Artist Spotlight - Nadav Kander

Nadav Kander is best known for Yangtze - The Long River, for which he earned the prestigious Prix Pictet award in 2009. Other series include Obama’s People, an acclaimed 52 portrait series commissioned by New York Times Magazine, and his recent portraits for the National Portrait Gallery exhibitionRoad to 2012. Kander’s work is included in several public collections including National Portrait Gallery, Victoria and Albert Museum and the Frank Suss Collection, and he has exhibited worldwide at venues such as the Palais de Tokyo, the Herzilya Museum of Contemporary Art, Israel and the Mus̩e De L'Elysee, Lausanne. He was named International Photographer of the Year at the 7th Annual Lucie Awards in 2009 and has received awards from the Art Director’s Club and IPA in the USA, the D&AD and the John Kobal Foundation in the UK and Epica in Europe. Dust was exhibited at Les Rencontres d'Arles 2014 as part of an exhibition of new work by Prix Pictet laureates.

Eve Salvail (1997)

Eve Salvail (1997)

This is the earliest portrait which is not archived within Kanders portfolio, as it is the beginning of his now recognisable and infamous photographic portrait style. At this time in his career he had become a portrait photographer, as it was the main consideration for his work. Commercially, this is what he was being hired to achieve, rather than product photography etc… 

His reasoning for this style, whilst it does give a sense of independence and difference, it juxtaposes man-altered landscapes with the physiology of people, both of which are areas of interest for Kander. He sees peoples faces, and studies them, much like a painter would, or a landscape photographer. Each face is different, much alike each atmospheric condition is different every day for every different landscape. Alike this, he wants to create a feeling within the viewer of his work; “there is more interest in the distortion of a head than a real head. It gets the viewer to ask questions.” - Francis Bacon-Sylvester. 

Lily Allen (2011)

Lily Allen (2011)

He has decided that “you cannot see atmosphere”, it is only a feeling you get from an image based upon colour, lighting and expression. To create this ‘atmosphere’ he uses artificial lighting resulting in having complete control of what his image will convey. By practicing lighting techniques it becomes intuitive, and through this he can create something unique for each person and he knows that it will work eventually. This allows him to see his final images as a ‘reaction’ to his initial lighting ideas. Through this reactive portrait process, he finds it interesting to see people in different ‘conditions’ - then this is exacerbated by the use of photoshop in post production. He uses photoshop as an extension of his photograph’s journey which is a ‘hand-made process’.


By talking to the sitter he encourages them to naturally achieve the expression or pose which complements the lighting being used. Although perhaps they do not know this is the case, as he aims to make all his sitters feel “mildly uncomfortable”. This he discerns is the reason for the consistency and style of his work despite the changes in technology and practice over the last 20 years. Within 40-60 minutes he will get the images he wants, due to the hours of practice he put in at an early stage of development, and the guidance he recieved from people with more experience than him - this is what I most take away from his talk, that it is true that practice is the only way to improve.


Yangze - The Long River

Kander is best known for his Yangtze - The Long River series, for which he earned the Prix Pictet Prize. Kander made several voyages along the course of China’s Yangtze River, travelling upstream from mouth to source over a period of three years. Using the river as a metaphor the journey begins at the coastal estuary, where thousands of ships leave and enter each day, and moves past renowned suicide bridges, coal mines and the largest dam in the world - the Three Gorges Dam. Further inland we encounter Chongqing - the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet. Kander never photographed further than twenty miles from the river itself. 

In the shadow of epic construction projects we see workers, fishermen, swimmers and a man washing his motorbike in the river. Dense architecture gives way to mountains in the upper reaches towards the river’s Tibetan source - a sparsely populated area where the stream is mostly broken ice and just ankle deep. The photographs are dominated by immense architectural structures where humans are shown as small in their environment. Figures are dwarfed by landscapes of half completed bridges and colossal Western-style apartment blocks that are rapidly replacing traditional Chinese low-rise buildings and houseboats.

This series on the Yangtze river is visually stunning, I could get lost in his depiction of this area of the world, which is alien to me, for hours on end. When he spoke about it, it added an extra edge to a series of work which without knowing much about, inspires me no end. Each image is wonderfully compositionally constructed, with lines and form of natural and artificial structures being used to tie the focus of each image together. It also manages to be diverse in terms of image content, but is coherent due to the colour, format and theme of each image in the series. This combination of landscape, architecture and portraiture is beautifully considered and sensitive to its context which has successfully created a photo-narrative which can convey its message to the western masses who have not or will not experience anything like this in person. 

My Favourite quote from his talk: “Persistence is the most important to achieve future success”