The Photographer’s Gallery
By LUCY STEEDS
Ori Gersht has followed his wife’s family history -and Caspar David Friedrich -to the prehistoric forest of the Carpathian Mountains. The resulting photographs and film share scenery that resonates with myths and secrets. sometimes dramatically and sometimes in silence.
Gersht finds in landscape not only a backdrop but a player: a participant in personal, national and geological history. There is epic, sublime and mundane tragedy to be found in these trees, these hills.
The photographs are grouped under the title ‘Liquidation’ and are split between the two host venues. One series is overexposed and thewhiteout spells. flashback: the bliss or gash of sudden recollection.
Gradually, however, the bleaching suggests ageing, a loss of vitality. Snow thickens the outlines of the trees and houses, muffling the customary precision of photography and lending the tactility of paint.
The misty palpability is heightened by the blanched lack of contrast. Another series of photographs, shot facing the sun, threatens us with blackout.
Taken from the window of a moving train, Gersht’s still images have caught its dynamism: dark branches are animated, thrashing against blackened skies; each village snowscape is whipped into a transitory flurry.
The Forest, a 13-minute film at The Photographers’ Gallery, brings clear definition and 1he green of nature back into the picture. There is still a dreamy quality, however, and the threat of nightmare continues to erupt and subside within the idyll presented.
In a sequence of shots, Gersht’s camera pans through the Galicia forest. There Is no sign of the forest’s outer limit, of a clearing or houses. In every shot a tree Is felled: fall after slow fall, some crashing and some silenced; each dizzying and then still.
Among the narratives we find in this landscape is the history of Nazi occupation. Even without the political association, the title of The Photqgraphers’ Gallery show, ‘The Clearing’, brings to mind Martin Heidegger, who elaborated this term in his philosophy from the idea of a forest clearing. In The End of Philosophy and The Task of Thinking (1969), Heidegger describes the clearing as that which is ‘free for brightness and darkness… also for resonance and echo, for sound and the diminishing of sound. The clearing is the open region for everything that becomes present and absent.’
Gersht’s work revisits the fraught terrain of romanticism, exploring its potential to be individual but not egotistical, collective but not nationalistic; profoundly ecological, even cosmological. This is quietly thoughtful, deadly serious and morally vigilant photography.