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Born in Minneapolis, Tom Arndt’s photography focuses on his native Minnesota.
Belonging to the grand, classic tradition of American documentary photography, Tom Arndt’s body of work offers us a sensitive, empathetic portrayal: a family album of the people who live in his state including their coffee shops and soda fountains, their streets, their shop windows, their parks, the popular state fairs. Pessimism and pity are out of place here.
Since the early 1970s, Arndt has dedicated himself to searching for telling images of people and the times and places they inhabit. Using the genre’s classic tools, Kodak Tri-X film and a fast, unobtrusive Leica, he has roamed the streets of big cities and small towns in the United States, Europe, and Latin America in search of those elusive and evanescent instances where stories and pictures align. His work connects to an august tradition of humanist street photography—images concerned with life’s universal themes. It extends the innovations of the genre’s greats, past and present: Henri Cartier-Bresson’s intricate instantaneity; Garry Winogrand’s offhand timing and humor; Robert Frank’s unvarnished take on the American scene. Yet Arndt’s sensibility is wholly his own.
Looking at Arndt’s photographs, one always gets the feeling he is at home in the world. His patience, curiosity, and passion for the tragicomedy of life shows in his images of three passengers in various states of self-possession on a bus traversing a neon-lit Las Vegas strip at night (Was it Umberto Eco’s chronicle of American spectacles Travels in Hyperreality that, like the artist, lingered in a bar in St. Paul, Minnesota?); a man behind a fogged-up clothing store window in Chicago (the masculine plight is the subject of Arndt’s 1994 book Men in America); and in a brilliant series of nocturnal shots of neighborhood 4th-of-July fireworks bacchanal in a New York neighborhood (is it Vietnam or Little Italy?). “The streets,” Arndt has said, “are the common denominator of all of us. The streets contain our history. The streets are where the revolutions are made, where political statements are made, where the change is born.”