Vital Signs

Vital Signs
  • Ori Gersht Born 1967, Tel Aviv
  • Vital Signs
  • Sarajevo, 1998
  • Color print
  • 153x123cm
  • Gift of the artist, The Constantiner Photography Award for an Israeli Artist, 2000

Physical and metaphorical journeys are a central theme in Ori Gersht's photographs, which challenge the memories and myths surrounding significant sites.

At first glance, Vital Signs looks like a manipulated digital image. Gersht uses a panoramic photographic technique that allows the image to absorb more than the eye can see from a single point of view, thus capturing a space whose logic is incomprehensible to the viewer. He documents his social and cultural impressions in a precise and restrained manner, while allowing chance to determine the appearance of the details in his photographs.

In conjunction with a formalist approach, which treats photography as a pure painterly field, Gersht takes a documentary approach influenced by Bernd and Hilla Becher, which views photography as a process of research and classification. He deconstructs and reconstructs the landscape, employing the formalist rules of modernist painting. The strategies he uses for the regimentation of the visual field include a flattening of the surface, repetition, and a lack of any historical references. Nevertheless, the characteristics of the photograph – which is an automatic, mechanical, and random reproduction – prevent the viewer from perceiving it as a purely visual field. Gersht raises questions concerning the impossibility of pure observation, and uses them as a subversive tool for examining history.

The monumental photograph of a crowd of people around and inside a swimming pool – which is situated on a mountainside scarred by damaged concrete walls and stretches of asphalt – was taken from a cemetery in Sarajevo; it belongs to Gersht's series "Afterwars," which was photographed there in the aftermath of the Bosnian conflict. Gersht documents the traces of war, and the establishment of daily routines after the passage of traumatic events. Both the figure striding across the field in the frame's foreground and the bathers look like patches of color, or film extras positioned in the distance against a natural backdrop where a ritual of bathing and purification is taking place. The lack of focus on the human presence in the landscape requires viewers of the image to involve themselves in it from afar, like a detective who is required to fill in the blanks.



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