The art of the street photographer is the ability to identify remarkable moments hiding in plain sight — everyday people, objects, and scenes encountered by chance — and place them on a pedestal. Whether such attention is justified is another matter, but the talented photographer can train a lens, comb through the noise, and reveal something singular.
Count Gary Gruber among the consummate street photographers. For almost 50 years, from Los Angeles to Palm Springs to New York to London, he has been capturing images of people in their natural environment, moving through places like a wildlife documentarian, sharply attuned to people and their foibles. The subjects of his pictures, both people and objects, represent the sum total of life’s infinite variables frozen in an instant.
So when an object he sees every day in his own backyard finally captured his imagination, he took the time (and his camera) to explore it.
“While watching the sunrise one morning I looked into the pool and saw something unusually elegant,” Gruber explains.
Gary Gruber’s obsession with the pool hose at different positions and times of day yielded more than 100 photographs.
What he saw was the hose of the automated pool cleaner at rest in the spot where it had turned off the previous evening. He marveled at the beauty of its random position and began to photograph it daily.
“What you see is exactly what I saw,” the artist says.
Gruber, who typically shoots on film, used a digital camera to capture the pool hose photographs, but he does not manipulate the images in any way.
It exists, as people do, perfectly balanced between individual freefall and universal constraint.
The images exude a Zen-like serenity. Variables such as temperature, gravity, wind, and the hose’s own mass affect its resting position, so each rise and fall of the sun presents an opportunity for a new work of art.
Taking whatever liberties it may have and succumbing to the greater laws of physics, the hose can be seen as a metaphor for the human experience. It exists, as people do, perfectly balanced between individual freefall and universal constraint.
This is the space where Gruber’s street and pool photography meet.
“I had several people, including one boss and one professor, tell me the same thing: ‘If you want to see how good you are as a photographer, try looking in your own backyard,’ ” Gruber explains in a statement for his latest work, which Coda Gallery in Palm Desert will exhibit in January 2019.
Palm Desert is a perfect place to show this series. Thousands of homes here have swimming pools, so Gruber’s images could inspire their owners to look and ultimately gain new perceptions of the wonders within them.
In addition to natural forces of light, wind, and time, the photographer’s physical position has a significant impact on the final picture. “The difference between standing 2 inches to the left or 2 inches to the right would dramatically alter what I saw in the viewfinder,” Gruber says. “Changes in the camera angle, no matter how slight, result in a totally different image and a different feel.”
But light, both natural and artificial, has the most powerful effect on this series. The daytime photographs look like abstract paintings: Swaths of blue, white, and gray move around the frame, and the hose breaks up the color fields with sensual grace. The evening images have a moody, ominous feeling: The hose brings to mind tentacles of some nefarious creature from the dark depths.
Gruber’s obsession with the pool hose at different positions and times of day yielded more than 100 photographs.
With so many possibilities, Gruber became obsessed, taking more than 100 photos of the pool hose, each with its own dynamics.
The series continues a lifelong exploration for Gruber. The 69-year-old found his calling when he was 6. He was on a family vacation in Albany, New York. While his parents lunched with friends, he took their Rolleicord camera and began his photographic journey.
In 1972 a flood caused by Hurricane Agnes destroyed most of his work. He relocated to Palm Springs and took a position at a public relations firm. He later worked for Eisenhower Medical Center (now Eisenhower Health), Sunrise Company, and Palm Springs Life (as director of photography from 1978 to 1980).
When he wasn’t on the clock, he often
made trips to Los Angeles, a mecca for street photographers. But now, with a renewed interest in his immediate surroundings, even he will be surprised by what catches his eye next.
Coda Gallery in Palm Desert will exhibit Gary Gruber’s photography Jan. 4–25, 2019.
Gary Gruber captured Man Gazing at His Belly while walking for hours on the streets of New York City.