591 Exhibition: Liese A Ricketts

The exhibition has ended.

Liese's wonderful project is a great discovery to me. There is so much to learn from her way of working, thinking and loving photography - her patience, endurance and ability to communicate with the people she photographs. I know that The Magic Bench is a long term project and that she probably will be back there by the bench again the other day. Just let me express my warm feelings about your work Liese and I hope that you will become a friend of 591 and share more of your work and your thoughts on photography...this could be the beginning of a wonderful friendship. - Mr Urbano


For the purpose of this chapter “itinerant photographer” means a person, partnership or corporation having no regularly established place of business in this state who personally or by agents or servants goes from town to town or from place to place within a town soliciting the making of photographic pictures or reproduction with a view to selling to or bartering with the same the persons solicited.
State of Vermont Codes

Photography, since its inception, has been a democratic art. The first photograph of a human being, a daguerreotype, to be exact, that we know of is of a man and a shoeshine boy on the beautiful Boulevard du Temple, made by Daguerre in 1838/39. Not seeking out the wealthy portrait subjects of painting or sculpture, photography arrived to allow the burgeoning middle classes the opportunity to have a record of themselves and their families, and to enrich the entrepreneurs who made the photographs.

Within a few years, the photographic revolution had swept across the world, and there were photographic studios in many countries. Plying their trade, photographers made images in simple or ornate studios. They invented and created certain conventions for the backgrounds and props used in the photographs, and middle class people flocked to these studios to have their images made permanent.

It soon followed that the secrets of the trade, how to use the equipment and the new processes rapidly being invented, came into the hands of those with less financial resources. Itinerant photographers took to the streets, as the first street photographers; they followed fairs, small carnivals, and traveling circuses in hopes of finding willing subjects who were willing to pay to behold and keep the magic of their visage.

I began to photograph 35 years ago in South America, where commonly there were itinerant photographers. I relished watching them and their subjects and I would dream about doing the same thing, in my personal way. For me the momentary intimacy captured between the subject and myself, albeit through my lens, answers the question of why I care to photograph.

In 2009 I began the process of creating my own backdrops and figuring out how I could become “una fotografa ambulante.” I read about early itinerants, and read their accounts, paid attention to their tips and tricks. I used some of the same phrases they used on their backdrops and created my own. I used one which is written incorrectly, “Majia e Ilusion,” feeling that we might create a space with magic and illusion and, simultaneously, create neither.

One thing I learned that was extremely helpful was to stay in the same locale for a long period of days or weeks, as those who passed by would become familiar with one’s presence and find one less intimidating or strange.

It became theatre. With my assistant we would set up our backdrops every day on the same bench in a small park. I would stop those who passed by me and explain who I was and what I was doing, asking them to participate and offering them a copy of the image. They would sign our book, including a model release.

Many of the same local people came every day to the park. We became friends, drank cokes together, talked, told stories, and laughed. When another subject walked by, I would pause, get up, and start my introduction. The others would wait until the session was over and we would continue our social hour. So it is with the sampling I have attached. There are approximately 120 selected images at this point from this project in progress, which I call The Magic Bench.

Liese A Ricketts,
Chicago, 2009

All photos © Liese Ricketts
Website www.poorpress.com


Paolo Saccheri said…
such a beautiful idea and photos!
Rhonda Boocock said…
Wonderful series...I especially like the woman with the dog in her lap!
cafe selavy said…
I am too taken with these photographs. What a wonderful project.
br said…
great project....wonderful that Liese connected strongly with the lovely tradition of itinerant photography. I've watched them work and it is fascinating. congrats!
liesericketts said…
Thanks for your kind comments.

Here is the link to a brief article about the exhibition on this subject that I curated: