In Bodies. 6 Women, 1 Man, Kander delves into a photographic genre which has recently been neglected, the nude. At first glance, this work appears to be radically different from his previous work. When asked about this, Kander explained, "I have noticed, 35 years [after I first started taking photographs], that what I'm most interested in is the human condition, what it means to be human, and showing things in the most bare detail." This nude work "is a real distillation of this." Nadav is perhaps most known for his China work - he was awarded the prestigious Prix Pictet in 2009 for the series Yangtze, The Long River. "It may seem like [the nude work] is so different [than this]. It is pictorially different, yes, but it is similar too. They are both about paradoxes. I have realized I have always photographed nakedness, and China is no different."
Audrey with toes and wrists bent, 2011 © Nadav Kander/Flowers Gallery
Reminiscent of Italian Renaissance nudes - think Titian's Venus of Urbino (1568) - Kander agreed that this period was very much on his mind. "I was referring to the Renaissance period, to values of purity and beauty. Back then, you were seen to be of a higher standing when your skin was pale. Think of Queen Elizabeth, even, with her very bleached skin. That was a starting point." Other references are to effigies and tomb sculpture. "There is a strong feeling I get from these images, a sense of coolness, a reference to the church," says Kander. "I don't mean for them to be depressing, I want them to beautiful."
An uneasiness results from this juxtaposition of beauty and coolness. This is more evident in the stark contrast of the pearl white-painted skin and the black background. The lack of a direct gaze from the subjects ensures that these nudes "are at one time turned away, and at the same time so exposed." And this concept of uneasiness is not new to Kander: "Uneasiness is what I do with whatever I do. That is the thread that goes through all of my work. [The nudes] are just a distilled version of this. There is an uneasiness in the China work as well. That is what I photograph. I photograph things that are difficult to look at in a beautiful way."
Isley standing, 2010 © Nadav Kander/Flowers Gallery
Lastly, Kander shared that he has been wrestling with photographing the nude for a while now. "I've never been happy with the work that I've done with nudes. They have always had a sexual-ness to them, and this has clouded what I'm about. I've always stopped and gone on." According to Kander, "there are only few photographers who have somehow managed to carefully negate that sexual connotation: Lee Friedlander (1934), [Hermann Wilhelm] Brandt (1904-1983) and even Edward Weston (1886-1958)." He concluded, "This is the first time that I have been successful."
We would like to thank Nadav Kander and Charlotte Prebensen of the Flowers Gallery for this interview.