Capturing emotions

Capturing emotions
Photographer Nadav Kander (above) says politicians such as US President Barack Obama (background) are tricky to shoot.

SINGAPORE - From politicians to actors to celebrities, renowned Israel-born London-based photographer Nadav Kander has done unforgettable portraits of famous names.

With over 80 solo and group shows to his name, his work has travelled to many parts of the world, yet this is the first time he is making a solo outing in South-east Asia.

Nadav Kander 49 Works, now on at the Nanyang Academy of Fine Arts, features 49 of his photographs from five series, showing his range as a photographer equally at ease with portraits as well as documenting changing landscapes.

Many of the pictures in his series titled Portraits have made the news. Among them are portraits of American President Barack Obama, award-winning actress Judi Dench and screen siren Sophia Loren.

"Politicians are harder to photograph," the easy-going Kander, 53, tells Life!.

In 2009, he was commissioned by The New York Times Magazine to shoot 52 portraits of members of the Obama administration. This was the largest collection of images by a photographer to be published in The New York Times. The idea, he says, was to get a snapshot of a presidency.

Asked what he seeks in his portraits, he says: "I look not so much for the iconography. I look for the semantics, the signs that make a person who or what they are. When they come together in a potent way, they become universal to human beings. They look like something each of us can recognise because you see something like vulnerability or envy or pride or power. I am going for that emotion." He rubbishes cliches of photography such as "capturing a person's soul", saying it is almost impossible and that he has very little time for such artistic pretension. He adds that some portraits work better than others because of the subject. "Obama is a very good-looking man. That helps."

Politicians generally are trickier to photograph, he says and adds: "Some people understand that there is much more to making a picture than a likeness, there is an atmosphere that needs to be created. Actors and musicians understand that, politicians don't. Politicians live in their heads, they live in their brains, that makes it harder."

Equally at ease with landscape photography, he likes to leave "things unseen", so each viewer can take what they wish to take away from a picture.

That much is apparent in his selection of images shown here. These include photographs from four series - Yangtze, The Long River, on Asia's longest river which flows through China; Chernobyl, on the aftermath of the terrible 1986 nuclear accident; God's Country, documenting his road trips through America; and Dust, featuring towns on the Russia-Kazakhstan border.

Kander did not formally study photography, having got his earliest lessons from his father, a photography buff. He spent time in the dark room printing aerial photographs after being drafted into the Air Force in South Africa, where his family moved to when he was three.

He apprenticed with professional photographers and is big on influences and references. He relies often on historical materials and artists of the past to inspire him, saying that he learns all the time "through references and referencing".

He also likes to travel, often with not too much of a pre-determined plan. "I like to walk a lot when I get to a place. It is a good way of finding out what I want to document. I look for the atmosphere."

The results of those walks are apparent in the series shown here. His series Yangtze, The Long River was made into a book and won the Prix Pictet in 2009. Established by Pictet & Cie, a Swiss private bank, it is the only major international photography prize for works addressing sustainable development and environmental issues.

Addressing the overarching themes of his work, he says: "As a photographer, I am looking at how man interacts with his surroundings. I am looking at how we are, what our common conditions are and how we exist on this planet."

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