Art on Paper

photo book beat / pg. 110
September, 2002
On perseverance and personal visions


By Jean Dykstra

The coexistence of tragedy and hope runs through many of the images in Ori Gersht’s book Afterglow, which coincided with exhibitions at Tate Britain, the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, London’s Andrew Mummery Gallery; and the Angles Gallery in Santa Monica this past summer. The series “Afterwars, which Gersht shot in war-torn Sarajevo in 1988, for instance, shows several tall buildings in that city at night; windows are lit up, but sporadically, since parts of the buildings seem to be abandoned or unusable. Untitled, from the same series, is a simple image of a spiral staircase twisting up the side of a rich yellow wall, but the wall itself is pocked from the fighting and bombing. An Israeli-born photographer living in London, Gersht has an eye for what seem to be straight-on architectural images or minimalist compositions (the spare Wish You Were Here; Wailing Wall, Jerusalem, Israel, 2000, from the series “Wanderlane,” for instance) that are in fact quite emotionally laden. The pictures in the series “White Noise” were taken from the train between Krakow, where Gersht’s family is originally from, and Auschwitz. They are beautiful images, nearly abstract, until you learn, for example, that Pond, Birkenau, a flat expanse of icy gray water topped by a delicate line of snowy trees, is where ashes of the victims of the Birkenau concentration camp were put. Such information is provided only in the accompanying essays (by Mordechai Omer, Joanna Lowry, and Nili Goren, as well as an interview conducted by Katharine Stout), which raises the question of photography’s capacity for dealing with memory and history. Still, while the historical context is enriching, Gersht’s photographs stand beautifully on their own.