Uri Gershuni says he’s a bit weary of taking pictures.
That’s quite a statement coming from one of the country’s most creative photographers and someone who not only takes photos for a living but also teaches the craft at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
“I take fewer and fewer pictures,” he declares. “Today, I find it increasingly difficult to justify taking pictures. It is hard to imagine photography actually making a difference these days.”
That surprising declaration notwithstanding, 44-year-old Gershuni maintains an impressive exhibition agenda at some very prestigious venues here and abroad. His upcoming show was selected as one of six exhibitions that will open the Israel Museum’s jubilee year program. Not bad for someone who claims to be less interested in the proactive process of creating works of art than he used to be.
Then again, it appears that a photographer can put out fresh and intriguing offerings without necessarily taking camera in hand.
Gershuni’s “The Blue Hour” opened at the museum this week and, in fact, represents a continuation of the artist’s voyage back to the roots of his craft in exploring the life and work of 19th-century British photography pioneer Sir William Henry Fox Talbot. Talbot invented the calotype process, a precursor to the photographic processes of the 19th and 20th centuries.
“These days, we are inundated with images by people taking pictures with their cell phone or some digital camera,” notes Gershuni. “There’s just too much noise, too much information out there.”
Then again, there appears to be an upside to image-capturing inflation.
“This problematic predicament also generates a lot of interest,” Gershuni continues. “Photography is a challenge, and I think we are living in very interest times, specifically because of this difficulty that forces photography to consider what it is all about and to be reflective. The situation that has evolved has forced photography to look for new modes of expression.”
Gershuni certainly seems to have found a new avenue for making his own statement about the art form.
In “The Blue Hour,” he takes a stroll around the village of Lacock in the south of England, where Talbot lived, using Google Street View software. The exhibition and the handsome catalogue that goes with it comprise monochrome images captured from Gershuni’s computer screen. They are presented in a blue tint, which gives them an old world feel, contemporary content notwithstanding.
For Gershuni, “The Blue Hour” is a throwback to the days when Talbot roamed the streets of the village and the surrounding countryside.
“I teach a course at Bezalel and also at WIZO [Haifa Academy of Design and Education] that is called Neo-pictorialism,” he explains.
The original pictorialism was an international style and esthetic movement that dominated photography during the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It referred to an approach to photography whereby the image was manipulated in some way to create an image rather than just documenting an event.
“The course I give tries to consider current or future phenomena of photography or the state of photography in the here and now, while referencing the history of photography and, specifically, the end of the 19th and early 20th century. That’s when the pictorialism photography movement was around,” he says.
Despite a full 100 years or more having elapsed since those pioneering times, Gershuni finds parallels with the current state of affairs.
“There are similar processes taking place today that generate a certain impact on photography,” says Gershuni. “At the end of the 19th century, like today, photography changed from being the preserve of the few with the necessary financial means and know-how to a popular activity in which many people could partake.”
Gershuni adds that a century ago, faced with the dilemma of having their craft invaded by amateurs, photographers looked for inspiration from other disciplines.
“Photography, for example, began to imitate painting. Photographers declared that photography was a fine art, and they placed greater emphasis on the object and a more corporeal approach,” he says.
A similar dynamic appears to be in play today.
“Surprisingly, in the Digital Age there is a sense of yearning for the tangible, for something you can actually touch rather than the virtual,” Gershuni notes. “We have all these hi-tech means at our disposal, but our spirit suddenly wants to reconnect with the emotional dimension.”
That comes across loud and clear in Gershuni’s show at the Israel Museum. His blue-hue prints could just as well have been shot during Talbot’s time. Even a shot of one of the village streets, with a few cars, appears to have emerged through the mists of time. The fact that Gershuni uses early photographic techniques to manipulate the Google Street View screen shots probably has a lot to do with the sense you get from the print.
“I felt I had at arrived at a sort of impasse – because of all the photographic activity going on all over the place – and I realized that the way forward was, in fact, to go back,” he explains. “That means chronologically by evoking images of the past but also through delving back into the past of the medium.”
Four years ago, following his first visit to Lacock, which included a trip to Talbot’s home, Lacock Abbey, Gershuni produced a convincing reprise of the English inventor’s 1835 photograph of a latticed window at Lacock Abbey. That formed part of Gershuni’s “Yesterday’s Sun” exhibition. Now Gershuni is taking us back to rural Wiltshire but through a somewhat vicarious photographic route. The end result is no less captivating.