#1131. Thames : The Slow River (photo essay)

By pascaljappy | Art & Creativity

Aug 06

Nadav Kander, one of my favorite photographers, published a series of wonderful photographs entitled Yangtze: The Long River. This is my tongue in cheek homage to this extraordinary body of work.

 

To me, Nadav Kander is one of the living Kings of photography. It’s hard to find many artists who manage to convey a sense of meaning AND a personal style in such a powerful blend. His photographs are certainly not anonymous, nor are they merely pretty or meaningful only to him. There is something universally human in every series he makes, even though they all originate deep within him and describe very specific subjects.

In his Yangtze: The Long River series, he explains that more people live along the banks of the Yangtze than live in the US. And the river plays a important spiritual and physical role in the lives of the Chinese people. And more, that anything, it symbolises change to him.

Beyond the obvious connexion of being rivers, change is what triggered the mental association in my mind, on this cold June morning on the banks of the Thames.

 

London isn’t changing at the same breakneck, history-destroying, speed as Shanghai. But few cities I have significant experience with are less static. A separate post will be devoted to that architectural and cultural fluidity that draws me to London over and over and over again.

But I wanted to keep this series separate and present it in a different post.

My homage is obviously tongue-in-cheek. Not that Yanthze: The Long River is not serious work, but my day walk over a few miles can’t begin to capture the diversity of people and situations encountered by Nadav Kander during many visits and many weeks over thousands of miles. And the stories along both rivers are stories of change, but of different scales and types.

 

Still, I did try to replicate what appeals to me in that large body of work: the consistent aesthetics and the one-sided and changing relationship between humans, and the river and the various engineering projets that surround or bridge it.

It’s surprisingly difficult to maintain a consistent look, even over a much shorter period of time. Lighting conditions change and even slight variations require the sort of careful adjustments I wouldn’t necessarily bother with in single frames. How Kander’s work appears so coherent in spite of the geographical and time differences it spans is beyond me …

Instead I meekly opted for the Greek Tragedy recipe : single day, single lens and (mostly) single perspective πŸ˜‰

 

Unused to working on a “mini project” such as this, I realised my framing was altered compared to what it might had been without that goal at the back of my mind. It’s interesting how we treat a frame differently when it stands alone and when it is a part of a larger narrative.

As soon as the tube left us at one end of our walk, the weather immediately reminded me of the pollution mist found in Yangtze: The Long River. Here, in London, it was mostly the humidity of a British summer day that created that haze. But the result on the image felt the same in that it eliminated shadows, and created a soft light around what are essentially stark buildings or silouhettes.

The muted colours that result add to that sort of distantiated gaze on these day-to-day scenes that Nadav Kander achieves so well.

 

And, like my source of inspiration, I tried to focus on the ordinary while framing in ways that – along with the lighting – create semi abstract images of that everyday backdrop. I wanted it to look like I was photographing photographs rather than real life. A bit as if time had suddenty stopped.

Which, I guess it must, in a photograph πŸ˜‰

Lots of photo essays depicting modern cities tend to make them look inhuman and threatening. My goal was to look at it more dispassionately, a bit like someone daydreaming sees stuff without really seeing it. I can’t think of London as an alienating city, it’s one of my favourite places on Earth. But that soft light and unusual (for me) framing were meant to distance the viewer from what would otherwise have been tourist shots.

 

I wanted to show the layers of time so evident in London’s architecture, a change accelerating in the last decades, but still more tranquil and less destabilising that what the Yangtze is experiencing, the legacy of the various architects who have added to this patchwork of dissimilar styles evolving through epochs of the city’s existence. I’ve always been fascinated by architecture, how it reveals the dominant thought-process of a country at a given time, the ways it can make people happy or ill at ease, and the almost unpredictable way in which different layers coexist peacefully, clash or complement one another. More on this in the coming post on London.

I wanted to freeze life, not through a total absence of human beings and movement, but through a sort of perceptual slow mo. As if a day for me was a fraction of that for London.

I wanted people or human activity, real life, but taking a background role to the river and its architecture. Here again, the opposite of a tourist shot or a selfie. Because even though each generation tries to add a layer of its manufactured ego to London and the Thames, it is far more influenced by them than them by it. The Thames doesn’t care about the affairs of men. Like time itself, rivers flow only in one direction.

 

So, did I succeed in creating my own little series with a consistent idea of the passage of time along a river, and a consistent look? You’ll have to tell me πŸ˜‰

So often, reading an artist statement or the explanation behind a series of works makes me want to barf. So if I’ve avoided that effect in you, that’s a win already πŸ˜‰ Here again is where I feel Nadav Kander’s talent oozes. His explanations are always simple, clear and meaningful, proving how much thought has gone into making the series and yet how much spontaneity went into creating the individual frames.

It’s a hard balancing act to follow, but I had fun trying πŸ˜‰

 

And I like the results. Which is not that frequent …

Here, the X1D was a blessing. Not only for the dispassionate rendering that was essential here, but for the ability to print these much larger than my usual productions. Brilliant.

I’ve been mulling over the idea of creating a set of limited editions prints/NFT combos and think this might be it! πŸ™‚

 

What do you think?

 

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  • PaulB says:

    Pascal

    I think this series is very successful, if for no other reason than it got me to find Nadav Kander’s website to see the images you are referring too.

    I can see a connection between your images and Nadav’s, though the atmospheric effects of both locations makes both series uniquely different. Not to mention the uniquely different sense of vision of both artists.

    PaulB

    • pascaljappy says:

      Thanks Paul πŸ™‚ I’m glad you enjoyed Nadav Kander’s work. He’s really one of the greats.
      We should all take inspiration from one another’s work (when it’s good πŸ˜‰ ) but that has to stop at the inspiration level. After that, personal vision and style must take over. Not always easy πŸ˜‰

  • Hi Pascal, I agree with PaulB’ comments. A great collection of images, love the tones.

  • jean pierre (pete) guaron says:

    Somewhere around St Katharine’s dock, you’ll fine the apartment where John Cleese and Jamie Lee Curtis holed up – while he spoke Russian to her and she flipped – and then the family came home!

    Further east, as you head towards the open sea, there’s a lot of stuff that’s interesting, but rarely photographed. I’m sure some people must do it – but I’ve hardly ever seen any oif their photos published.

    I’ll join the list of co-conspirators, and cheer you on. These views would look magnificent in bedsheet sized prints. Do you have enough flat wall space, to hang them?

  • Pascal Ravach says:

    Your post resonated with me, Pascal… you know how much i live and breath Asia πŸ™‚
    I think the real difference between your images and Nadav Kander, beyond what’s easy to discern, is that, to me at last, he adopted more the “importance of emptiness” from the traditional ancient Chinese paintings; but I also guess that being “there” pushed hime more to do so.
    Very interesting topic!

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