THE PHOTOGRAPHERS’ GALLERY
by ROY EXLEY
For his latest photographic project, “The Clearing,” the London-based Israeli artist Ori Gersht traveled to the forests of the Ukraine around Kolomyia where, during World War II, his relatives led a marginal existence suffering severe deprivation and physical discomfort, fugitives from the occupying Nazi forces. Gersht’s pale and ghostly images of the snow-bound primeval forests are powerfully symbolic of loss, of receding memories, but most of all, of transience. Memories have a habit of metamorphosing, of shifting their focus through the passage of time, and these poignant images, some taken from the windows of a moving car, or panned by hand, convey a blur of extended moments as they smudge the imprint of time. These tentative landscape photographs chart that slippage of time, which confounds the permanence of identity. Entropy and its implication in the erasure of memories features large here.
Reminiscent of the work of others who have, in different ways, engaged with the phenomenon of the entropy of memory -Bill Jacobson with his AIDS victims, Uta Barth with her dissolution of the urban fabric, or Michal Rovner with the disputed borders in the deserts of the Middle East -Gersht’s long- exposure photographs, whose pallor suggests the bleaching-out of memories, exude a powerfully sublime aura, as they project us into the realm of those misty, timeless landscapes of Caspar David Friedrich (Gersht has mixed feelings about Friedrich’s work due to its nationalistic implications). This work is in no way retrospective but is part of the subtle infiltration of a neo-Romantic sensibility into that vacuum left by the disappearance of irony and abjection as the ‘90s become part of history. Many young artists are engaging with ideas and concems that might loosely be termed Romantic, and the contemporary sublime is a thriving and well-represented genre.