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Prix Pictet

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In an age when “everything is changing, everything is moving,” photographer Nadav Kander has sought to find moments of reserve, reverence and human vulnerability in his latest series, Bodies: 6 Women, 1 Man, opening this week at Flowers Gallery (Cork Street) in London, and published by Hatje Cantz later this month.

Kander told TIME in a recent interview that his work in Bodies — featuring white, smooth figures cast against a stark black background — serves, in part, as a visual homage to fine-art history. But the alabaster forms, naked and undefended, also communicate Kander’s underlying motivation as a photographer: to capture “the paradoxes of the human condition.”

“I don’t like to ignore that there is beauty without imperfection or that there’s health without disease,” Kander says. This interplay between the perfect and the flawed, the pure and the corrupt, suggests an elemental truth — a truth that is central to Kander’s aesthetic and method.

“The nudes,” he told TIME, “are another way of satisfying the quest that I’ve always [pursued] in my work.”

Originally from Israel, the 51-year-old Kander might be best known for his portraits, often uniquely framed and staged in dramatically lit environments. Subjects have ranged from President Barack Obama (for TIME’s 2012 Person of the Year issue) to professional athletes, politicians and Hollywood royalty.

But the range of Kander’s photography extends well beyond the intimate portrait: his documentary photography, for example, has merited awards — most notably Yangtze: The Long River, which won the Prix Pictet prize for photography and sustainability in 2009. With Bodies, however, he has returned to a theme that can sometimes feel archaic, as if abandoned by many in his field.

“In recent years, photographers have stayed away from the nude,” said Kander, noting that the process had become almost “nostalgic.” “I wanted to work with the nude in a new way.”

As if embracing the theme of paradox, Kander’s “new way” required peering into art’s distant past.

“The mixture of dust and cream [applied to the subjects] served as gentle reference to renaissance paintings,” he explained to TIME. Before long, and in spite of his evident reverence for his predecessors in both paint and pictures, his project evolved into a riveting amalgam: fine-art photographs that felt at once deeply familiar and utterly distinct from anything that might have come before.

“While the models are very present and there for your eyes, they are also turned away and quite private,” he said, noting details that contrast with most Renaissance art, which often made use of a Raphaelite “gaze” — that is to say, a portrait’s subject engaging the viewer with direct, and occasionally unsettling, eye contact.

While the bodies in his photos might well relay a vulnerability unseen in more traditional works, the positioning of the figures — the arch of their hands, the flexion of their feet and toes — communicates a Renaissance aesthetic further evident in his casting and choice of models.

“I was into the ideas of effigies, these white marble statues,” he said. To replicate that look Kander chose models without tattoos or piercings, bodies that were — in his words — “unencumbered by modernity.”

In his interview with TIME, Kander noted the influence Edward Weston, a renowned American photographer, has had on his work and approach to photography.

In 1932, Weston and 10 of the industry’s most notable names created the f/64 Group in San Francisco. The loose collective of photographers was staunchly committed to photography at its most accurate. In Weston’s words, “The camera should be used for a recording of life, for rendering the very substance and quintessence of the thing itself, whether it be polished steel or palpitating flesh.”

For Kander, this same sensitivity meant little editing or post-production work on his own images — images that at-once mirror a specific reality and inform his personal life.

“I don’t want to make art that’s simple, ‘correct for the times,’ or merely to fit a gap in the market,” he said. “I make things that nourish me.”

Nadav Kander is a London-based photographer. Kander photographed President Barack Obama for TIME’s Person of the Year Issue in 2012.

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David R Arnott writes:Mitch Epstein has been awarded the 2011 Prix Pictet, an award for photography that tackles social and environmental issues. Epstein was nominated for his series American Power, which studies the different ways in which the country produces and uses energy and how that impacts on the landscape and environment.

Mitch Epstein via Prix Pictet

Amos Coal Power Plant, Raymond City, West Virginia. 2004.

Mitch Epstein via Prix Pictet

BP Carson Refinery, California. 2007.

Epstein says the project "asks everyone to look harder at their daily relationship to energy" and seeks to instigate a discussion about "the direction of American power. It is an opportune, if not crucial, moment in the history of the United States to discuss what it has done and could do with its natural resources, wealth, and might, but also its brain power, power of imagination, and power of community."

Mitch Epstein via Prix Pictet

Biloxi, Mississippi. 2005.

Mitch Epstein via Prix Pictet

Hoover Dam and Lake Mead,
Nevada/Arizona. 2007.

Read more about the work at Epstein's American Power website and at Prix Pictet.

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Benoît Aquin (a Winter 2006 Hot Shot) is having his second solo show at Montreal's Galerie Pangée, opening tonight(!), September 8th. The exhibition,Haïti after the Earthquake, was first shown earlier this summer at the Musée de l'Elysée Lausanne in Switzerland, as part of a series called Les Lauréats du Prix Pictet, which showcased the winners of the prestigious Prix Pictet (which Benoît won in 2008 for his work on the Chinese Dust Bowl).

The upcoming show includes atmospheric and deeply affecting photographs that Benoît took while working as a volunteer in Haïti, shortly after the January 12th disaster. From the show announcement:
Aquin went to Haiti as a volunteer with the CECI (Centre for International Studies and Cooperation) immediately after the earthquake and went back for a second trip four months later.
The photographs in Haïti after the Earthquake bear witness to the human drama that unfolded after the catastrophe. By taking [them] at dusk, Aquin was able to achieve a blue-grey aesthetic in all the photographs.

If you find yourself in Montreal this weekend, make sure you stop by for what is certain to be a stellar—and emotional show. You can also check out more of Benoît's work on his website.

The details:
Haïti after the Earthquake
On view: September 8th to October 11th, 2010.
Opening Reception: September 8th at 6 p.m.
Galerie Pangée
40 St. Paul ouest
Montréal, Québec, Canada H2Y 1Y8.
Open 7 days a week, 10:00 a.m. - 7:00 p.m.

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