Nadav Kander's Bodies, 6 Women, 1 man: stunning yet enigmatic marble-white nudes
"Coated in white powder, Nadav Kander's nude figures are posed like marble statues, echoing the nudes of the Renaissance and playing on Elizabethan notions of purity. Kander presents honest images of vulnerable bodies - but are these still provocative in an art world saturated by attempts to question traditional concepts of beauty?
Nadav Kander's new show, titled Bodies, 6 women, 1 man opened yesterday at Flowers Gallery. Visually his photographs were beautiful; technically they were without fault; but what played on my mind throughout the entire 90 minutes I spent looking at these 10 photographs was that this concept was surprisingly difficult to pin down. Kander states in the exhibition description that he is attempting to honestly photograph the human form and show vulnerability and beauty when it is stripped of its defences - an easy enough idea - but I found that there was a glitch in the message which I couldn't quite overcome.
The show consists of ten colour photographs, each depicting a nude figure, in which Kander plays on the Elizabethan notion of purity by white-coating his subjects in marble dust and setting them against a jet black background, exposed and mostly unaware of the camera. The first six images fit well together and into Kander's aims for the exhibition. Particularly powerful in each was the use of chiaroscuro: drawing parallels between them and Renaissance sculpture, these images depict women in a classical, reclusive and voluptuous way. However, what modernises these photographs for me was the Jenny Saville-esque dominance and supremacy they held, evident in their composition. Isley Standing (2010) stood out for me due to this exact reason: although covering her eyes, the subject has an air of remarkable self-assurance and sensuality - mouth visible, lips parted, and auburn hair tumbling. It's a stunning photograph equipped with raw beauty. However, besides this image, the recurring lack of eye contact or even visible faces produced an effect of vulnerability and discomfort in Kander's subjects. Nevertheless, I did wonder if these poses were truly natural responses to the camera, or whether they had been totally hindered by Kander himself; visually puppeteered by what he saw as the makings of a defenceless and beautiful portrait.
"The final two images in the show to me were strangely out of place: they entailed an female Asian nude, and with a dark background much larger than the others. The subject was in complete opposition to the other photographs, as she was looking directly into the camera and in a stamping sort of stance. There was nothing classical about it; she exuded a sense of profound empowerment and owned the space. They reminded me of a Francis Bacon painting, with the vivacious protagonist in the foreground illuminating a scarcely minimal background. Visually, by far, they were my favourites, although I'm not sure how they tied in with the theme of vulnerability and beauty. This lack of continuity heightened my sense that there was something missing in the show, as I felt these two pieces did not fit with the whole notion of nude bodies Kander was trying to portray.
Perhaps I'm passing judgement on these pieces more rigorously than usual, due to the high level Nadav Kander's previous work is set in my mind. When you cross over into fine art photography, this is usually due to an idea - an idea that is new, exciting and that will provoke discussion and realisation. Essentially, in some cases, a photograph is just a concept advertised, lit and composed appealingly to entice the viewer into the artist's thought process. And I feel like in this show there is some plot missing. Kander's 6 women, 1 man does undoubtedly encapsulate the raw beauty of human exterior. Some are briefly initially repellant, yet they force us to continue to look at Kander's naked subjects; questioning our own preconceived judgements and narrow-minded view of beauty. In its essence, this is a good idea, but as a theme I think it's overdone. In the past ten years we have been bombarded with the notion of "questioning beauty", and although these pictures are technically stunning, I found I connected only minimally with this concept and was left struggling to discover meaning and depth in these images all the way home."