Daniel Traub is an American photographer who explores nuances in complex settings.
For the last decade, Traub has been living in China. He was first based in Beijing and then, for the last few years, Shanghai. During this time, Traub matured as an artist, producing a body of work that is astute and decisive.
Unlike many Western photographers working in China today who focus on the exotic, Traub notes the psychological aspects of a society in flux. His images are subtle and informed. Be it a portrait, a landscape or a building, Traub presents a China struggling to find its footing.
While in China, Traub created four titled series: Simplified Characters (1999-2005), Street Portraits (1999 – 2005), City’s Edge (2005 –07), Urban Landscapes (2005-07).
To the naïve eye, these works can seem mater of fact, no more than simple snapshots. Yet, to a perceptive viewer, the images are riveting. In Traub’s works, the Chinese subjects reveal their deepest sense of self, captured on film in an instant. It is the subtlest clues that expose them – a physical gesture, the way the person relates to the environment, or even the fit and choice of their clothes. This is a population searching for identity in the “new” China.
Parallel issues are apparent when Traub photographs buildings and landscapes. China, with one of the oldest and most defined architectural traditions in the world, is presently taking on what is probably the most massive and ambitious building endeavor in history. While many of the newly built Western designed masterpieces have been documented, Traub discerns other developments. He shows structures, which are popping up like weeds in every corner of China today, that struggle with place and history.
Currently Traub divides his time between his studio in China and his American hometown, Philadelphia. His latest series is a new group of pictures titled, Inner City. These photographs were taken in North Philadelphia, a part of the city devastated by poverty and neglect.
North Philadelphia is a neighborhood Traub knows well. His mother, Lily Yeh, is an artist/activist who uses art to effect social change. When Traub was a child, Yeh founded The Village of Arts and Humanities, a community-based organization located in the heart of North Philadelphia, establishing a place of hope and creativity. Traub spent many hours as a young boy taking part in the activities at the village, giving him exposure to this unique part of the city.
Traub did not return to North Philadelphia to document the optimism and success of the village started by his mother over 30 years ago. Instead he presents a reality of the American experience almost impossible to imagine in the landscape of the richest country on earth.
“Inner City”, Daniel Traub’s most provocative and unsettling undertaking to date, may be the folio that most clearly addresses the role and potential of the photographer in contemporary society.
Scott Rothstein is an artist who writes primarily about self-taught art and artists informed by traditional culture. His own work can been seen in several American museums, including the Art Institute of Chicago; the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NYC; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Rothstein has lived in Philadelphia, New York City, New Delhi, and Tokyo. He is currently based in Bangkok.