Pic­tur­ing the Thames as you’ve never seen it

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - PHOTOGRAPHY SO­PHIE CO­HEN

HERE’S NO his­tory of a river greater than the Thames, from Ro­man times to the bat­tles, to the ships sunk, to the trade, to the love, to the death, to the grit and toil that have hap­pened on that river; from the great writ­ings of Con­rad or Dick­ens to paint­ings of Con­sta­ble, it’s end­less.” So says Is­raeli­born pho­tog­ra­pher Na­dav Kan­der, of his lat­est ex­hi­bi­tion en­ti­tled Dark Line — the Thames Es­tu­ary.

One of the most suc­cess­ful pho­tog­ra­phers of his gen­er­a­tion, Kan­der’s work reg­u­larly ap­pears pub­li­ca­tions like Rolling Stone, and The New Yorker. Over the years his projects have taken him ev­ery­where from the des­o­late land­scapes of Utah to the broth­els of Cuba. In 2009, The New York Times Magazine com­mis­sioned him to shoot a portrait se­ries of Pres­i­dent-elect Barak Obama and his in­com­ing ad­min­is­tra­tion. In late 2016 he made head­lines for pho­tograph­ing Don­ald Trump for Time magazine’s Per­son of the Year cover.

“What are we do­ing? Let me show it to you, and can you please reflect if you care to?” These, says Kan­der, are the ques­tions that drive him, ir­re­spec­tive of the sub­ject mat­ter. “It’s how the light falls, it’s how there’s a mys­tery in a pic­ture, it’s how en­gag­ing a pic­ture is that sat­is­fies me”.

An­other fa­mous work is the Yangtze — The Long River se­ries, which won the pres­ti­gious Prix Pictet in 2009. For this, he trav­elled along the banks of the great Chi­nese river, and pro­duced a visual nar­ra­tive of this an­cient civil­i­sa­tion’s march to­ward moder­nity.

His lat­est work is more in­flu­enced by Chi­nese aes­thet­ics than those doc­u­men­tary-like pic­tures of the Yangtze. The Thames prints, with their scroll-like hang­ing ver­ti­cal forms, are redo­lent of Chi­nese Shan Shui scrolls, the ink and brush paint­ings of nat­u­ral scenery that cap­ture an “in­ner” land­scape of feel­ing. In one pho­to­graph, Time (Cliffe Fort To­wards Till­bury Power Sta­tion), the rot­ting wooden beams of an old boat even re­sem­ble Chi­nese char­ac­ters from a dis­tance. Other prints, such as the dip­tych Un­ti­tled III Part 1 & 2, are al­most Rothkoesque in the way the dark green blur of the marshes fades slowly into the grey­white ex­panse of sky. So too is Wa­ter XI (Muck­ing To­wards Stan­ford-Le-Hope), with its hues of yel­low sky, golden reed beds, and il­lu­mi­nated and dark wa­ters. Else­where, in­dus­trial set­tings like Kings North Power Sta­tion, and the faint out­lines of gi­ant cranes on the hori­zon, with their haunt­ing beauty, re­call Whistler’s Noc­turnes paint­ings of the Thames. Con­sta­ble’s Stud­ies of clouds and skies, and paint­ings by ab­stract ex­pres­sion­ists like Franz Kline and Bar­nett Neu­man.

Other in­spi­ra­tions were lit­er­ary and his­tor­i­cal, notes Kan­der. “Where did Con­rad write most of Heart of Dark­ness? Where did Dick­ens write? Where was there a great bat­tle?”, the pho­tog­ra­pher would ask, be­fore set­ting out on his me­an­der­ing jour­neys of the es­tu­ary. “The silt of that river is rich in con­nec­tions to the past and in con­nec­tions to the hu­man con­di­tion”.

He “looks for things that ask ques­tions of our hu­man con­di­tion: why we live the way we do, why our time on Earth is brief when it comes to the greater cos­mos...”, putting this down to his “gypsy back­ground”. His fa­ther, who re­cently passed away, fled Ger­many for Pales­tine in the 1930s, and the fam­ily of his South African mother, a pot­ter who now lives in In­di­ana, was orig­i­nally from Rus­sia. His fam­ily moved to South Africa when Kan­der was three.

In the past he has spo­ken of an in­ter­est in “the aes­thet­ics of de­struc­tion”, some­thing that is ap­par­ent in pho­to­graphic se­ries like Ch­er­nobyl, Half-Life, or Dust, which cap­tures for­mer nu­clear test sites in Kaza­khstan. Such projects, Kan­der feels, are a re­sult of grow­ing up in apartheid era South Africa, “with angst and ten­sion, and in a very ag­gres­sive so­ci­ety which I never knew I was liv­ing in”.

In a way, then, his work is al­most an­thro­po­log­i­cal, shaped by an at­trac­tion to­ward “the pe­riph­eries of civil­i­sa­tions, the pe­riph­eries of so­ci­eties, that kind of edge of how so­ci­eties per­form and where they don’t per­form well”.

So, a Is­raeli-born, South African, Bri­tish Jew will show you the Thames as you have never seen it be­fore.

Dark Line: the Thames Es­tu­ary is at the Flow­ers Gallery, Dal­ston un­til Jan­uary 13

PHOTO: NA­DAV KAN­DER

Na­dav Kan­der’s Dark Line at the Flow­ers Gallery

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