Telling It As It Is

Candid Street Photography By A Veteran In The Field

It is difficult not to feel drawn into the formidable body of work by American photographer, Charles H. Traub. His latest collection of street photographs, Lunch Time, brought together in a new book, follows his wanderings around New York City, Chicago and a variety of European cities between 1977 and 1980, during which time made spontaneous snaps of the colourful and vibrant characters with whom he crossed paths. “In most cases there was only one picture made of each person,” he told us. “These encounters were not extended.”

Moving from Kentucky to Chicago in 1971, and then onwards to New York City in the 1978, Charles’ camera became the most expressive medium through which to capture the brightest personalities of the city; he fell in love with photography after meeting Ralph Eugene Meatyard, also a photographer from Kentucky, who inspired him to pursue the art form.

His photographs are fiercely direct, transporting you directly back to that time zone, and herein lies their appeal. “I used a Rolleiflex SL66. It’s a medium format camera that allows one to get close.” The immediacy of connection to the photographed subject, and a curiosity to discover more, is at the heart of this new collection, transforming the ordinary subject into one that is extraordinarily compelling.

We caught up with the man behind the camera to find out more.

The Plus: At which point during shooting the photographs for the Lunch Time series did you feel, “ok, this is how much I’m going to do,” and then stopped?
Charles H. Traub:
By 1980, I had taken about 400 pictures of various people. Mostly in Chicago and New York, but some in Florida and a number in Europe. Frankly, with that number, the idea was exhausted. Like any project, there’s a point where everything becomes redundant. Please also know that in most cases

TP: You focused on people’s heads and shoulders only, what was the reason?
The idea was to deal with personalities and types. With the recognition of the passersby that they have been recognized. The face is a map of the person, to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, “Only fools look beneath the surface. It’s all there to be read.”

TP: What was your most memorable moment during those shots?
Clearly the most memorable moment was turning down Jackie Kennedy Onassis when she stopped and asked to be photographed. I wasn’t being rude, I was only just interested in ordinary people and not in celebrities.

TP: How do you spend your spare time apart from writings and photography?
I’m the Chairman of the graduate Photography and Video program at the School of Visual Arts (SVA).

TP: Next book or series?
The next book is called: No Perfect Heroes: Photographing U.S. Grant
It is due out sometime next year and it’s an homage and kind of visual elegy to a great leader, great man, great hero.