There is a certain music to photographs by Ronald Hurwitz: a rhythm and symmetry to “Café, Lait, Bière”, a portrait from 2000 with its perfect four chairs, two tables and, espied inside the door, a lone character. Or in his 1985 mirrored-image of New York's Chrysler Building, the shadows and light reflecting a perfect double chorus.

That musical quality makes perfect sense as you read Hurwitz's biography: By day or, perhaps more correctly, mostly by night, he is a professional viola player, making his home with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. And the rest of the time, Hurwitz is an artist, using lens, eye and old-school darkroom to create his evocative, crafted-with-shadow-and-light images. Hurwitz's exhibition Likeness and Reflection: The Allure of Paris and New York opens tonight at the Chapel Arts Gallery at St. Anselm College and runs through March 19.

Hurwitz, who, adding to his esoteric history, served in the Marines - spending four years as solo violist in the Marine Band's White House Orchestra and String Quartet - first picked up a camera in 1979, encouraged by a fellow musician to explore photography as a hobby. It soon became something more, as he discovered that he had an eye for noticing the commonplace or using the classics in unusual ways; one of his works in the St. Anselm show is taken not of the Eiffel Tower but through it, using the geometry of the design to frame his image of the ground below.

The images honor the sheer permanence of the two grand cities and their buildings; Hurwitz's black-and-white works can, whether deliberately or not, create a certain melancholy, with people often proving absent, not vital or alone in the shots. The show is offered as college students take up a study of the humanities, with a focus on the '30s and the '40s; Hurwitz's magnificent timeliness complements the theme.

Hurwitz also highlights that fragile state of temporary being in "Nuit, Sous Le Pont Neuf," in which the bridge, lampposts and trees are timeless and permanent, while those walking beneath the bridge are almost transparent, ghostlike and very nearly not there at all.

Hurwitz, a precise, slyly serious man of diverse enthusiasms, talked about the show and his background from his home in Toronto this week.

V.S. : You've got such an interesting background - born and raised in Ohio, the Marines, professional musician, photographer - what did you want to be when you were a kid?

R.H. : Most of what I've done was never in the plan - when I was young, I was really loved baseball and was crazy about tennis. I started on the violin with some friends; they dropped it but I kept going. I ended up studying music at Indiana University.

V.S. : There does seem to be an analogy, a connection, between the study and expertise in music and your photography. Is that something that reviewers and interviewers tend to focus on more than you ever have?

R.H. : Well, there are a number of professional photographers who were wonderful musicians: Ansel Adams, for one, was a very accomplished pianist and considered a solo career. But back to the analogy - to some extent there is a relationship. Good music requires discipline and, more than practice, a knowing - in the most simplistic terms, music requires knowing which notes are most important, which need to be stressed, which notes need not be stressed, should not be. That carries over into photography. I look at an image and I am rigorous about not letting things into the print that I don't want to be there. And not to show the picture until I am satisfied.

V.S. : And the differences between music and photography?

R.H. : They are at different levels relative to how time is a factor - sometimes I can spend hours waiting for a particular shot, for the light to be just right, but photography is often about capturing a moment in time. 

V.S. : There is a timeless quality to the works in this show - many could have been taken in 1895 or 1995. Do you work with a narrative, or that timelessness, in mind?

R.H. : Sometimes there is a narrative in mind; in Paris, of course, I was caught up with the sights and wanting to capture them, but I also have an interest in the architecture, those small details, and they can give that sense of timelessness. I also try very hard to avoid getting automobiles in my work. That gets more and more difficult - but my subject matter begs to exclude them.

V.S. : You've talked in other interviews about photography kind of being the least respected of the visual arts - I think you once referred to the perception of photography as wallpaper. Do you still think that, and why do you think that is?

R.H. : Photo processing, and now digital photography, have become so ubiquitous that most everyone has some sort of camera. Eighty years ago, Kodak really ruined things by creating that first "click the shutter and shoot - we do the rest" camera. Stieglitz was talking about this eight decades ago. I have nothing against digital photography and in the world today for photojournalists there is absolutely no choice - you have a job and the editor wants the pictures yesterday. I've been very lucky in that I am able to make my living as a musician. I mean that is rare enough - but even more so for me, it's fortunate not to depend on photography.

V.S. : You've remained loyal to what is now considered old-school photography - using film, making enlargements in a darkroom. Can you talk a bit about that process and its importance to your final product?

R.H. : Well, I can't say I much enjoy the actual developing the film part of things, but once I have a negative - that's what I love. I love the struggle. I enjoy the struggle, trying to realize what I was trying to get at when I took the picture. It's not that the camera reproduces, exactly, what you see when you take the picture - that doesn't happen, exactly. But I still get a big kick out of being in the darkroom, enlarging the image to different sizes and figuring out which one fits the picture the best. In my show you don't find much of anything above 11 x 14 size - the size I can print myself.

V.S. : I'm curious - are you always viewing the world as if you had a camera at the ready, as if you were trying to create the best frame, the best composition for an image? Can that get burdensome?

R.H. : I guess I've always had that kind of artistic eye; before I take pictures, I certainly am looking at things critically, but I think I always had that. Even when I was much younger, before I'd ever picked up a camera, I had that eye, that sense of detail, when I would visit museums, look at paintings. Seldom, however, do I find myself saying 'I wish I had my camera!'

V.S. : A final question: you've been a Marine, a professional viola player, an artist - is there a possibility there is some other deep passion and talent inside you that just hasn't emerged just yet?

R.H. : Well . . . I guess, to be honest, that dream of playing at Wimbledon is gone. There's a very small chance that some painting is in my future, but at the moment, I can barely keep up with what I am doing. But you know, now that you ask, I have been working on a video project with some other musicians. It's a 10-minute piece. It's on YouTube. It's an interest now.

(The video, a piano and narration piece called "The Art of Love/ Into the Labyrinth," is an avant-garde artistic mash-up of images - the naked female form, skulls, clouds and some geometric images clearly shot by Hurwitz - he's listed as the guy in charge of "video realization.") Click YouTube below to access the video.

(Reprinted from the Concord, New Hampshire Monitor)

Musician-photographer takes an old-school approach for exhibit
Grand cities, grand images

By Victoria Shouldis / For the Monitor

January 27, 2011

All photographs © Ronald Hurwitz 2019
Ronald Hurwitz Photography 32-5 Tyre Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M9A 1C5 416 465-5890