The Solitary Eye

Fort Worth photographer Peter Feresten records the passing moment.

Peter Feresten started out as a sociologist. In many respects he still is one, though now he uses a camera to gather his information and couldn’t possibly convert his discoveries into a bar graph or a questionnaire. His subject is Fort Worth, not just the conventional aspects like the stockyards and the cowboy bars but all the small neighborhood events – church suppers, flea markets, street fairs, dances, lodge meetings – that make up the authentic, as opposed to the mythic, culture of the city. He scours the daily papers for news of some promising and probably overlooked activity that might provide an insight into what life in Cowtown is really like in the Seventies. When he finds one, he gathers up his gear and goes, usually arriving hours ahead of time in order to get a sense of how the event unfolds. He photographs people assembling booths, making signs, eating, gossiping. Frequently he has finished shooting by the time the crowds start to arrive. As far as he’s concerned, the real action has already taken place.

The term “documentarian” brings to mind the great photographers of the Thirties and Forties (Dorothea Lange, Walker Evans, Margaret Bourke-White) who managed to capture historical events in a timeless, unambiguous style. They were masters of the decisive moment. Peter Feresten’s moments are anything but decisive. They are puzzling, paradoxical, off-center, full of unanswered questions. We get the feeling that things are somehow on the verge, that nothing is really final. People seem to be wandering in and out of frames, as though cropping had been forgotten. Arms and legs appear from nowhere, phrases pop up to complement, usually in ironic ways, the visual images. Despite their similarities to ordinary press photographs, they are more than just clear windows on the world. They communicate a sense of the unexpected, the surrealism of everyday life. What’s really going on here? we wonder. What will happen next?

For Peter Feresten, the answer is more work on his Tarrant County project plus a month-long journey through the South and Midwest to photograph small industrial towns.

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