or copies and tweaks? But as I wandered amid these works for a while, the process fell away – it doesn’t much matter how he has achieved his original effects. The experience is altogether hand crafted and painterly, with architectural silhouettes and towering trees tinted with washes of color, dotted with what might have been sun glare but could just as easily be filtered circular abstractions, coming together in a kind of hallucinogenic fog, where colors and forms dissolve into an ethereal set of echoes. They’re like a scene caught in your peripheral vision, a hazy transitory glance or a blurred memory.

Many of the smaller prints have been punched with physical holes – large, small, snowflake shaped, breaking up the image and reminding us of their physical presence. They also allow us to see “through” the print (almost an inside photography joke), in this case, to the hidden snippets of metallic lottery tickets or etched green dollar bills framed behind the artworks and another layer of surprise and opportunity for the lucky buyer. Another set of works documents the bearded face of a guard at the Met, overlaid with a dizzying variety of visual interventions and puns. There is an intellectual rigor here being applied to photography, a thoughtful testing of limits and recombinations.

While it may sound simplistic, what I like best about these unique works by Fred Cray is that they don’t look like anything we’ve seen before. His trees are at once bold and transitory, physical and impermanent, his buildings combining angularity and evanescence, hard edges and fluttering diffusion. His pictures are a reminder that digital doesn’t have to mean machined to perfection and drained of meaning. And by placing his works out in the bustle of life, he’s telling us that there is still a place for daring experimentation sized for individual discovery in this art world. These works succeed both as innovative photographs and as clever acts of intrusion, infringement, and commentary, and I for one, am now keeping my eyes peeled for more unpredictable Fred Cray ideas hiding in plain sight, waiting to be found.

Collector’s POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The larger 35×24 prints are $5500 each, while the smaller 6×4 individual prints are available for $150 each; the set of 20 small prints is priced at $3000. The artist books are $100 each. Cray’s work has very little secondary market history, so gallery retail remains the best option for those collectors interested in following up.

Loring Knoblauch






Miwa Susuda for Photobookstore UK Blog Fall,



“Unique Photographs”


As photography evolves into another generation, the fate of our visual experience is thrown across the sprawl of the digital environment. The “uniqueness” of the contemporary photograph is not inherent, and more than ever the sum of it’s parts must grow in new ways in order to survive. Instead of offering a simple alternative to the now banal questions of what makes something original, Fred Cray’s first publicly released artist book offers a revised method: natural selection.


“Unique Photographs” adds dimension to ideas of chance in photography. Cray’s work gains substance from serendipitous interactions with people who discover his prints left at varying locations including New York, across the United States, Europe, Asia, Australia and South Africa.  His work breeds discovery as he individualizes the images (and for that matter he individualizes the book with holes and unique photographs as inserts) by randomly punching holes in different spots, digitally altering, stamping, and/or numbering by hand (as if specimens set loose into the wild.)  As a type of epilogue at the end of the book Cray shares the email correspondences and reactions he receives from those who accidentally find the prints.  I am struck by the urge of those who discover his pieces to look up his name on Google and to actually send him their messages, a seemingly laborious gesture too often trumped by impracticality in this high speed age of our digital society.  However, this project has been successfully (and delightfully) realized because of people’s pure curiosity and desire to reach out to others.  Cray’s gesture offers us a chance to carefully look, and, moreover, he gives us a possibility to connect with people beyond immediate time and place: a sense that we are moving forward but not at the expense of expectation or technological grind. 


With an interdisciplinary educational background in literature and painting, Cray has become a multi-faceted artist and has a particular sensitivity to narrative elements in art movements of the 1960s and 70s.  He respects Joseph Beuys’ environment based works as well as the theories formed by Fluxus groups especially for their participation within a public setting.  However, Cray’s attempts are intentionally apolitical unlike the aims of Fluxus members. He molds the current development of our digital culture to his advantage. Cray is hopeful in his attempts of connecting people (to each other and to himself) through his unorthodox process. By creating threads of connection with his photography, Cray presents himself articulately as a visual poet rather than an aggressive protagonist. 


As a native Japanese, I can’t help comparing his project with “Lemon”, one of the masterpieces in modern Japanese literature and written by Motojiro Kajii in 1925. In this story, a lemon is placed on the pile of the books at the large bookstore in Tokyo.  For Kajii, a bookstore was symbol of an overwhelming amount of information and on the other hand the decline and fear of the intellectual life. The lemon represents an actual object and an awaking for a fresh new mental life.  I see this story as empathetic and insightful regarding hope and chance in a way not dissimilar to Cray’s project.  After “Lemon” was published, I heard that the popularity quickly rose among many readers, they also left lemons at the bookstores, and it was a small trouble and an innocent act.  I wonder [hope?] if the popularity of Cray’s “Unique Photographs” will induce the same kind of phenomena, and give us a joyful and genuine encounter with the other people.














November 30, 2010
Cincinnati CityBeat
Art: A Look at Life through Photography at Phyllis Weston Gallery
Matt Morris

link >

Inspired by the Art of Caring: A Look at Life through Photography is the current exhibition at Phyllis Weston Gallery, guest curated by Cynthia Goodman. The entire first floor of the gallery is given over to an impressive roster of internationally famed photographers, including Tina Barney, Lee Friedlander, William Wegman and many others. These photographs record images of human existence playing out against large-scale, elemental events like hurricanes, forest fires and our own inevitable mortality.

Robert Polidori’s giant print of a devastated living room in the aftermath of Katrina initially flickers with the grandeur of a Baroque history painting before wilting into a reality in which hurricane survivors were left with next to nothing. Fred Cray has two enigmatic collaged images that outshine many of the other big names that he joins in the exhibition. Cray’s “Untitled (You Could Have Done More)” embeds a gowned figure into a lush flower garden like a dream sequence.

January 1, 2006
From New Media, Old Media
Wendy Hui Kyong Chun and Thomas Keenan

With the rise of digital culture and the Interned, desire no longer tries to escape its interiority but celebrates and consumes it. In his Travel Diaries (1999-2000) Fred Cray creates a mediascape out of found images from film, photography, the Internet and animation that are rendered in filmstrip format arranged to form pages in a book. The journey that is recorded in these diaries is not physical but virtual, a journey from one medium to the next and in between that refuses to be a photography of exteriority. The omission in these diaries is the self, usually the key point of a diary entry. They are his counterpoint to a series of self-portraits that a number of critics have compared to spirit photographs. Rather than try and show his intimate interior self as so many photographers have done, Cray wears make-up and exotic hairstyles. Using a long exposure, Cray deliberately moves while the shutter is open to create a blurred, moving image that he further enhances with the use of color. Cray's diaries and self-portraits reveal that there is no one home but the ghost, which is not to say that he is insane but that the endless repetition of visual selves leads to an indifference, a loss of difference, that can end in the loss of the self. The ubiquitous surveillance cameras of today's society in no way seek to prevent crime or other breaches of social norms, nor do they claim any moralizing effect on the individual. The video record of the abduction of the toddle James Bulger from a Liverpool shopping center was, in retrospect, a simply well-publicized example of the indifference of contemporary surveillance to the individual.

December 16, 2005
The Chicago Tribune
Fred Camper

Four layers of superimposed images float dreamily atop each other in Fred Cray's untitled photographs at Schneider; sensually lush with a variety of objects and rich colors. The juxtapositions usually don't make obvious points, and the ambiguity creates multiple meanings--as do the printed texts Cray adds to the bottom, which he compares to movie subtitles.

Each of Cray's pieces create visual labyrinths bursting with suggestions, and it's through these that the viewer wanders.

A little girl whose image Cray found online stands at the center of a piece subtitled"insanity runs in the family; it practically gallops." Around her are 15 greenish faces, taken from a video of chanting monks by Marina Abramovic. The monks could be the girl's relatives, arrayed around her to express the way each of us is determined by our families. There are also fragments of a city at night, including a large pointing arrow, evoking choices and chance.
Two other works offer meditations on death. The words "you could have done more" are accompanied by two layers of flowers and a woman with her back to us, creating a funereal mood. The words could function either as a reproach to the deceased for an incomplete life, or the deceased's reproach to the survivors, perhaps for inadequate medical care, The flowers form variegated layers that the figure seems to be entering as if burying itself. An additional faint shadow is Cray himself. He made this piece shortly after his father died. Another that features his father's face was taken at the funeral home just after his death. Two layers of pale blue video images of movies his dad liked surround the warm colors of his face and pillow. A subtitle "so where do we start" again can be taken several ways, and contrasting colors add visual ambiguity.

December 6, 2005
Newcity Chicago Magazine
Michael Weinstein

Combining postmodern sophistication with near terrifying psychological intensity, Fred Cray roams the world with his 35mm camera shooting quadruple exposures in color that mount one scene upon the next to create images with complex and piercing meaning. Although Cray's photographs are garishly lit, they are haunted by death and loss, as if their surface is a veneer over an abyss of sorrow. In his image entitled "you could have done more" the translucent figure of a girl with her back to the lens has been absorbed in a dense thicket of bushes bursting with a profusion of flowers that have penetrated her ectoplasmic form. Less a ghost than a vanishing body, the girl is the icon of Cray's series, expressing his deep belief that existence means failure. 

October 31, 2003
The Chicago Tribune
Alan Gartner

One of Fred Cray's color photographs at the Schneider Gallery is a ghostly self-portrait made by using along exposure time to record him stepping in and out of the picture. It
Is the only image on view that can be explained so simply.
The rest of the exhibition is devoted to what the photographer calls "Compilations." These pictures build on his "travel diaries" of two years ago to present all at one time a number of the varied impressions received when visiting other cultures. They are collages made both in and out of the camera.
First, Cray runs each roll of film four times through his Nikon, allowing chance to produce layered images. Then one is selected and blown up and used as a backdrop for a horizontal strip of multiple exposures that sometimes harmonize with and sometimes provide discords within the larger image.
The photographer not only includes contemporary sights but also scenes from films and segments of paintings, so any one of his pieces may shift backward and forward in time, propelled by actual and invented vignettes of radically different character.
The results "explain" nothing about the cities Cray has visited. They are more internalized dreamscapes. Thus the viewer looks in vain for logic or even faithful topological reportage. The thrill here comes from straight photography achieving the poetic disjunctions and disorientation of a sleep state.

February 7, 2003
The New York Times
Art Guide

FRED CRAY, ''Travel Diaries,'' Janet Borden, 560 Broadway, at Prince Street, (212) 431-0166 (through Feb. 15). While traveling, Mr. Cray exposes rolls of film in his camera multiple times, producing prints that layer street scenes, buildings, pedestrians, cartoons, pornographic movies, movie subtitles, newspaper headlines and other mostly mundane sights. He pastes these pictures into grids, producing stream-of-consciousness fields of visual information, models, perhaps, of random memory (Johnson).

December 19, 2001
Newcity Chicago Magazine
Michael Weinstein
Fred Cray's ambitious photo-collages--arranged in grids of quadruple exposures of tourist shots from cities around the world--strike the eye with sparkling compounded density filled with bursts of multiple fragmented impressions and meanings ranging from
the mundane through the bizarre. On a purely visual level Cray's works are lush and confectionery, mixing color with black and white images to highlight brightness through contrasting effects. Conceptually, the works are "travel diaries," recording the pell-mell
of impressions crowding each other out in quick succession that greet visitors to an unfamiliar city. Although the sites of Cray's adventures are famous places like Paris or London, don't expect any nostalgic moments, iconic visions or rhyme or reason from him; Cray is a rare animal, a postmodern impressionist who decomposes illusionary space to bring us closer to the luxuriant chaos of primal perception.

February 13, 2001
Village Voice
Vince Aletti

Cray's latest work picks up from his last show of multilayered travel shots. Here, he's isolated and blown up one of those image sandwiches--each a meld of four separate pictures, at least one appropriated from the TV screen,  painting or other media--and slathered it in wax. The resulting objects, with their pumped-up sense of hectic simultaneity and milky drips, are delicately colored, kind of trippy, and not just sublimely suggestive. 

February 2, 2001
The New York Times
Art Guide

FRED CRAY, Richard Anderson, 453 West 17th Street, (212) 463-0970 (through Feb. 10). On a recent trip to Europe, Mr. Cray ran rolls of film through his camera four times, producing densely layered multiple exposures of people, buildings, artworks and commercial signs. For this show, he enlarged selected frames and coated them with wax, creating flickering, obscurely complicated images that are like elusive dreams or fading memories (Johnson).


May 30, 2000
Village Voice
Vince Aletti

Cray's black and white filmstrip collages pin down a media-drive stream of consciousness most viewers will recognize as not far from their own. By running the same film through his camera several times, he makes "travel diaries" that capture image-bank overload in layer upon layer and row upon row of half-seen pictures. Cartoons, snapshots, sitcoms, paintings, self-portraits, statuary, fireworks, porn--- everything is grist for Cray's voracious visual appetite. Because no image is without an overlay or a shadow, each piece suggests a flickering screen--a fascinating simultaneity that is almost more than you can stand

February 29, 2000
Village Voice
Vince Aletti

Fred Cray's vividly colored photos of his shaved head are less self-portraits than erasures. Before posing against a painted background, he paints himself to either blend into his setting or jump out from it, then exposes the film for two minutes. When Cray exits the frame before the time is up,  he leaves the merest trace of an image; when he moves, the camera records a shimmering blur. Bill Jacobson, Uta Barth, and other conjurers of the ephemeral come to mind, but Cray's use of hot Fauvist hues gives his work a more painterly cast, and his work sticks in the mind like an afterimage of a flash.


February 25, 2000
New York Times
Art In Review
Roberta Smith

Richard Anderson
453 West 17th Street

link >

Fred Cray, a Philadelphia artist who is having his first solo show in New York, operates in the triangle between painting, performance art and photography. He does not have the territory to himself, but his work stands out.

Mr. Cray makes what might be called Technicolor spirit photographs, lush, gaudy ethereal self-portraits. His process begins with making up his face (and shaved head) in colors that range from dark to light to bright, after which he stands in front of a wall, also painted a strong color. He then opens the camera for a two-minute exposure, moving his head or changing his expression or even ducking out entirely.

The blurry results are beautiful, unexpectedly painterly and emotionally suggestive. Each presents a creature of indeterminate age, sex and race, and of varying corporeality, who is, according to the colors and degree of definition, masked, submerged, ghostlike or fading into (or emerging from) the ether of memory.

January 1, 2000
Back in Time: A Note on Fred Cray's Self-portraits- Catalog essay
Andy Grundberg

For much of the last 25 years, artists using photography as their medium have been at pains to demonstrate how much camera images have made the physical world seem distant and second-hand. Postmodernist artists of the 1980s, in particular, were adamant in their conviction that photographs constitute a kind of simulated, second-class experience, one not merely colored by media images but entirely constituted by them. Their response to this condition--a dilemma, really, because it was a closed system, a box with no exit--was to make pictures that reflected back on the status of pictures as cultural reflections. Artists such as Sherrie Levine, Richard Prince, and Cindy Sherman chose this approach, while others, including JoAnn Callis, Eileen Cowin, Nic Nicosia, and Sandy Skoglund presented camera reality as a stage set to remind us how artificial and arbitrary lens images can be.
The challenge since has been to reconstitute photographic images as genuine articles of genuine experience. Surprisingly, given our fascination with entering a new and presumably digital millennium, this challenge has taken artists back to the nineteenth century, to explore the fascinations that inhere to the earliest forms and techniques of the medium's invention. Shadow pictures made without the aid or any camera, long exposures, bad or no lenses, handmade chemistry and coated metal plates--these are some of the techniques of the first truly 21st century photographers, among whom we can count Fred Cray.
Cray uses modern equipment and materials to produce effects that superficially could be considered antique. Like the daguerreotypists, whose plates lacked the photo-chemical sensitivity we now take for granted. Cray builds his exposures over time. Most of his pictures encapsulate a span of two minutes, during which interval the subject might blink, move, or even take a walk. The result is a series of spectral, translucent portraits that have the psychological immanence of the very first photographs. In addition, the artist uses himself as a model and subject, which further adds to the primal, authentic quality of his images. As with a daguerreotype, one feels the shock of a real presence before one's eyes, but a presence that has been preserved only by indicating its potential absence.   
When Cray began taking self-portraits in the early 1990's he worked with black and white film, recording for the stationary camera performances in which he appeared to burst into flame or to have been burnt to a sooty crisp. Paradoxically, however, these images seem more of our time than the color self-portraits he began in 1998. The color we see is a result of Cray having applied paint both to himself and to his backgrounds, and it serves to unhinge the human image from its conventional realistic supports. Instead of documentary effects Cray produces the equivalent of 19th century spirit photographs.
As naïve as it seems today, spirit photography in the late 19th century was no joke. Thousands of Americans believed that the camera could replicate the appearance of relatives long since departed, and the trickery employed to produce this effect was no deterrent to the belief that spirit and flesh were not opposites buts sides of a flexible mobius strip that could be played back through the camera like a film loop, While Cray be more interested in the emotional and psychological intervals he can produce through his manipulation of color, movement, and expression, he cannot be unaware that intimations of his own mortality pervade the entire series.
Cray's work raises the postmodern lenticular stakes in a way that can remind on of Adam Fuss's photograms of babies and snakes, or of Christopher Bucklow's "solar portraits" made up of thousands of individual circles of light. Like these artists' camera-less pictures, Cray's photographs attest to photography's presence not only in a world of images but also in a world of transcendence that is attained by material means. And to the extent that we can read these images as the abstract residue of their maker's unimpeachable physical existence, their beauty becomes irresistible.