Leaving a mark in black and white photography
Raymond Bleesz lives, thinks and breathes photography.
His credo is best described by the words of Ruth Orkin, a photographer – “Being a photographer is making people look at what I want them to look at.”
Bleesz was intrigued by a camera at a very early age.
“I had a Dutch uncle whose hobby was photography,” he said. “My parents, who were French, also had an interest in photography. In 1950 they took me to the old country to visit my grandparents. I had a little Kodak, one of these snap-shot type cameras, with me on this trip. Five years later, they bought Leica – at that time very sophisticated piece of camera, far ahead in comparison to other cameras. It truly sparked my interest in photography. I still use it and admire its German precision.”
The same year he took the picture which he’ll always remember.
“It was a photograph of “Queen Mary’ going across Atlantic in 1955,” he said. “I kept this picture.”
High school years brought him a fascination with history which, according to him, goes hand in hand with photography.
“I was a history teacher for many years. I also taught photography,” he said. “I am an academic. Thus, instead of portraying pretty sceneries, I ask a question of what makes images stand out as photographs historically.”
In the late 1970s he stepped out of teaching to pursue artistic photography.
“My inner-self said: “If you are going to be a photographer, be one,'” said Bleesz.
However, his interest in history and social sciences influenced his photographic style.
His first professional photographs documented Georgetown, an old silver-mining community.
“I always look for something with historical background,” he said. “”Interesting’ is anything that gives the viewer the idea of temporary character of things. My photographs tell you that these things are not going to be around for much longer. A photograph is a document, a fact – something that can be used in future by a historian. I lived in Georgetown for 20 years. I saw how it was changing, loosing its character. Many old buildings were destroyed or remodelled. “
The central themes of Bleesz photographs are “vanishing frontier” and “the agrarian ranching and mining heritage.”
“Although I was raised in rural Connecticut my parents exposed me to the West early. I always wanted to be a cowboy,” he said. “There was a close attachment to farming and ranching in my family. I grew up working on a dairy farm. My Dutch uncle would truck vegetables and fruit to New York long before frozen products were introduced. I myself have a garden – I wouldn’t be a Frenchman if I didn’t have one. A camera for me is a similar tool to a shovel.”
His images diffuse peacefulness, intimacy and connection. They are manifests of Bleesz’s harmonious relationship with captured individuals, place and time.
“When you look at my portraits, there is the sense of connection, humanity and comradeship expressed by these people’s eyes,” he said. “That’s what after all makes a photograph. Unfortunately, it’s often lost in contemporary photography.”
He has a rare skill of catching the moment through the eye of a camera. Whether it’s an image of a man walking down the street, little girls playing a ball or an elderly woman sitting in the window, there is always the element of passing away and sparing the moment.
“Each of my images tells a story,” said Bleesz. “I like to capture interactions between people and the influence that men have on the environment. Another subject of my photos is men at work.”
He makes his photographs from scratch in his home studio in Edwards. His medium is black and white film.
“Intellectually, black and white photographs are far ahead color ones – even more so with the digital age,” he said. “Color is psychologically easier to comprehend, more forgiving. Black and white images are more exact and more difficult to make a statement with. They are more significant historically as well. If I am to leave any mark in this world, it’ll be in black and white photography.”
Bleesz’s photographs can be seen in Brush Creek Dry Goods at Riverwalk in Edwards. Two of his photographs titled “Madame” and “Bair Sheep Bridge” have been accepted to the second annual Rocky Mountain Photography Exhibition in Manitou Springs. For more information about the exhibit visit http://www.thebac.org or call (719) 685-1861.