The human scene

There is a ton included in the festival program, which should keep the photography enthusiast, and all and sundry, happily engaged.

The barrenness of the off-season British coastline comes through (photo credit: NADAV KANDER)
The barrenness of the off-season British coastline comes through
(photo credit: NADAV KANDER)
As photographic devices have become ever more affordable and user-friendly, most of us may tend to relate to visual documentation as something we do on the spur of the movement.
Naturally, there are many benefits to be had from being able to pull out our cellphone and, say, capture our baby’s delightful gurgle-accompanied giggle without having to make sure the shutter speed and aperture are appropriately calibrated – for those of you who recall analogue cameras with real physical shutters – by which time the gurgle and giggle may have morphed into an infant scowl.
On the more professional side of the photographic domain, there are all sorts of approaches to achieving the desired frame. Some go looking for their prey, while others bide their time, soaking up the ambiance before slipping into the slipstream of the moment.
The results of the aforementioned mind-sets and more will be on show at the International Photography Festival in Jaffa, which includes the Artlink display curated by Maya Anner, which will run from April 23 to May 7. This is a grand event for the art form, with shots created by an international roster of a full 200 photographers on show, taking in 1,000 works spread across 30 exhibitions.
There’s more. This year, the festival incorporates a cross-disciplinary slot, with the Israel Ballet, Fresco-Yoram Karmi Dance Company and the Ka’et Ensemble proffering some corporeal readings of the items on the walls. The Israel Ballet dance will feed off work by Eyal Landesman, who also serves as artistic director of the whole festival shebang.
The latter is keenly aware of the immense photographic white noise generated by the constant torrent of easy-as-youlike cellphone snapping, and how that impacts on artistic endeavor.
“At a time when everyone has a camera, and millions of pictures are created in a minute, all sorts of issues about the role of the photographer and the value of the photograph emerge,” notes Landesman.
“It is important to us to show the general public the choicest items from the avalanche of local and international images, and to create a unique platform for the language of photography, based on the recognition of the central role filled by the photographic image in culture and art.”
The non-Israeli side of the festival artist lineup includes such glittering names as US-resident Panamanian, two-time Pulitzer Prize laureate photographer Essdras M Suarez; Doug Rickard, who caused a stir in the art world with his Google Street Viewbased A New American Picture project; and award-winning, South African-raised, London-based photographer Nadav Kander, who is due to give a workshop at the festival, in addition to exhibiting some of his own creations.
Kander has gained a global reputation for his work over the last couple of decades or so, principally for his Yangtze - The Long River series, for which he earned the prestigious international Prix Pictet Prize.
The award is presented annually for photographic endeavor that addresses burning social and environmental issues.
“My interest lies in the human condition,” states Kander, “what it’s like to be a human being today.” That, says the Israeli- born photographer, applies to both principal areas in which he works – portraiture and landscape works. “My landscapes are not about nature; they are about man. It’s not like I do natural landscapes. I do man-altered landscapes.”
That sounds intriguing and also makes for some dynamic give-and-take between the forces of Mother Nature and human energies and output, which, as we know only too well, can often have a destructive impact but can also embellish and complement our God-given milieu.
That is certainly evident in Kander’s Chinese project, which he undertook over the course of three years during which he traveled the full length of China’s principal waterway – all 6,300 km. of it. Using the river as a metaphor, the journey begins at the coastal estuary, where thousands of ships leave and enter each day, and moves past renowned suicide bridges, coal mines and the world’s largest water stopper – the Three Gorges Dam.
Further inland we encounter Chongqing, the fastest-growing urban center on the planet. Last year the municipality incorporated a population of just over 30 million, with an urban population of 18.38 million. Kander’s series of images takes us along a fascinating meandering and undulating ride through densely populated spots, where the imprint of human enterprise all but obliterates any trace of nature and dwarfs the people in the frames, and other locations, where Mother Nature clearly still rules the roost.
The nature-human symbiosis also comes through in Kander’s portraits. In a series of headshots, including British media sports personality Gary Lineker and late horror-movie actor Christopher Lee, the photographer has produced a sort of geomorphological texture to the faces.
That may not have been intentional but, for Kander, it is all one and the same.
“I don’t put a line between my landscapes and my portraits, because I feel that both are about memory. I feel that my landscapes, when they deal with man, are about the signposts that we have toward memory,” he proffers, citing some geographic and visual contexts from over here. “If I got into the Negev, or the Golan Heights, and I photograph the landscape that has been altered because of war, it is a signpost to our path, to our human condition that causes us to fight over it, or how it feels to be in that position.” The same goes for headshots. “When you photograph a portrait, you are photographing the memories that are left on a person’s face.”
That sense comes through in Kander’s much lauded “The Parade” series, shot in 2002, which offers an intriguing and somewhat intimate perspective on the “Englishman’s home is his castle” ethos. The titular street is located in southeast England and was partly prompted by the start of the Big Brother reality show on British TV.
Kander mused that “this show was going to change our values concerning privacy.
So looking through a window, only meant for looking out, intuitively felt like an apt response. My work is nearly always about the signs that we exist, and this voyeuristic set of photographs in no different.”
Interestingly, the 54-year-old Kander was first drawn to photography by the physicality of the device in question, rather than considering what he might end up with after clicking the button and allowing light to do its bit on the silver halide crystal-coated film.
He was 13 when he first picked up a Pentax camera; and, in fact, had he been born in the era of digital cameras, he may very well have ended up getting into a different line of work.
“I think that the initial whim to pick it up was a mechanical one, more than a creative one,” he recalls. “I think I loved beautifully made things that had these wonderful moving parts. I loved to get into my grandfather’s cupboard, where he had movie cameras and watches that I would take apart. So, when I was 13, I wanted to work with this instrument I had fallen in love with, so I started taking pictures.
But it was the mechanics that drew me in to begin with. My father was a flight engineer with El Al – he was the first El Al flight engineer – and his love of well-made things somehow carried over to me.”
And a good thing it did, too. Kander’s work is a thing to be marveled at, and the prints he will display at Artlink will be well worth a view or two by Passover vacationers and thereafter.
There is a ton of other fabulous items included in the festival program, which should keep the photography enthusiast, and all and sundry, happily engaged.
In addition to Kander, Suarez and Rickard, the illustrious foreign artist roll call includes Polish photographer Wojtek Wilczyk, Frenchman Mathieu Pernot, Mugur Varzariu from Romania, Czech photojournalist Antonin Kratochvil, and Frederica Valabrega from Italy.
The numerous exhibitions that will take place under the festival’s aegis include a show of pictures taken by people with special needs. There will be a spot devoted to photography studios housed in bomb shelters; an intriguing show of works by Ronit Porat, who finds an interface between the changes that have taken place at the kibbutz where she was born and the female side of society in the Weimar Republic; and plenty to keep the youngsters happy, with shows performed by the Almina Theater company and a creativity space for kids and all the family.
For tickets and more information: *8780 and