A taradiddle by definition is a petty lie, a little falsehood or trifling told often to amuse or embellish a story. But the Oxford English Dictionary also offers a second meaning: Pretentious or empty talk; senseless, unproductive activity; nonsense. Ironically, it’s a self deprecating term for such meaningful work. But then, that’s part of the fun.
So many of the images created by Traub involve witty visual interplay, tongue-in-cheek sight gags that beg the viewer to look again. But that summary sells them short. There’s much more going on here, there is wit and a sophisticated way of seeing what is in front of the camera. Traub’s work in Taradiddle is a collection of discoveries built around the idea of seeing – not just looking. He is a photographer’s photographer; demonstrating mastery of the medium without hubris or egotism. There is keen observation without embellishment in Taub’s oeuvre. As David Campany writes in this introduction to the book, the unifying element to Traub’s work is that “they are all in one way or another about photography. They may even amount to a commentary upon photography as a phenomenon of daily life. Photography as something we do daily, and photographs as things we encounter daily, often by chance. To this extent at least, these are meta-photographs.” Photos about photography.
An assistant to Traub suggested the term ‘taradiddle’ during the process of curating the images that would ultimately comprise the book. It stuck. An influence and friend early in Traub’s photo career was fellow Kentuckian Ralph Eugene Meatyard. Meatyard kept a collection of names he found funny and/or interesting. One could easily imagine the list might include a Miss Tara Diddle, of Lexington. In that spirit, Traub’s images ask the viewer to see and absorb an inside joke: the landscape painting of Death Valley on the side of a building located in front of the actual mountain range of Death Valley. A large red rock with hand-painted white letters in Monte Vista, Colorado prompting the visitor to bring the camera. He did. Ironic tongue-in-cheek humor with signage and whimsy like the Estate of Confusion building in Chattanooga, Tennessee. Or the compositional use of a natural frame-within-a-frame in a street scene in New Orleans to highlight we are viewing a selective representation of the three-dimensional world – an image akin to the work of Luigi Ghirri, one of the most influential conceptual photographers of the 20th century.
Over the span of the book we see the Michelangelo fresco painting of the Creation of Adam in several iterations. We see it in a hardware store, a poster reproduction poorly framed within a larger gold frame mounted to a wall, or in a faded wallpaper pattern behind a framed photo of a wedding portrait with bride and groom in a similar pose, touching hands, creating a future together. Traub captures an image of faux wooden boards with painted shadows on a flat metal door, mimicry of floral patterns on upholstery and carpet placed in front of a nature scene right outside the window. These witty visual interplays beg the viewer to think about visual reproduction, visual representation, and realistically… it can be humorous how people often choose to replicate a natural environment in such unnatural ways.
It is always a joy to pour over artwork in a book where the next image can’t come quickly enough, or there can’t be too many of; like a child who eagerly begs their parent to repeat a joke or trick they adore – again…do it again. Taradiddle is one of those books where I found myself soaking in the images, laughing to myself or making a interjection of appreciation, then quickly turning the page to see the next one, and the next, then the final one, only to work my way back toward the front of the book again. I have seen Traub’s work before the opportunity came to review this project, but critically thinking about it prompted the realization that I hadn’t fully recognized how much his photography was interconnected to other masters of photography who inform my comprehensive view of photography.
Taradiddle brings out the simplistic joy of creating images; photographing without pretense or strict conceptual confinement. “For me, serendipity, coincidence and chance are more interesting than any preconceived construct of our human encounters”, Traub says. Make no mistake, creating images and understanding the concepts and implied meanings and interpretations is required in endeavors such as this. Traub believes one should not front-load the creative process for fear of restriction, “All image making is basically conceptual and needs introspection. However, a self-conscious praxis often constipates it.“
Whether the final image is simple to describe, or built upon a complex relationship of elements within the frame, Traub’s work transcends subject matter and speaks most importantly to what we are seeing. It’s more than documenting a place, it’s more than a portrait of a person, it’s more than capturing the essence of a place. His work connects conceptual ideas with a visual interpretation of the world we live in, and also experience through photography. His images strive to lay bare the profound commonality of our lives; serendipity and humor included.
Taradiddle by Charles H. Traub
Essay by David Campany
Published by Damiani
Hardcover, 11.75 x 9.5 in / 116 pgs / 100 color
Charles Traub was born in Louisville, KY and has been photographing for 50 years. He has eleven books to his credit and sixty major exhibitions including one person shows at the Art Institute of Chicago, the Hudson River Museum, the Historic New Orleans collection, and is in the collections of more than two dozen international museums. For the past 30 years, he has been the Chairperson of the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media program at the School of Visual Arts and presently is the Co-Director of the Aaron Siskind Foundation.
David Campany is a writer, curator, and artist who is widely recognized for his award-winning essays and books regarding the lens and screen arts. He teaches at the University of Westminister in London and is the recipient of the ICP Infinity award and the Royal Photographic Society’s award for writing.
Also published on Medium.