Interview with Ventilate magazine. January 2005
|1. You mention on
bsimple that you
discovered your own style once you left portrait and documentary work for
conceptual photography. In particular, in 1972 you created your first and
most important concept image:
Confession. Please describe what lured you towards this concept and how
you then developed it.
At this time in my life all energy was completely focused on finding something "New" in photography. One morning as I was sitting outside my fathers seaside house, I noticed the gardener with a wheelbarrow next to him.. It triggered a vision of an open field with a naked woman pushing the wheelbarrow full of broken dolls against a gusting wind. Later that day on my way to work, I saw a group of kids from marching band walking across the street with their instruments. One of them was carrying the drum. It struck me like lightening. That was the missing element I was looking for. I had this vision - simple and clear. I made a drawing of the future image and started to assemble the elements. It took me several weeks to find the right location, props and models.
One early Sunday morning, on the shoulder of the road a group of three strange looking people with a net full of dolls, a drum and a wheelbarrow were looking for a lift. The first car stopped…
When we arrived on location I realized that the field had turned into mud. It had been raining for a couple of days. The right spot to shoot was across the field. I grabbed my equipment, lifted the wheelbarrow on my back and started slowly across the field sinking up to my knees in the mud. My models followed me. This situation was not as glamorous as they had expected.
It was a sunny day with a clear blue sky and no wind. I arranged all the elements in front of my camera to resemble the drawing, but it did not look as I expected. Something was missing. Then suddenly a lonely dark cloud emerged from the horizon.
A gust of wind picked up the hair of the woman. The man hit the drum. The scene in front of me came alive. I made several shots. The wind suddenly died, the cloud passed and the clear blue sky stayed above me for the remainder of the day…
Sometimes I think that this lucky gust of wind changed the direction of my life.
2. How was Confession first received by others?
I remember a small wet print attached to the kitchen cabinet.
I knew that I was looking at the most important work of my life.
It had all elements of a great image and I could learn from it.
Most people were puzzled by "Confession".
It was so different from the official art of the communist state.
I felt that some photographers who saw this image were somehow threatened by the unknown style and "tried" not to notice my work.
But I did not need others opinion. I had my own...
3. You have mentioned that some of your greatest influences have been the writing of Dostoevsky and the cinematography of Tarkovsky. Your work also seems influenced by Dante Alighieri's 'Inferno'. Have you read Dante? Who or what else has influenced your work?
No, I did not read Dante, but I heard many times that people see elements of Inferno in my work. And I always encourage viewers to interpret my work as they see it. My goal is to create an image that "talks".
|4. How long does it take to
create one of your photos? What is the process involved?
It depends on an image. Sometimes it takes a week, sometimes a month. But ideas are always instant.
Some prints are technically complicated and I will have several sessions to study and shoot components and then spend several weeks in the darkroom to assemble the photograph from a multitude of different negatives.
The process is always the same. It starts from an idea, then a drawing, assembling the components, shooting and studying the material, followed by meticulous darkroom work.
5. You do not use digital tools such as photoshop. All of your visual manipulation is completed in the darkroom by hand. Does this method give you more control over the final result?
All my images are assembled in a traditional darkroom under one enlarger using a masking technique developed and perfected over the years. This technique has it's limitations and I address them when working on ideas. Also, before I print the original, I make tests and adjustments for every negative to be printed. I write the tables where I indicate the proper exposure and all sequences of manipulations for every negative used. Next is the stage of "dry" printing. This part is the most unforgiving . I meticulously project one negative after another, constantly changing precise masks until the last negative is used. It feels like returning safely home after a long, long drive. This part is all about discipline and has very little to do with art. Next comes the time of "judgment" when the first print emerges from the developer. It is a very exiting moment for me. I look for possible mistakes as the image reveals itself and a great feeling of relief and accomplishment when print is "flawless". I always print editions of seven plus three artist proofs. Unfortunately the technique I am using has no room for mistakes. It requires complete concentration and can be very exhausting physically and mentally.
In this respect digital manipulations are easy and forgiving. But my method, as hard as it is, gives me better and immediate quality control. I do print from original negatives after all. Also, I don't feel at this time the need to change the approach which works. I don't know for how long I will be in good physical shape to be able to continue working this way. But then I will always have the alternative of switching to digital manipulations.
6. Much of your work seems to reflect alienation and solitude. Is this something you have dealt with in your life? If so, do you feel this may have played a role in developing your artistic "gift"?
I grew up in totalitarian state after the WWII. I was a happy child spending most of time on a streets playing with other kids and often fantasizing about "war games". The life around me was quite poor, full of struggle and drama. Images from my childhood are deeply imbedded in me. I was a difficult teenager, very opinionated with no respect for authority. This attitude set me apart from other teenagers and was instrumental in developing my style. I never belonged to any organization, which was next to impossible in a communist state.
After I arrived in the US I found myself surrounded by many people trying to help me.
I learned a lot from my new friends. When I established myself as an artist, I became part of the usual "art crowd'. Soon I was ready for a change. That is when I bought 80 acres of rolling hills in central Minnesota and moved my family to live a quiet, simple life away from the hassles and noises of city life. I work most of the time with very little distractions. So far this change proved to be a good one. I have created a lot of important work since then…
7. What do you consider to be your greatest achievement?
Finding my own path and following it.
8. What advice would you give to up- coming photographers looking to define their own style?
Be careful when choosing your teacher. If you have real talent you might not need one.
9. After developing a body of work that reflects your personal thoughts and feelings, what has your photography taught you about yourself?
That I am a simple man trusting his intuition.
Twenty Personal Questions About my Youth
Misha Gordin. 2006
1. Can you name your exact date of birth (especially day and month)?
March 12. 1946
2. Do you have brothers and sisters? In a few most personal words can you describe your father and mother
Theoretically I have a 2 years older brother living somewhere there. We are the opposites...
I am lucky to have a few very close friends I consider to be my brothers and sisters. I was not close to my mother either. Never the less she was very dedicated to the family.
My father Boris Gordin was a "wall behind my back". I loved my dad dearly, especially when I grew up to understand and respect the man he was. I was always open to him and entrusted my dad
the deepest secrets. He was instrumental in introducing me to photography and was always my unconditional supporter. My father passed away years ago but he is very much alive in my soul.
So is my wife Roza, my other loyal supporter. She died tragically in a car accident. She was the most beautiful women spiritually and physically. She was perfect and only 39.
Boris and Roza are the two most important and loved figures in my life. I still do my work for them.
After I left my homeland the Soviet authorities refuse me the entrance to visit my family for almost 15 years. In a very beginning of “perestrojka” I was allowed to return home to embrace my father after
long years of separation. Ironically, at his old age he completely lost his eye side. I enjoyed the hours we spend together. I described my work to him. I left my images to his imagination.
3. Are you at ease with people, or you feel certain difficulties approaching and communicating with strangers?
I am very straightforward in my relations with other people, strangers included. I always treat people as my equals until they prove me other ways.
4. Are you Russian or Latvian by your immediate roots?
I have a Jewish blood and the Russian soul. There is a deep Russian connection through the cultural roots and the language. Latvia is a place of my birth. I am still nostalgic for the land of my childhood.
5. Do you feel sorry about leaving Latvia?
Leaving my homeland was the best decision of my life. I consider myself lucky to spend 28 years of my life under communist regime
and to be able freely express acquired experience from the other side of the "iron curtain".
6. Do you think your decision to choose America was the right one?
I live in United States for more then 30 years. Many great and tragic things happened to me. I created most of my work here. I met my good friends here.
Sometimes I think that if I stayed in Riga Roza would be still with me. But no matter where we live all of us destined to live our lives in a hostile and unpredictable world.
We make decisions and follow them with our “fingers crossed”. It’s the best we can do. Destiny is always in a drivers seat .
There is analogy of living the life and crossing the minefield. We all die before crossing it and as deeper we venture into it as more mines are waiting for us.
7. During your first years in America what was it that you missed the most?
The horizon line above the Baltic Sea.
8. Do you believe in God (what is your strongest belief)?
I don't believe in conventional God. I do believe in unbendable law of nature. I call it God. I also want to believe in Luck. Luck could be a God’s helper. I never participated in any organized religion.
But I understand the need of people to belong, to share with the others the same believes, to attend the same places of worship. It makes them to feel that they "belong" and helps them to meet the death.
I also learned from the violent history, that people responsible for propagating original principals of any religion, change them to benefit themselves.
There is a similarity between structures of communism, fascism or any other fanatic religions in this world. They all strive on blindness of human race.
9. Can you recall one of your most embarrassing situations at school after which you just wanted to disappear from the earth surface (maybe in shame)?
I can’t remember being embarrassed at school. I never took school seriously. I remember crying the first day of school. I felt trapped and wanted to go home.
I lived through several different institutions in my life and always found myself trapped. Looking back it’s clear to me that I never “belonged” to environment surrounding me.
I hope my attitude made me strong and independent. I value my independence. The individual who can live alone and share with all must be a strong one.
10. When still at school age, where did you feel yourself most safely?
When I was about 11 years old my friends and I where picking up the wild mushrooms in a forest nearby. Somehow one kid found an unexploded bomb from WW2 peacefully waiting on a forest floor.
Four of us picked up the bomb and walked for several miles toward resort town my family vacationed over the summer. Safety was not a question for me.
11. When living in Latvia, what kind (maybe, social class) of Soviet people were you attracted to and what kind provoked in you deepest disgust?
All my life I was surrounded by strangers. In Latvia I went through a few different periods. As a kid I played with the other kids from my neighborhood.
They where mostly from the working class families. Football and war games preoccupied me at this stage of my life.
Our family lived in a big four bedroom flat, the largest in the building located in a central part of Riga. We always had plenty of food and I gladly shared it with the other kids.
As a teenager I dropped from the last grade of high school and got under influence of some shady characters.
Under regulations of communist authorities I was not allowed to live in a city without attending school or work. So my father arranged through his endless connections
a work for me in a big factory as apprentice to a fitter repairing the heavy machinery. Noise and grease everywhere. The workers were a heavy drinking man. I learned about a real cruelty from this surrounding.
Than I meet Rosa and instantly fell in love. She was a straight A student and under her influence I enrolled into the evening school.
After graduation my father made arrangements for me to be accepted to Aviation College. Aviation - because it would protect me from being drafted to the Soviet army.
This was another part of my life where I was surrounded by people with no common interests. While in collage I started to photograph and this changed my life.
I realized that lot’s of time was wasted and instantly jumped into my new life. I went to a few meetings of local photo club and was very disappointed. As usual I realized I didn’t belong.
After collage graduation I managed to stay in Riga and find a job in a movie studio. The atmosphere in this institution was tense. Most of creative personal where Latvians and supporting personal where Russians.
With my Russian mentality I did not communicate with the “creative” part and as usual I did not belong.
Left alone, I stayed busy developing my personal stile of photography and the people around me just did not matter.
12. When you were a kid what were your favorite occupation during off-school hours?
Playing football. I was a goalie. The lonely position I still play today.
13. What do you think was the best thing about your Soviet childhood?
Childhood itself. It’s nice to be a kid and live with expectations.
14. Did you love to sit in the kitchen in the evenings while the meal was being cooked and you parents were at home?
I was raised by endless secession of maids. My parents worked hard and showed up home late.
15. Is there something you’re still angry over when you think about the Soviet system?
No anger. The “adjusted” Soviet system worked well for me. As I mentioned I feel lucky to be raised under the Surrealistic Soviet System.
16. Don’t you find that Soviet society was kind in many ways?
Yes I do. They where smart enough to spread the necessities among people so basics where affordable. With the all its problems the system was more humane to the less fortunate.
And also for a few true believers it was like "living inside the church".
17. Back then you had a relatively secure life because of your parents; still you must have been allowed what others of lower social position could only dream about. Do you think if you were born to other parents you wouldn’t have the luxury to be a “rebel”?
I don’t know and I will never have an answer. I feel that I was a loyal rebel all my life. I know that age didn’t change the rebel in me.
He is still strong as ever. And this rebel is imbedded in a spirit of every piece of work I create.
18. Isn’t it less interesting to be not like others in a country where these “otherness” is even praised as a gift than in a country (society) where you have to fight for every inch of your otherness?
Nowadays I am an observer of the world from the comfort of my place. Everything happens somewhere else, in a distance from my personal life.
I can live this way because I have work to do. You asked me if it was easy to be a rebel from luxury. I did not have an answer.
But it's easy to be alone when your life revolves around creating a new image.
19. What kind of a meaning does your physical body have for you (if there’s any special meaning)?
My physical body is as important as my spiritual body. They can’t exist without each other for now. I try to be good to my body, sometimes.
Now I started to use myself as a model. Another reason to maintain my body it in a good shape.
20. Don’t you find that nourishing on the woes of the past is a sign of weakness?
Yes. It might be true. But if it is used for inspiration – who knows..
This questions where asked on January of 2007 by Dmitro Voscolov who was working at the time on a forward for a monograph "HIDDEN. The Conceptual Photography of Misha Gordin"
The book was scheduled to be printed in Hong Kong in summer of 2007 but was ban from publishing by communist authorities of China
Interview with Shawn.O.Sullivan from B&W Magazine /december 2000/
1.Would you say the figures in your pictures are more personal or archetypal?
From the very beginning of my involvement with conceptual photography all my visions where focused around presence of human figure.
Every image I created since then has a distinctive human presence.
This images are reflections of my personal life with all it's continuity of changes.
This figures are personal. This images are personal. They represent my life and my views.
2. Do you have a background in theater? (your images remind me of Beckett)
No, I don't. I graduated from technical college as an aviation engineer back in the Soviet Union, but never worked as such.
I was in my early twenties and pretty ignorant about the art. About this time I made my first photograph.
After a short and not satisfying involvement with documentary and portrait photography I put my camera aside.
I concentrated on studies of the world cultures. Also, I was constantly searching for a personal way to express myself. One day It came to me simple and clear..
Instead of photographing existent realities I decided to photograph my own imaginary realities. I began to photograph concepts.
Yes, the process is similar to staging a play in the theater. It starts from the idea (script) and then finding the location (set), models (actors), making decisions
on lighting and costumes, working with model and shooting tests (rehearsals) and the day of real shooting (opening night). Lots of similarities not only with the
theater but cinematography, poetry, painting, sculpture and music. They all begin with the concept, script, idea, sketch, tune...
3. What makes you use photography rather than paint?
You might say that I do paint, but with my camera.
Most of my photographs begin on paper as a sketches.
Than after days of tests and studies I am ready to work on "canvas".
In my opinion photography has one undeniable advantage to painting - it's truthfulness.
We subconsciously believe in what is photographed have to exist.
Very important tool when viewer believes in what he sees.
4. If these are not digital, then how? (if it is a trade secret, then just generalize)
The trade secret is how to get ideas. Everything else is a logical technical process.
Ears ago, when I was working on my first body of work "Shadows of Dream" clouds were essential part of the image.
I would spend hours on location waiting for the right clouds to come, very often with no luck.. It's when I realized that I can't just depend on pure luck. There
should be way to superimpose desirable clouds above staged and photographed foreground. I just improvised. Using one enlarger, pin registered easel and
regular construction board as a masking material attached to the blades of an easel. It was simple and it worked. It opened the new horizons for my ideas.
Nowadays, I am assembling as many of different images as I need on single piece of photographic paper using the same technique.
Polished and quite improved it still has it's limitations and can't compete with easiness of digital manipulations.
But I prefer glowing quality of original print and the laborious process to achieve it. I also start to think, that introduction
of digital photography erasing the "aspect of truth" from a straight photographic image. The same aspect which made me
choose photography as my tool. But I am still trying to make my images as real as possible. Just in case...
5. Are the crowd pictures leading somewhere?
Are you asking me to interpret my images?
I don't interpret my images. My goal is to reveal feelings and thoughts in my viewers.
I want them to have there own interpretations. I am always interested to hear how different people interpret my images. Sometimes they reveal the hidden
aspects unknown to me. And all there interpretations are valid.
Is there a way out of here?
Sure. One way.
6. If you indeed find solace in nature, do you not wish to photograph it?
I believe I have photographed it already.
I constantly learn from uncorrupted simplicity of nature and I hope this simplicity has it's presents in my images.
7. There is some whimsy and lighheartedness in your commercial work, yet not in your personal. Why is this?
I take may commercial commitments very seriously. My commercial work reflects a stile of my artwork of this particular time. But there the similarity ends. I don't mix commercial ideas with art ideas. They have completely different purposes.
Commercial ideas are light and are to sell the product. I try to make them classy, mysterious and most of all eye-catching.
There is nothing light about my art images. I dive deep for inspiration.
8. Who are your influences, if any, in photography? painting? music?
The biggest influence on my work is my work. I learn from the every image I made.
Do I love the other artist art. Not really. Do I like the other artists art. Of coarse.
I spend lots of time in movie theaters, often driving 150 miles to see a particular movie or performance.
My favorite directors are Andrey Tarkovsky and Lars von Trier.
I like performance art, especially Butoh.
And music. play it thought the day.
I used to listen to classical music for years. Not so much anymore.
When I print my work, I stay in my darkroom for a weeks.
Music becomes essential to keep sanity and maintain concentration in darkness day after day.
Then, it is another kind of music when I work on my ideas.
But it's always a background. I rarely listen to music anymore.
And talking about influences. I converse via email with hundreds of viewers from my website at bsimple.com
I hear from lot's of young people influenced by my approach. It makes me feel good.
9. if you are indeed learning from these "dreams" what are you learning?
I don't learn from "dreams". I learn from reality.
What I learn from it is to trust my intuition.
10. is there any love in your dreams, or hope?
I am an optimist and I have a hope for human kind in my hard. I see this hope in my images.
Love is always there together with hate, grief and happiness.
Interview with Guy Gross for THE magazine of the Arts Santa Fe /november 2000/
THE magazine: You've said that the initial process in your photography is
"similar to writing poetry." Explain what you mean by that statement.
Misha Gordin: Well, I find them to be very similar. It's all about talent,
inspiration, and feelings... I would rather skip the details. You should
trust me on this one...
TM: When you first began making photographs you were doing documentary and
portraiture work, which you have said was not satisfying. Why was making
documentary and portraiture photographs not satisfying?
MG: I began to photograph in my late teens. My first and only teacher was
well-known portrait and documentary photographer. Obviously, my first steps
where influenced by him. I did not know any better. My approach was similar
to his, but soon I realized how limited it was. The most important talent to
shoot documentary photographs is to be in the right place at the right time
and not to miss an opportunity when it occurs. I did not find it very
artistic and there was little room to use my imagination. It was all about catching the reality.
It was more sport for me then art. Very soon I realized
that I would rather document my own fantasy world. Throughout my long
involvement in photography there is a human presence in every image I have
made. I returned back to making portraits later in my life to create "Shout"
series. Also, my recent work "The New Crowd" consists from many portraits
shot from the back. I found the back of the head can be as emotional as the
face and even more mysterious...
TM: Please talk about the influences of Dostoevsky, Bulgakov, Tarkovsky, and
Parajanov on your work.
MG: At school I was a lost soul. I managed to avoid reading any communist
accepted literature and my art teacher found me lacking any artistic talent.
I remember walking alone from school constantly imagining unreal and funny
situations. Only after graduating from high school did I realize how little I
knew about great spiritual knowledge accumulated throughout human history. I
was like a sponge trying to get as much information that I could in a country
with a prison-like mentality and censorship. I started to read Dostoevsky and
his philosophy of life triggered many thoughts in me. I was constantly
looking for more material. Staged visions in movies of Andrey Tarkovsky and
Parajanov confirmed that I was on the right path. I always felt alone
creating my images. People surrounding me looked at my attempts as a
rebellion against establishment. In my first year in the United States I saw
a monograph of Rene Magritte's work in a local bookstore. I was ecstatic to
find an artist painting ideas so close to my own. I just saw a show of
Magritte paintings in SFMOMA and realized I am almost indifferent to his work.
TM: Why do you think that Magritte's work does not move you anymore?
MG: Things change...
TM: How did the notion of "conceptual photography" come to you?
MG: In 1972, I had a dream... The
moonlight reflects off the cobblestone street. The lonely steps echo in a
narrow path. I hear the sound of a cracking shell. I look up. The giant egg
above breaks, squeezed between the old walls. The warm liquid spills on my
face. I wake up. I knew then what to do. I will photograph Dreams.
TM: How does conceptual photography differ from straight photography?
MG: I think the difference is in limitations. Straight is limited by reality.
Conceptual by imagination. And both by the artist's talent...
TM: What is it about your work that puts it on the same level as paintings,
sculpture and music?
MG: I think it is a similar approach that brings these different art forms
together. They all start from a concept, idea, sketch, or tune that begins in
the artist's mind or soul and very often is completed without any tools of
trade. My approach to photography is very similar. It always starts from an
idea. Then a sketch and adjustment to reality of technical limitations. Then
props, location, and models. The process reminds me of making a movie-a
one-frame movie with a finished script.
TM: We all know about Ansel Adams' full ranges of grays in photographs. In
your photographs, the predominant color is an overall gray, with some black,
and a bit of white. What is the reason for pushing the gray? Is it to give
the photographs a heavy presence?
MG: I hardly think about these aspects. A heavy presence is there because of
how I translate my thoughts-I envision them in a certain light. I should
mention that all my images are done outdoors under natural light. It's when I
print my work that I become a darkroom technician and all "craft" questions
of "grays" are solved, among many others.
TM: You were brought up in Eastern Europe under a totalitarian regime. How
has this influenced your work?
MG: The biggest influence on my work is my work. I learn from every new image
I create. I started under totalitarian regime and the seed of it is present...
TM: The movie 1984 with John Hurt-have you seen it and what was your feeling
MG: Big brothers had names-Hitler, Stalin, and Mao. 1984 is an okay movie,
but I like Andrey Tarkovsky's Stalker much better. But all artistic attempts
fade against horrors of reality.
TM: There is a sense of claustrophobia in your work-the people in your images
seem to be not really human. They seem to be cypress-almost frozen in time.
Is this deliberate?
MG: This is how you see my "imaginary world". Nothing is deliberate-it's what
it is. My goal is to trigger thoughts and feelings and any interpretation of
my work is valid. Sometimes "interpreters" of my work see things that are
unseen to me. Sometimes I like and remember their interpretations...
TM: Do you enjoy performance art and have you ever seen Butoh dance-also
called the dance of darkness. If yes, what is your reaction to Butoh, and do
you see any similarities between Butoh and your work?
MG: The front page of my Website "bsimple.com" is an image composed from the
heads of "Sankai Juku" dancers-the Butoh dance company. My first introduction
to "Sankai Juku" probably is one of the most memorable highs of my life.
Music, performance art, and serious cinematography are my favorite art forms.
Similarities between Butoh and my work-there should be some. It's why I
relate to it so closely
TM: What sort of feeling or response do you want your images to invoke in the
MG: Deep, I guess...
TM: Do the people in your images have a future or are they locked in the
MG: As many serious artists, I hope my images will have a future and live a
"longtime to come". And I know that your question was about something else...
TM: Do you believe, as the Buddhists do, that life is a state of suffering?
MG: If Buddhists believe it is so, they have a point. Suffering is one of the
major states of emotion. So is enjoyment. Both of these emotions are familiar
to me and crucial in "diving deep" for inspiration.
TM: Any regrets?
MG: Some, but not too many...
TM: Like your thoughts on several artists. Jerry Ullsmann?
MG: Jerry Ullsmann. polished darkroom technique, but the work is too light for
TM: Joel Peter Witkin?
MG: Undeniable style. But his concepts are foreign to me.
TM: Adam Fuss?
MG: I haven't seen enough images of his to form an opinion.
TM: The music of Phillip Glass?
MG: I like his early stuff. Especially "Islands".
TM: Do you look at fashion photography at all?
MG: My wife designs clothes professionally, so fashion magazines are
scattered around the house. Occasionally I open them to realize that I need
my reading glasses. But finding them is too much of an effort.
TM: Are you at all influenced by fashion photography from the '60s to present?
TM: Do you do other work than fine art photography?
MG: I used to do commercial work: fashion, shoes, jewelry etc., but I did it
under one condition-that the idea was mine. My commercial work reflected a
style of my artwork at the particular period of time. All this changed after
I moved to my secluded place in Minnesota. Rolling hills. Reflections on the
water. Bon-fire in deep snow. All business contacts lost, with no regrets...
TM: Have you made films?
MG: Yes I did. The problem is that I am "a one man show" and cinematography
is not. So I stopped after few attempts. I have a feeling that this might
change because of new technology. It would not surprise me to show "homemade"
movies from my Website in the future.
TM: Whose art or photography, other then yours do you have in your home or
MG: I am surrounded by artwork of my friends and it means a lot to me. I also
build some "forest sculptures" around my place.
TM: Do you teach?
MG: I don't teach and never did. I am very skeptical about teaching art. It's
all about the "gift"-you have it, or you don't. And if you do-you will
develop your own unique path. And if you don't-you will copy somebody, most
often your teacher. And what if he doesn't have it?
TM: Is material success important to you?
MG: What is material success? It's a notion that is so illusive. How many
"zeroes" do you need to be "somebody" or feel "important"? Material success
is not my goal in life. My art is. But it is important for me to maintain the
level of my life style. I need to have a peace of mind and free time to do my
art. I believe that complete freedom is combination of both - spiritual and
material. It's something we all strive for...
TM: The name of your Website is bsimple.com. Please talk
about the name, how it came to be, and how the notion of simplicity fits into
MG: I am glad it was available at the time. It reflects my goals. In my veiw simplicity is sophistication.
To be simple is to have a purpose. To be simple is to be wise.
To be simple is to see the essence of things. To be simple is to express yourself with the minimum source.
To be simple is to live in peace with nature. To be simple is to know how to make good food without a book.
To be simple is a gift. To be simple means to be complex.
TM: What one person in the world would want to be impressed by your work?
MG: My father, if still alive.
Essay by Paul LaRosa. /September
In the stillest hours, the most private glances inward, or in
the midst of submerging dreams, we catch a glimpse of the
world reduced to essential forms and symbols. Through them
we think of what it means to be alive; we question and intuit
answers; we burrow within and reveal hidden depths. We may bring into
focus the trajectory of our lives, and see a clearer path through the
wandering. Dreaming, we conjure scenes of both peace and chaos,
reuniting with loves and confronting demons; sometimes we soar over
landscapes and masses below
with the most uplifting freedom, and other times we fly to escape
what we cannot consciously face. Ensconced in such private visions, we
in a sense are all photographers, artists-as-witnesses, distilling in
powerful and concrete images the elemental mysteries of life.
From these authentic moments Misha Gordin wrests and
forges his provocative photography, an intuitive and visionary body of
work that remains gathered and focused on the image of the human
figure. His images originate from a "turning inward toward his soul,"
as he states, toward a plane of reflection where personal experience
intersects with universal themes of life and death. Garbed in the
raiment of symbolism, his work distills basic, epochal impulses --
hope, doubt, fear, communion of man and the struggle for individuality
and freedom -- and casts the personal into something uniform and
archetypal, transmuting the flux of interior life into richly detailed
images that penetrate to our own inner sanctums.
For Gordin the human figure, alone or multiplied, and
magnified as a vital force of nature, is at the center of the image
-- and even the entire image -- and remains the primary conduit of
expression. The faces of his figures rarely show, and yet we approach
his work as a kind of portraiture, compelled to look and to recognize
ourselves, to interpret the syntax and rhythms of the body. We
recognize in it the perennial theme of the individual in search of
homeland and of self-definition, and interpret his figures as icons,
fallen angels, mythic protagonists. But first and foremost, they stand
as mortal beings, and the spiritual dimension
of the work is matched, even heightened, by an intensely physical
Gordin's photography is largely conceptual, but also
sensual and gestural. It strikes us as formalized and rigorously
orchestrated while also retaining nuance and immediacy. His prints are
monumental in scope, and reminiscent of altarpieces in both size and
substance. There is an element of the proverbial in his work, a
texture of metaphor and fable, but the luminous spaces and supple
patterning and choreography he employs undercut any sense of austerity
or heavy-handed moralizing. His photography remains primarily
suggestive, devoid of ruse and pronouncement, preferring instead to
coax us toward thought through resonant symbols and a symphonic tone.
By concentrating on core motifs -- nocturnal sky and
recesses of darkness, heads lowered in contemplation, the body in
constriction -- Gordin lends his work a uniformity and a simplicity,
while at the same time achieving a versatility and range of
expression. This palette is developed through a sequence of thematic
series entitled "Doubt" and "Crowd," from which he yokes a kind of
narrative of mankind, a layered allegory of our proximate hopes and fears and anxieties.
The work carries a quality of storytelling, but it also draws
upon a host of other disciplines,
from film to dance and sculpture. Images from the "Doubt" series
remind me of Dore's engravings for Dante, as
well as the spellbound poses of Butoh dancers; those from "Crowd"
evoke dramatic mise-en-scenes from Bergman or Dreyer, while also
recalling the monumental sculpture of Rodin. This is photography that
shuns the banal and straightforward, synthesizing influences and
impressions into a seamless anduniquely personalized idiom, a taut balancing of dreamworld and
The "Doubt" series is a ritualized evocation of
Everyman that attains epic proportions. Gordin situates a solitary man
in a stark and treeless landscape, a cold desert framed by recumbent
mountains. A bright orb of moon hangs in the distance, like a point of
clarity on the far horizon of the mind's eye. The setting is more
ancient than apocalyptic, evoking an age-old tale of a lone man lost
in the wilderness and exposed to the elements, a refugee in exile, a
sojourner stranded on a path toward
enlightenment. By foregrounding the figure and directing our view
upward, Gordin amplifies his presence and imbues him with mythic
proportions. Naked and bound by ropes and chains, head bent toward
cracked earth, he stands as an isolate, more nomad in a no-man's-land
than self-abased martyr, encumbered and impeded in his journey by a
weight of mortal burdens and tenebrous thought. Gordin forges a
powerful symbol of human conflict in this series, but it is not a
surrendering he translates. In spite of his predicament and his
debility, his Everyman retains a noble stature and muscularity. As
sine wed and towering as an ancient redwood, he projects a sense of
survival. And while the bleak landscape reflects his existential
condition, the tranquil dome of sky above also cocoons him, and the
horizon glows with the promise of dawn. Gordin is a master in
capturing dichotomies, both formally and intrinsically in the image --
light and dark, tension and release, spareness and density -- and so
his work unfolds in layers of meaning summoned forth by a harmonic
play of opposites.
The deep space and distance of "Doubt" is condensed
in the "Crowd" series, but a sense of inwardness and struggle
prevails. Here we find the human figure grouped and replicated,
assembled as a chorus of communicants or a swimming swarm of heads.
The images in this series function as both virtuosic studies of form
and rhythm as well as dramatic tableaus that reflect on notions of
faith, oppression, and individuality. Gordin navigates similar themes
-- mortal burdens, longing and
struggle -- but here they become magnified through repetition and a
more dynamic and increasingly dense and tactile visual language. The
horizon apparent throughout "Doubt" vanishes, swallowed up by shifting
masses of bodies, blocked by stolid towers of robed men. Braced and
cloaked, and with imprinted flesh and shaven heads, these figures
project a sense of imprisonment and sacrifice. In "Crowd 59," an
assembly of congregants kneels on the steps of an ancient amphitheater;
in a companion image, "Crowd 61,"
they stand erect, but with arms pinioned. They connote a focused
inwardness, a muteness and a confinement of thought, and yet
paradoxically they remain oddly expressive, their repeated gestures
fluid and expansive. The images at first seem strangely hallowed and
quiet, almost hymn like, but their epic scale seems to evoke a
volubility, a lingering echo of sound -- choirs of voices in
lamentation, the rumble of thunder, the boom of God's voice descending
from the heavens on Judgment Day. These frieze-like images are draped
in a deeply solemn mood of stoicism and human endurance. Gordin's
minions may bear the wages of woe, but they remain undefeated, and
drawn inward toward faith.
In "Crowd 51," amid a phalanx of dusty and undefined
heads, a face emerges, a lone man uttering an anguished cry. Whether
in pain or in revolt, he expresses a yearning toward freedom and
self-affirmation. Gordin captures the tumult and paralysis of the
modern world, the regimentation, but in the end he asserts and
identifies with the primacy of the individual and marks the nobility
of human efforts to overcome our trials. As he states, he aims for
hope and simplicity in his photography, and the beauty of his work --
the depth and richness of tone, the symmetry, the alternating silence
and musicality -- does the defending. Gordin's "Doubts" and "Crowds"
form an intuitive focusing of the imagination and a channeling of
experience through motifs that gain their impact by their timelessness
and universality: the expressive gestures of the human
body, solitude and community, the cycles of the moon and the patterns
of the natural world. In the end he forges a deeply felt photography
that seeks both to reflect and to transcend a fragmented world, to
assuage the chafings of the soul and provoke a fruitful contemplation.
The world may be fraught with fears and doubts, but for Gordin it is
not a lost paradise. What emerges in his work is a simple and plaintive longing for home.
Photography today has been subsumed by the mass media. In fact, our ability to appreciate any great photograph has been irrevocably altered by the relentless and redundant images with which the mass media bombards us daily through billboards, newspapers, magazines, television and movies. Most contemporary photography seems simple and trustworthy, especially to a culture so desensitized by this chaos of visual stimuli. Nonetheless, we must remember that our "new reality" is actually conjured, manipulated and dumbed-down by computer wizards, at once alienating us from authentic reality and eroding our trust in any images of it.
Of all the arts, the mass media and new technology have cheapened the photographic print the most. Digital cameras, larger memory chips, faster computers, extravagant software and cheaper printers allow almost anyone to call themselves a "serious photographer," when, in fact, most of them are just "serious picture-makers." Only when we realize the difference between a picture and a photograph can we begin to appreciate the latter. Real photography is not merely image manipulation, whether on a home computer or in a corporate office. Real photography is still an art, requiring intuition, skill, and the ability to conceptualize.
Misha Gordin is a real photographer. Misha Gordin is an artist. He began as a documentary photographer, but quickly grew tired of waiting for the “perfect moment for the perfect photograph.” He also grew tired of shooting images over which he had no control. He wanted to tell the entire story, to capture its essence, to distill its complexity in a single and unique image. He is a self-determined individual whose work reflects his personality: It leaves little room for chance or accident but a great deal of room for contemplation and provocation.
A photograph for Misha begins with a concept, the most important ingredient of a powerful image, which usually derives from his imagination or from dreams. He writes, "In 1972, I had a dream . . . . The moonlight reflects off the cobblestone street. The lonely steps echo in a narrow path. I hear the sound of a cracking shell. I look up. The giant egg above breaks, squeezed between the old walls. The warm liquid spills on my face. I wake up. I knew then what to do. I will photograph Dreams." If dreams are an illusion of reality, then photographs are their perfect illusory expression.
Once Misha determines his concept, he develops it as a painter or writer would, transforming his idea to an image by means of photography. Far from a traditional photographer, he considers "the camera and film just a brush on canvas or pencil on paper." Like a painter, he works out compositions in advance, drawing and erasing and redrawing cartoons or blueprints before he ever takes a picture. Then he uses the camera as a tool to collect bits of information to use in the construction of the final assembled photographic image.
Although he is ultimately photographing imaginary reality, he tries to make his conceptual images as realistic as possible. Once he has determined the technical limitations for his concept, he chooses props, a location and models, a process which reminds him of making a single-frame movie with a predetermined script. Somewhat like Magritte, he builds scenes and characters which look like external reality but suggest more internal states of mind–scenes which are at once comprehensible and inscrutable, intellectual and visceral.
At this point, Misha's artistic process reflects his training as an aviation engineer; it is meticulous, precise, repetitive and calculated. After he composes the scene, he takes photographs one at a time, then by techniques such as cutting, blocking, and dodging, lays the figures into a new composition.
Many contemporary photographers would duplicate images digitally through computer manipulation, which would result in precisely the same image repeated over and over. Instead, each of Misha's photographs is unique, exactly like a drawing or painting. What at first looks like merely repetitious imagery actually contains minuscule variations among similar images which Misha has repositioned. His work is aesthetically challenging because of this extraordinary subtlety and the time and attention required to appreciate it fully. In this sense, Misha's photographs are much like classical music, formally predicated on statement, variation, and repetition.
Misha's repetitive images construct a world of conscription, confinement, imprisonment. The sameness he creates at first looks innocent, like the homogenization which our culture values, encouraged by corporations like Gap and Old Navy. They might be class pictures in which each youngster has a slightly different expression. Or are they draftees of a secret society or government? Who wants these people in step and in control? The tiny mutations and subtle glitches belie their regimentation and even suggest they are chafing against their external confinement. Misha's extreme structuring of experience controls chaos, but so does fascism.
Physical confinement can free the imagination, perhaps the only way to maintain sanity. The Russian novelist Dostoevsky, whom Misha acknowledges as influential, explored this relationship between confinement and imagination, as did Alexander Solzhenitsyn and Victor Frankl, all imprisoned in labor or concentration camps. In different ways, these three writers argued that people may not be able to control what happens to them, but they can control their reaction to circumstances. In other words, like Misha’s characters, they used their imaginations to achieve existential freedom.
In a world where photography as an art has been co-opted by commerce and propaganda --people wanting to sell us their version of ourselves or the "truth"--the art of Misha Gordin has few peers. His photographs of photographs which he has first sketched reveal him at once as a master draftsman and a master illusionist, a man of tremendous imagination and skill. To appreciate this exhibit, viewers must overcome their cultural conditioning in superficiality and their assumptions about repetition. If they look long and carefully, they will see themselves in these crowds of sameness. Misha Gordin's photography requires discipline and endurance, the dedication to perform an artistic task to perfection, and the intuition to create, under the shifting appearances of similarity, the immovable reality of the profoundly unique.
Ric Collier, Director