I first came across Gersht’s work at the Seduced by Art exhibition in The National Gallery a few years ago; his photograph of exploding flowers is not only an amazing technical accomplishment, it is a comment on art as well as being a photograph one can feel happy looking at although it contains extreme violence.
Gersht became interested in time lapse photography and other technically demanding photography such as high speed photography; he has also been occupied with video. However, in spite of his technical prowess, we have to wait several minutes while Gersht sets up for the talk !!
Gersht has a new body of work he wants to show but starts with a famous historical painting by Goya which was finished in 1814 but called The Third of May, 1808 in Madrid; it is of an execution and contains narrative elements such as members of the crowd and evidence of former executions as well as the soldiers involved in the deed. Gersht shows another painting, this one by Manet from around 1864, also of an execution and titled The Execution of the Emperor Maximillian. Similar but different with Manet depicting the exact moment of the shooting with smoke rising from the guns but the bodies still standing. During the time between the creation of these two paintings, photography was invented although it was not until later that it learnt the ability to capture the speed of the moment in it’s entirety.
Gersht also cites Roger Fenton and his photo of the Valley of Death from the Crimean War. Fenton was under orders not to show dead people! Instead he illustrated the ground strewn with cannonballs. Painting was allowed to show violence but not photography which was not yet able to capture the action.
Robert De Capa and his iconic image of a falling soldier, caught a moment of execution although there is some debate over the authenticity of the image. The image is of something falling apart but still holding together.
Gersht uses liquid nitrogen to help freeze the flowers he photographs exploding; he is using ideas from Dutch painters in his representation.
The execution of Lewis Pine that Barthes cites in Camera Lucida. Tensions between time, photography and memory; they are evident in this picture as they are in much of Gersht’s work.
Talking about the past and the future simultaneously!
H.C-B’s Behind the Saint-Lazare photograph of man stepping out into a pool of water. Looking at events that only exist because of technological devices.
Gersht is inspired by art work from the 19’th century and the role of colour particularly in the use of selected colours. Our technology is affecting the way we understand reality!
Photography has a strong relationship to the real, to something that existed in front of the camera. Gersht is exploring technology and its’ ability to represent the real, of photography’s ability to represent what could not be seen before. We live at a time when new boundaries are being discovered! The camera can record events that the eye is unable to see and can show different levels of reality.
Likes to make large photographs so that the viewer can see the details and not be let down as one can be by paintings where detail is being suggested rather than accurately represented. The special ability of the camera is to instantaneously record detail that would otherwise not be seen or examined. Gersht aims to make his photographs detailed!
Uses digital photography which he considers important partly because he wants to be as separated as possible in approach from the Old Masters. In painting, there are brush strokes and with film, aberrations caused by light hitting a gelatin surface; in digital such imperfections can be resolved. His means of production are removed from traditional painting and yet the similarities are there.
A moment of destruction and the moment of creation are similar. Violence and beauty as two sides of the same coin!? Part of Gersht’s vision.
Gersht grew up in Israel (and perhaps this explains his interest in explosions since the situation there is often volatile). He has been seduced by photography, the way we perceive the world and photography as well as the deceptive illusion that comes from watching media like TV.
Gersht’s new work is about digital revolution formerly about scientific revolution. Not easy to understand! Experience of the microscope, of seeing … today the boundaries of reality are being experienced, explored. Looking at insects under high magnification changes our notion of reality. Mirrors are also proving influential in configuring reality.
Looking at a Breughel paintings of flowers. Exuberant qualities of Breughel. These are the kinds of things that Gersht likes to consider. Groups of flowers that could never have flowered at the same time so images constructed. Breughel was painting at a time of Empires expanding. Gersht tried to replicate Breughel flower paintings exactly using synthetic materials.
Seeing things reflected in mirrors meant representation of objects was inverted. Takes a long time to make a bouquet but only an instant to destroy it; this tension also evident in exploding flower images.
Gersht shows video of how he makes work using mirrors. The process took months as the bouquets needed to be crafted yet a split second to photograph. Photographing through a mirror! Sense of touch gives the feeling that something is there; shows Leonardo painting of fingers almost touching. Touch and sight not the way we really experience the world, our experience is more cumulative and reflective.
Photographs show reflections in mirror; it is the mirror that is being smashed not the bouquet.
Uses toughened glass while making explosions. Some visual effects not easy to comprehend. Different effects to exactly the same moment depending on way camera is being used and what is being photographed at the moment of explosion.
Visited Northern Palestine to photograph olive trees that were hundreds of years old and had therefore “witnessed” historical moments. Over exposed film with long exposures …suggest the passing of time. Restored over-exposed negatives in the darkroom.
Material and Virtual combined in some works. Working close to a mirror and further away for reflections. Ends with a video of an explosion and the different visual effects this causes as well as sounds; the last frame shows the original restored!
The exploding flower in The National Gallery was really exploding yet since then Gersht has been photographing reflections in mirrors that are exploded.
I find Gersht’s talk riveting but it is not easy to follow his complex understanding of what photography means to him although there is a refreshing blend of art and science in vision. Gersht does not directly mention Walter Benjamin’s theory of the “optical unconscious” though this seems to be what he is inadvertently referring to in his work.