A Feast for the Soul

by Lynn M. Herbert

This book was published on the occasion of an upcoming retrospective of George Krause’s photographic work, “George Krause: Universal Issues,” which will be at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, March 8 - May 17. The book is a handsome tribute to this artist’s bountiful body of work. The first four pages set the stage: four photographs, one from each of Krause’s ongoing series, “The Street,” “Saints and Martyrs,” “I Nudi,” and “Qui Riposa.” These four photographs are mysterious, powerful, and compelling. They demand our involvement in an inviting way. It is clear right off the bat that we’re not dealing with a lightweight here.

As a veteran Krause follower, I was intrigued by these first four images. Seeing them together made me realize for the first time just how incredible it is that Krause has worked on four different series for so many years. Also, it was exciting to see them juxtaposed. A dialogue emerged among them that I had never experienced. Up until now, I had for the most part, seen his series presented separately. Eager for more, I skipped the essay that followed and went right into the photographs, which are presented by series.

The works are presented one to a page, with few exceptions, without captions. As such, they are allowed to become food for the soul. Krause’s unique vision allows the viewer easy access into his photographs. And once inside, there are so many areas of your own mind to explore. Krause’s unique vision allows the viewer easy access into his photographs. And once inside, there are so many areas of your own mind to explore. Krause’s work makes us think about big questions, such as our relationship to spirituality, to our own bodies, to our mortality. Looking at his photographs will be a different experience for each one of us, but ultimately, it is very self-revealing and rewarding. I found myself turning the pages very slowly. After going through the photographs once, I recommend going through them again with one finger on page 141, the page that lists the titles. Each work has a title, the city or country in which it was photographed, and a date. Going over the photographs again with Krause’s titles in mind, opened new doors for my interpretations of each work.

The photographs date back to 1958, and I found old friends as well as many new ones. Interestingly, I discovered that some of the old friends had become, for me, timeless, universal, and permanently engraved in my visual memory through the years. It was jarring to see them in a book about a specific artist. For me they had entered a kind of universal domain.

Who but a reviewer ever has time to actually read the essay, right? Take the time with this book. Krause’s body of work covers a lot of territory, some of it spicy, but Anne Tucker’s essay is more than up to the challenge; it is a good read. It tells us about Krause, his background, how he got involved in photographs, who his early mentors were, and about his unusual printing technique and how it has evolved. Appropriately, Tucker’s range is as Catholic as Krause’s. She draws from sources as varied as Mother Goose, the Bible, and Joseph Campbell to bring Krause’s work, his involvement with it, and our own understanding of it home to the reader. The text pages also include small reproductions of curious and problematic works by Krause. Commentaries on individual works are often poetic and always provide interesting insights, which broaden our appreciation of both Krause as an artist in today’s world and his work.

This book has whet my appetite for the Krause exhibition, and I look forward to seeing it. This book and the energy that went into it are invaluable to someone with work as multilayered as Krause’s. As tucker aptly points out in her essay: “Most of Krause’s images are too evocative to accept on liberal terms alone… he delights in layers of interpretation and even conflicting readings.” She also points out that “the basic themes – sensuality, spirituality, mortality, and mystery – are not exclusive to any one series.”

In a museum exhibition, our legs can only hold out for so long. Yes, there we will have the opportunity to enjoy the force of Krause’s powerful prints, but in a comfortable chair with this book, one can perhaps delve deeper, thumbing back and forth between prints, comparing or simply dwelling on an individual work longer. Nothing is as powerful as the print itself, and one will have to see the exhibition for that reward, but for a leisurely soul-enriching experience, this book affords a rare opportunity.

Krause’s work is not about trends or about statements, it is about “universal issues” as Tucker’s essay and exhibition title suggests. It is about the big questions that haunt us. They haunt is because it is not always comfortable to confront them. With this body of work, Krause bravely bares his enormous soul. As he has already gone out on the proverbial limb, it is easier for us to follow. Thanks are due to Tucker for bringing Krause out of his “eclectic obscurity.” His largess of soul and his ability to give it voice on photographic paper are special gifts.

Lynn M. Herbert is associate curator at the Contemporary Arts Museum, Houston.