Portals to the Human Spirit: A Survey of Cultural Diversity
Photography has an innate ability to establish human connections. This exhibition centers on the work of six photographers that produce images that bind us to the human spirit. The color of our skin, the clothes we wear, the shelters and social groups we live in have great diversity, but the fundamental, non-visual, human needs of all these groups are fundamentally the same as our own. The nature of the global village acts to homogenize our customs and differences. It is counter productive in preserving a society’s uniqueness. With the shrinking of the world caused by Western expansionism and the ease of international travel – we are also shrinking the world’s divergent cultures.
Carol Beckwith and Angela Fisher have spent the better part of their lives documenting the various cultural ceremonies that have linked individuals to their various tribes across the African continent. Their work has been the most profound and comprehensive documentary of African cultural practices that are endangered or have been lost. In photographic records, through their books, videos and journals we have an aesthetic time capsule that both preserves and celebrates an extraordinary diversity.
The photographs of Alison Wright are meant to be portals of the human spirit. Her travels have taken her from Africa to the Antarctic and from China and India to Haiti and South America. There are universal qualities of sadness, empathy, compassion that can never be vanquished. Her life, like Beckwith and Fisher, has been a journey consumed by allowing indigenous citizens to do their own storytelling. She has been a photographer, again akin to Beckwith and Fisher, who has put herself at great risk to probe the portals to humanity.
Marcus Leatherdale is also a preserver of unique cultures. He has spent the last 20 years photographing the Adivasis, or small ethnic communities of India. India has immense ethnic diversity that is quietly disappearing. He photographs a caste system shooting maharajas to the Harijan, or untouchables. He is interested in the cultural, and spiritual uniqueness of the various tribes. There is a great depth to their traditions that the photographers can only point to. Of the 100 million tribals living outside the Hindu caste society their customs are foreign to the Hindus and Muslims. He produces split tone silver prints that suggest an age and patina consistent with wonderful black and white darkroom vintage prints.
Dana Gluckstein has spent the last 30 years traveling the world on a photographic and moral mission of exploring the lives of indigenous people whose cultures and daily lives are being threatened and marginalized. Her work has been recently exhibited in Geneva at the United Nations in conjunction with the passage of the U.N. Human Rights Declaration. Her focus has consistently been on portraiture of individuals that are tied to their villages.
Flor Garduño seems like an anomaly to include in this exhibition. Her journeys are internal versus external. She does not travel to exotic locations in search of the unknown, but concentrates her vision on the beauty and grace of the female form. Her photographic subjects are well known to her. Her imagery is steeped in nature and Mexican folklore. The bodies portrayed are personalized, the mythology shown is internalized. For Flor, the uniqueness of the bodies is their beauty. In the introduction by Veronica Volklow to Garduño’s monograph Inner Life, she notes, “Garduño’s images seem to have been stolen, not from the street, the countryside, the studio, but from a deeply intimate dimension…Each body is like a star. It radiates a beauty that emerges from an overflowing richness.” The pictures in their strength, fragility, and beauty are ultimately studies of humanity.
In the largest sense, the purpose of “Portals to the Human Spirit” is to suggest links that bind us to a greater mankind. These links respect and amplify individuals, their cultural practices as well as their belief systems. The energies of these citizens of the world are made manifest through the portals of what is visible. A camera can only record the visible – but it references a much larger, fuller world. It encourages us to travel with our eyes and imagination further than the comforts of our immediate, knowable world.