Welcome to this website which honors the life and art of photographer and architect Perry A. Hall (1937 - 2012). On its pages you will find selections from his images and his writing about the great, kind education Aesthetic Realism. Founded by the American poet and critic Eli Siegel it was the philosophic basis of Perry’s work as a photographer: “All beauty,” Mr. Siegel explained in a landmark principle, “is a making one of opposites, and the making one of opposites is what we are going after in ourselves.”
In his photography which often focused on the architecture of New York City, Perry Hall showed his love for the opposites; in his writing he made it clear that how richly and deeply opposites are made one in a photograph is the criterion for judging its success; and he loved Aesthetic Realism for teaching him this. As a friend and fellow photographer and as an Aesthetic Realism Associate, I am proud to share his critical opinion of Aesthetic Realism and care very much for how he expressed it in the selections to be found on this website. His writing has style; at its best it is philosophic and casual, easygoing and deep, with a touch of humor. And his images add to the beauty of the world. I take great pleasure in giving some of the reasons why.
There are many approaches to architectural image-making in the history of photography. There is, for example, the commercial work of a fine photographer like Ezra Stoller, who found beauty in, and immortalized the structures of notable contemporary architects. Then there are the wonderful images of Eugène Atget, who was passionate to preserve the architectural history of Old Paris. In his photographs he honored the beauty of buildings that were a part of the daily lives of Parisians, no matter how humble or grand the building, or unknown the architect. Mr. Hall’s images are in the tradition of Atget. As an architect, he worked on large, impressive buildings. But his photographs most often celebrate the eternal form of ordinary buildings in which people live and sometimes work—and I am moved by the way he used light and shadow to reveal that form.
He liked to use color when photographing buildings, which is not unusual, but the way he used it is. Color in photography can tend to accent the surface of things, while black & white can bring out tonal gradation, depth, and structure. Perry’s work mingles the qualities of both. His work often has a painterly effect that conveys precision of form with warmth, not coldness.
Many of his prints are large, sometimes 50 or 60 inches across. The reason for this, I believe, was not to impress through size; but to be fair to the subject.
He often showed the back of buildings and structures, not usual for an architectural photographer; he was interested in what went on below and behind the surface.
Very few of the photographs shown here were manipulated, but he was forthright about his love of Photoshop’s capabilities. Also, I believe his use of it wasn't clever in the bad sense; it was to bring out more fully the power and value of his subject. For example, his close-up “Girder” and “NY Skyline” employ a watercolor effect to show, each in its own way, structure as suggestive, a oneness of hardness and softness.
“Something Wicked This Way Comes,” brings a sense of good and evil as a conscious idea to the photographing of buildings. There is also ferocity and gentleness in his work; just compare the fiery inferno of “Silhouette” and the pastel quietude of “Long Roofline" at the top of this page.
He delighted in seeing the awry in the orderly, and had a sense of humor that made for more meaning and respect, not less, as in “Broken Warnings.”
Mr. Hall photographed more than buildings, as the work on this site shows, but he was just beginning to explore the depths of people as a subject when his life ended much too soon. I think “Working in the Rain” [below], with its tenderness and mystery, was a sign of this new direction I wish he had had more time to explore.
He was part of a tradition, one of many men and women in the history of photography who showed their love for New York City with their cameras. As one of them, I recommend to every person who wants to understand the beauty of this diverse, vibrant, complex city a great lecture by Eli Siegel that Perry loved titled, “New York Begins Poetically.” I link to the serialization of it in issues of The Right of Aesthetic Realism to Be Known with important commentaries on each section by Editor and Chairman of Education, Ellen Reiss.
In these commentaries Ms. Reiss further places the meaning of the poetic opposites that Eli Siegel showed are of New York itself—her history, people and land—including sameness and difference, much and little, wildness and order. These are opposites that Perry Hall, as photographer, tried to give form to, and that we are trying to make sense of in the world and in ourselves.
Perry was my friend for many years; I am trying to be exact about the value of his images, many of which I consider extraordinary. I felt impelled to create this website to honor his meaning and the education that meets the hopes of every person.
— Len Bernstein
STATEMENT OF PERRY A. HALL
My initial experience with photography was as an architect, documenting buildings under construction. While attending classes taught at the Aesthetic Realism Foundation in New York City, I began to learn about the opposites in art and life, and I learned to see beauty in, and began to have sincere emotion about, the everyday. My work improved, and I find my camera now constantly looking for instances of beauty, and the powerful relationships of opposites. For this I will always be grateful.
In “The Dramatic Opposites in Photography,” Eli Siegel, the great American poet, critic, and founder of Aesthetic Realism writes:
Photography showed something that was beautiful about the world: that there was a oneness between light and dark. And in any rich photograph, the way the two are the same and different is an essential thing. Photography does dramatize light and shade, softness and sharpness, foreground and background; does dramatize where drama is: that is, in the surfaces,the depths, the relations of things.
While Mr. Siegel’s statement may be most apparent in black and white photography, it also profoundly applies to color, as the colors themselves have their light and dark aspects.
Light and dark are indeed the same and different—neither can exist without the other. Light and dark are also in the emotional content of the image. As I took the photo “Working in the Rain” I was asking myself: What do light and dark say about how a person feels, working in the rain, outside at night?
Softness and sharpness are also revealed through light, gentle or radiant, and the shadows and the darknesses this light creates. This can be controlled on the camera through combinations of sensitivity, aperture, and shutter speed. And now we have the wonders of Photoshop to help us along. I, for one, use this tool liberally—it is an image that has an effect on the viewer that is important to me, not purity of photographic technique. As can be seen, I prefer a painterly image, balancing soft and sharp, to the hyper-sharpness available with the modern camera.
Drama can often be found in the contrast of foreground and background. This can come from the illusory depth and surface on the flat plane of the print created by perspective, either linear or aerial (a product of light and dark).
Light and shadow can also show relations between things—those things both unique and everyday, which closely relate to our lives and emotions, our hopes (light) and our fears (dark).
So, hurrah! for the drama in things, both the everyday and the unique, and to Mr. Siegel, whose thought clearly shows us how to look for and find it.
— PH, 2009