Fort Worth photographer Alex Braverman took the long way to his adopted hometown. Born in Lithuania, he immigrated to Israel at 18 and joined the air force. His next stop was a 16-year stay in South Africa before meeting his wife and moving to the U.S. Along his route, he developed a personal way of looking at the world that shows up in his photographs of everything from cities to dancers. Braverman discusses his twin photographic passions and his current show at the Fort Worth Community Arts Center as part of this week’s Art&Seek Q&A:
Art&Seek: You’ve been shooting professionally for 4-5 years now, but before that you worked in the computer science field, correct? How were you able to make the jump to doing photography full time?
Alex Braverman: Well, actually, I was forced to do it by the INS. When I married my present wife, I was not allowed to work. I came first on a visitor’s visa, and then I had a fiancé visa, and it took quite a while as I was not permitted to work in this country. And of course, there was 9-11, and all the dot-coms went belly up, and the entire computer industry in this country was very, very dormant for a while. So about 5 years ago, I discovered myself suddenly being able to work legally. But having not been in the very fast moving industry for a few years, at an age that was close to 50, it was not very easy to jump back into that business. In fact, in the Metroplex area, it was simply impossible. At that time, my wife’s business – our joint venture – started taking off significantly, and she offered for me to pursue my dreams, and that’s how I ended up in photography. Initially, I didn’t start as a professional. I still hesitate to call myself a professional photographer.
A.B.: Well, a professional is someone who makes a living out of it, and I don’t make a living out of it yet. If you look at it as a profession – whether I have the necessary education and talent, the knowhow, whether I dedicate my entire life to it – then, yes, I am a professional. But this year is dedicated to developing it into a business venture.
A&S: Last year your photo of Rockefeller Center won the Grand Jury Prize in Popular Photography magazine. Do you feel like that gave you some validation as a pro photographer?
A.B.: Yes, of course it did. … The validation is all good. It’s all very nice, and, yes, it gives me a good, fuzzy feeling, and it confirms that I do have the necessary talent to do the work.
A&S: You’ve lived on three continents, spending more than 10 years each in your home country of Lithuania, Israel, South Africa and now Fort Worth. How does your time spent among many different cultures inform your work?
A.B.: It teaches one to step out of the bounds of one’s own box and one’s own mindset and to see the diversity of the cultures, their opinions, their own world views. It’s not only great, but [the cultures] are not necessarily inferior to mine. It’s different, and I would say that comparing them is absurd. So I don’t put them on scales and say, “My world view is preferable.” It simply is mine. … All in all, it really contributed to allowing me to step out of the limitations of my own box and to view the world in a perspective which is a little bit more universal than simply my point of view. I think that one of the main points of positive criticism that I receive about my art is that it’s universal.
A&S: In addition to cityscapes, you often shoot dancers. What is it about dancers that you enjoy shooting?
A.B.: While I like art, I specifically like literature and classical music. I was always very luke-warm to dance, to ballet. I could never understand it. And I saw nothing significant in simply my experience. I think about five years ago, I ended up at a performance of Bruce Wood Dance Company at Bass Hall. And I can tell you that within five minutes of that performance, I was basically in tears, weeping on the floor. That’s the kind of effect it had on me. I could not believe what I was seeing, how close it was — intellectually and emotionally – to my experience of human condition. So that instantly transformed me into a great admirer of the art form, and I vowed then and there that one day I am going to work on this guy to allow me to take pictures of them. Six months later, opportunity presented itself, and I gathered a little bit of the Jewish chutzpah and approached Bruce Wood after one of his rehearsals and said, “Well, I’m an amateur photographer and I’d like to take some pictures of your company,” which he agreed. … Bruce Wood and the dancers really liked the results – it was different than photographs presented by the press at that time because it was about something else. It was not shooting an ad in the paper or a portrait of a dancer. I was shooting the dance itself. Sometimes the lack of knowledge also allows you to step out of the box, and I did now know to shoot them. Therefore, I shot something which appealed to me and not according to certain standards.
A&S: Some of those photos will be on display at your current show at Fort Worth Community Arts Center. What else are you showing there?
A.B.: The show really is split into two major areas, which are the two areas of my passion in photography. One is dance, and the dance has two subsections – six photographs from Bruce Wood Dance Company from the Uncertainty Principle series and probably around 15 photographs from a single weekend that I spent with Lois Greenfield in New York in her studio, who I consider my idol and the best dance photographer alive or even ever. … The other part is cityscapes. That also is kind of subdivided into two parts. One represents the essence of my photography in Prague in 2006, where I had a mentor series with the great photographer Tom Bol. … I looked at the series from Prague for a very, very long time before I attempted to process it, simply trying to find a unifying theme. Just as much as I don’t like portraits of dancers, I don’t like postcards of cities. I’m not making this for travel magazines; I don’t create posters. My desire is to convey the spirit of the city, or in this case, what I call the “city bones.”
A&S: For your cityscapes, you spent a lot of time in Prague, as well as other traditionally photogenic places like New York, Chicago and Paris. Have you considered doing a series on Fort Worth or Dallas?
A.B.: I would very much like to do that in Fort Worth in Dallas. Naturally, I have a lot of photography of Fort Worth and Dallas, and I’m not particularly interested in specific architectural details or the beauty of the place, but the spirit of the place. What is Dallas, for example? I see it really as a bank town. There is very little outside of this main industry. It’s oil money, and somehow it influences the way the city looks and who lives in it. So, would I be able to convey exactly this spirit? I tried doing that, amazingly not by taking pictures of Dallas, but by leaving it. As a spiritual exercise, I went to Midland-Odessa to take pictures of the oil fields and the cotton fields. This is the essence of Texas, and the money that comes out of this industry, that’s what Dallas is.
A&S: You shoot as much as 12 hours a day. Don’t you ever get tired of it?
A.B.: I certainly don’t get tired of it, and I will never step away from it unless someone steals my camera and the insurance refuses to pay. Or I become blind, God forbid.
A&S: What advice would you give someone who wants to become a full-time photographer?
A.B.: Oh boy. You know, I’m still looking for someone who will give this advice to me.
The Art&Seek Q&A is a weekly discussion with a person involved in the arts in North Texas. Check back next Thursday for another installment.