Shadows of the Dream
VERVE Gallery of Photography is pleased to present Shadows of the Dream a solo exhibition of the handmade silver gelatin prints by conceptual artist photographer, Misha Gordin.
Misha Gordin introduces the visitor to his website with a poem, I Remember:
I remember life after the war.
Hiding in the ruins of bombed buildings.
The man with no legs pushing his way on a tiny platform.
I remember playing alone.
We did not have any toys.
I remember the stale smell of dark corridors.
I remember the forest full of secrets.
I remember faces that never smiled.
Misha’s childhood recollections are of moving back home to war-ravaged Riga, Latvia at the end of World War II. The Soviets occupied Latvia at the war’s end. Throughout his stay in Riga, Misha lived amongst the Russian-speaking population. This experience as a young person proved to be formative. He was graduated from technical school as an aviation engineer although he never practiced that profession. Rather, he joined the Riga Motion Film Studios as an engineer designing equipment for special effects.
Misha had no formal education in Western art. And, throughout his time in Riga, Social Realism was the “official” and dominant artistic style throughout Communist Europe. More often than not, Social Realism was used for Soviet propaganda, a “move away from (Western) decadent bourgeois art”.
Gordin began his photographic career at the age of 16. He recalls being moved by a desire to create his own personal style, so as to realize his voice. His early work was portraiture and some documentary photographs. It proved unsatisfactory. He took time off away from photography and concentrated on reading (Fyodor Dostoevsky and Mikhail Bulgakov) and in examining the cinematography of Andrei Tarkovsky and Sergei Parajanov. Misha used this period to explore ways to express his personal feelings through the photographic medium.
It came to him a year later, “clearly and simply”. Misha decided to photograph a “concept”, an idea, rather than trying to “capture a decisive moment” in a portrait, landscape, or documentary scene. He looked to create and photograph a decisive intuitive vision. In 1972 he imagined and visualized an image. He then staged it; photographed it; and, in the darkroom manipulated the projected image that appeared on his easel to achieve his concept in a print; thus, creating a conceptual photograph. This first print was entitled Confession. The black and white print presents a bleak, barren landscape with a dark, moody and windy sky. Two naked figures, a man and a woman, face one another. The man, apparently on his knees, beats a bass drum while the woman has a wheelbarrow full of dismembered doll body parts. The viewer is meant to discern the meaning of this image through introspection.
Confession is an image within the body of work “Shadows of the Dream”. Misha Gordin pointed his camera “inward, toward my soul”, so as to listen to his own inner voice. He thus transformed his idea into reality in the form of a photographic print. An altered reality is the essence of conceptual photography. Misha describes it this way: “For the last 40 years I have been involved in conceptual photography, where the idea or vision is transformed by the camera into an image, connected to reality only by my imagination.”
Misha eschews talking about the technical aspects of his work. “It diminishes the power of the image.” Nevertheless, it is all done in a conventional darkroom with a single enlarger. Gordin does not manipulate his images digitally. Misha sketches his ideas before he begins to photograph. He started this process long before the era of computer manipulated imagery. However, he will tell you: “My technique is unforgiving and laborious. Mistakes can be made, but not corrected. A trace of fear of making a mistake is present in every single image I make, as is the precision of every move and the complete concentration necessary for my repetitive steps.” <#_ftn1> His time, both in his studio and in the darkroom, is measured by weeks rather than hours. Gordin spends time making multiple negatives and using as many as 100 negatives before the final print is made. He has, over the many years, developed a very sophisticated masking technique. “In a darkroom, I don’t see the darkness. I see the excitement of a room filled with expectations. After working on a print for may long days, I immerse the silver paper into the warm chemicals and with the palms of my hands gently push it under the surface. The timer counts the seconds. The image slowly reveals itself with glowing brilliance.”
He concludes: “In all my years of creating conceptual images, I have tried to make them as realistic as possible. The plausibility of my scenes is not the most important part; they function in such a way that the question “Is it real?” does not arise. The authenticity that I present is that of an interior moment, so that my viewers may trust and react to the conceptual truths that they may know to be external fictions. I don’t interpret my images. I feel them. Nevertheless, I always encourage my viewers to interpret my work as they see or feel it. My goal is to create an image that talks…..”, that speaks to the viewer. Thus, the viewer is left to experience, to see, and to feel the emotional resonance created by Misha Gordin’s visual metaphor in countless unique ways. It is as if one were suspended in a black and white dream staring inward and seeing the world in its most essential elements.
In 1974, Misha left Latvia and immigrated to the United States.
The images in this exhibition at VERVE Gallery are all silver gelatin prints assembled in a traditional darkroom from a multitude of original negatives. The show images come from four bodies of work, “Shadows of the Dream”, “Tomas”, “Crowd”, and “New Crowd”. While the print edition numbers were larger in numbers in “Shadows…..”, the prints of all later work are in limited editions, seven (7) numbered prints and three (3) Artist Proofs of each image.
In his earliest body of work, “Shadows of the Dream”, each image is titled. The focus for the viewer is usually one or two human figures at some task. In Renunciation a male nude figure is seen bathing in the ocean, washing his face, in the vanishing light of dusk. On the desolate beach are six burlap bags. Two of the bags are partially open suggesting that the contents of all the bags are white mime-like masks. The masks appear to be the bather’s sole article of clothing. The symbolism is poignant. As is the case with all of Misha Gordin’s images, they are surreal and profoundly existential. It is for the viewer to discover the significance of this image. Is the bather a buffoon, a jester, a fool, a mime, a droll, a humorist, a boor, a yahoo, a galoot, a wit, a comic,…..? And, more importantly, who embodies the bather? Is it, perhaps…?
As Misha Gordin perfected his masking techniques in the darkroom, his images became increasingly more complex. In the “Crowd” series no image has a specific title. Instead they are all generically named “Crowd” followed by a number. Without a title the viewer has no hint of the print’s possible meaning(s). These newer photographs contain twenty or more persons. Some images are graphically compelling and beautiful. The artist has constructed what appear to be sinuous shadows, perfectly symmetrical black and gray contour lines on the backs of twenty or more human subjects in the photograph. Yet, these same figures remain haunting, naked but not erotic, all sensuous, graceful, and elegant, all posed identically.
Another image seen in the collection “Crowd” appears to be taken looking down on twenty-two symmetrically crowded bald, hairless, heads—a Greek chorus of faceless figures. One person is looking to the heavens with eyes closed and mouth open in what “appears” to be an agonizingly painful scream.
In another image fifteen persons, all masked and cloaked as acolytes in black sit on a black bleacher. Each figure is holding one puppet, each puppet an inanimate white miniature skeleton, each skeleton dancing.
Who are these bound figures huddled in perfectly arranged rows? Who are these four so weighted down with heavy iron “I” beams? What is the meaning of the Sisyphean figure rolling large human size sand balls into neat and orderly patterned rows? What is one to make of these provocative mysterious allegories? Misha Gordin’s images open doors into one’s own psyche and compel us to examine our own meanings. Poet and critic John Wood, the editor of the 21st Editions, says of Misha Gordin’s work, “The signature of Misha Gordin and the essence of his art is empathy. Gordin is not a recorder of the grief and pain of a particular person or group. It is the grief and struggle of all humankind.”