Clear of People -Michal Iwanoski

I pre-ordered this photobook by Michal Iwanowski at its design stage, long before the printed artefact came into being.

Having heard Iwanoski speak at the OCA Landscape Symposium last year I was drawn not only to the final prints in this work, but more importantly to the rationale and artistic intent that underpinned the work. Landscape as a repository of history and memory is a theme I am developing in my own practice and Iwanowski has created a visually evocative work that to my eyes encodes two individuals epic journey in a desolate and hostile landscape, littered with ghosts of a recent and troubled past.

© Michal Iwanowski

Clear of people records in pictures, the re-enactment and I choose this words carefully, of an epic journey made by two of the artists relations, his grandfather Tolek and Uncle, Wiktor. In 1945 they escaped from a soviet concentration camp in Kaluga and the two brothers made an epic 2200km walk back to their home town of Wroclaw in Poland. passing through several states they risked capture and worse very day o the three month odyssey. 

The brothers walked at night to minis the risk of being seen, using remote and cross country routes avoiding settlements so the they did’t encounter  people who might see them and report them to the authorities. This would have led to the return to incarceration or worse. Their journey must have been fraught with danger. There is nothing about this journey that is ordinary or easy. It is a concrete example of the triumph of the spirit over adversity. That spirit driven by notions of love, family, home and belonging. Interestingly like many war time exploits

© Michal Iwanowski

Seventy years latter using a hand drawn map with notes given to Iwanowski by his uncle, he re-enacted the journey. Again avoiding people and travel through a landscape that still held close to the past Iwanowski has created a visual record of his version of the Tolek and WiKtors journey. He was questioned by Russian police during the journey and also felt the sense of isolation and challenge is uncle and grandfather must have felt, although he was not under the same pressure thy must have been. he also allowed himself the luxury of hotel accommodation. This doesn’t detract from the body of work he has created however.

The images in the book are haunting, some with a hint of foreboding, I have been trying to decode the elements of the images that give me a sense of foreboding, because this is a powerful tool to develop in my own work. In part it is the interplay between the text and the image. Iwanowski sets a clear and detailed scene and context for the work, so having read his introduction I know I am seeing the work through his re-0enectment of his relative’s journey. I choose the word re-enactment carefully because the artists sets out in his text how he tried to recreate some of the conditions NN and BB experienced.

The landscapes are a mix of sweeping vista’s desolate roads and ominous forests. Images of distant houses some ruined and others far away but just close enough to make out lights and humanity create a tension about Tolek and Victors quest for home, but threat of discovery and its consequences never being far away. Natural and man-made obstacles add to sense of the challenge of the journey. From quite a mixed collection of images there is a coherence created by the sense of a lonely and dangerous journey.

© Michal Iwanowski

The book itself which was delayed in production is a simple but visually beautiful artefact. its simple card cover and ‘lay flat’ binding contains subdued colour prints. All rectangular images. some time a small image set against the background of a white tow page spread, other pages contact full spread landscape images that fill the pages.  Near the end of the volumes there are very nicely copied archival images, family photographs of Wictor and Tolek before the war, letters, notes from the backs of photos and official documents. set against this is the sort of their family and the the journey. this is a piece of living oral history committed to pare in the life time of one of the travellers. The overall effect of this section of the book is simultaneously, melancholic , a hymn to a lost generation, but also deeply uplifting in the triumph of their spirit and tenacity to overcome the circumstances they found themselves in.

I am smitten by this work!

This is a work I will continue to return to in my own quest to improve my personal practice and find that elusive personal voice.

References

Iwanowski, M. (2016) Clear of People, Brave Books, Berlin

Clear of People: found at: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0_lBUl-3454 (Accessed May 2017)

Trent Parke- Minutes to Midnight

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Magnum photographer Trent Parke has spent his career turning his camera on his native Australia. Parke, who’s presentational preference is to create hand made photo books has published a number of very engaging works of art in this form.

Minutes to Midnight was the first of his books that I encountered and I have to say I was drawn not only to the edgy evocative images on each of its pages but also his approach to art practice and indeed the philosophy that underpins his work as an artist.

Minutes to Midnight is the product of  a road trip across Australia and is an eclectic mix of gritty black and white images that shines a light on the emotional state of Australia during a time of national and global change.

Made in 2003 , the images of rural and urban scenes capture people and place in shadows and light and all the works in the book say something about how Australians were facing the impact of issues such as 9/11, the Bali bombings and the huge bush fires and drought in the the country at the time  There is a sense of the uneasy about the work, not least because there is a simile narrative in some very disparate images locations. It’s worth noting that the  work was in part created in response to a newspaper article suggesting that 60% of Australians believed the country had lost it’s innocence.  

There are a wide range of pictures in the book, from scenes of people living in challenging circumstances in remote outback communities to scenes of commuters in the cities of the vast country. Parke creates a strong and coherent narrative of ‘unsettlement’ about a country of contrasts and one that is not without challenge and tragedy. His use of black and white grainy film is in my view very evocative and even in some of the harsher images there is an intrinsic sense of beauty .

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Parke was awarded  the W. Eugene Smith Award for humanistic photography for this body of work. To my eye Parke is a master in using light creatively to capture an instant  in time that says more than just the elements contained within the frame.

Parke himself suggests that a single image can contain a narrative and although he creates strong themes (using recurring motifs such as; young children holding babies, rural and urban landscapes presented in a very high contrast manner, dead animals, scnes with a single figure bathed in light) in individual images, there is a strong and coherent narrative of unsettlement, change and uncertainty that runs through this work.

A particular  draw for me to his work is that he uses film and controls all aspects of the production of his black and white work.  He  takes many shots and repeatedly visits the the same locations to achieve the image he wants, the image he has visualised based upon some discovery or some moment of inspiration when reviewing his developed negatives.

The image below typifies his approach. On just one negative he saw the effect of the lights and shadows naturally projected onto passing vehicles. The silhouettes  of people on the street at a particular time of day create a haunting and almost unreal set of shadows and light. He returened again and again to the same location at the same time for several  months to finally capture the image that he imagined. He is a object less on patience, application and perseverance!

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Copyright Trent Parke

Parkes background is interesting and has  elements of profound sadness about it.  Although as the video listed in the references below demonstrates he has an incredibly positive outlook on life and making images is central to his life.

trent_parke

At the age of 13 while at home with his mother, she had a fatal asthma attack and died. There was nothing the young Parke could do and this had a profound impact on his future. His mother had a small darkroom and she made and sold images to local newspapers. Following her death he picked up her camera and began to make pictures. He eventually worked as a photographer for a newspaper whilst also playing cricket professionally. Eventually he had to choose between the two career paths and selected photography. He then went o to be a sports photographers for one of the Australian national newspapers. His experience and skill as a sport photographer I believe  can be seen in some of his work. Choosing not to travel beyond his own country he has taken an immersive approach to recording his country in his own way.

Learning Points from Trent Parke’s work

  • Persistence and perseverance, he keeps returning to themes and ideas until he gets them right, this is by far the biggest lesson that i take from his work. 
  • Contrast in the narrative, he uses a wide range of themes from landscape, to group shots to protests to tell the story of a people and a land, i thought buyer were real parole ( although their work is quite different) to the philosophy and motivation behind is work and that of Alex Soth.
  • Film still has a place and a role to play, pardon the pun!!

References

Parke, Trent (2013) Minutes to Midnight, Steidl

Interview with Trent Parke by David Hanlon found at: https://vimeo.com/106406707 (Accessed May 2015)

In Public Interview -Trent Parke found at: http://www.in-public.com/TrentParke (Accessed May 2015)