A brief informal history

...of my involvement with photography:

I don't think I would have ever picked up a camera had it not been for my curiosity about everything. In retrospect, I think I was fascinated with photographic imagery as a young boy......I remember looking with great curiosity and fascination at the picture magazines my parents subscribed to in the 50s. And because I grew up in a fairly sterile, clean, suburban environment everything beyond it's boundaries was of great interest to me. I spent most of my time hanging out in school yards, backyards and eventually on the streets of Manhattan always energized by the restless, dynamic exchanges of the urban population.

My father is a musician. It was because of my experience as a young boy practicing the art form that I first became aware of the validity and urgency of creative expression. I did not begin to photograph seriously until I was in college but my experience with music, especially jazz, taught me almost everything I now know about giving form to ideas. ".....born into a household filled with music, he was trained on several musical instruments from an early age. As a high school student he became proficient enough to find work as a card-carrying sessions player. He went on for further training to a prestigious music conservatory, but the formal, solitary elements of music education couldn't compete with his fascination with the growing theater of radical politics and behavior performed in the streets and on the campuses during the 60's. Photography and film making were his creative means of 'getting involved'.....He started living in cities, New York and Berkeley/San Francisco, where his art and lifestyle reflected a romanticized vision of urban polarities: crowds and loneliness, decay and vitality, enthusiasm and terror." (Bill Tierney, from the Portfolio PICTURES FOR AMERICANS....he and I self published in 1984)

It was while I was a student at the Oberlin Conservatory of music that I first began to make photographs. It wasn't that I lost my love for musical expression only that at the time the conservatory was to confining for the kind of ideas that were running around in my head. I wanted to play jazz...Oberlin in the 60's was not supportive of the form.....the next best thing was Robert Frank. I think it was in 1965 that my friend Mark Obenhaus a fledging film maker at the time, showed me some of Frank's short films and eventually his seminal book THE AMERICANS. It seemed to me that making pictures was something I could do on my own beyond anyone's control or judgement.....it was liberating. I could give form to the kind of voyeuristic curiosity I had sustained privately for so many years. And there is so much happening on the streets. Henry Miller said, "It is the street by which I return to the past...the sense of recognition compounded of myriad layers of meaning, is so powerful that I am almost dissolved...the street invests me."

Like Balthus's painting The Street, being there, in the moment, in the dynamic of the movement, the gestures, the expressions, the sounds, the smells,.....the physicality of it all is compelling, frightening, dangerous, sometimes extraordinary.....but so commonly held as ordinary and taken for granted. It is the perfect venue for small camera photography with its particular ability to seize and disinterestedly describe in an instant every bit of information there. I think it is a combination of the drama of the place, my almost ravenous curiosity and a simpatico with the machine that has kept me out there....kept me going back for all these years. And most importantly, the realization that in a well drawn single image there is visual information which is complex, profound, genuine and universal. All the Best--BILL MATTICK

Return to Mattick's top page.