PHO705 Weeks 20-21: Starting Out: Ask Nadav Kander

I went to a thoroughly enjoyable and informative interview and talk with Nadav Kander this week, hosted by the AOP (Association of Photographers 2021). It is part of their online series Starting Out, for recent graduates and those new to the industry.

Kander is a photographer I have long admired, not least for his quiet approach and intuitive way of working. His emphasis on self-awareness and self-interrogation also strike a chord with me. As he said during the interview, ‘I might approach things in many different ways but the things I am attracted to are always the same.’ He might have said, but didn’t, things such as undercurrents of sadness, beauty, loneliness and the sheer insignificance of man. The last can be seen in the carefully chosen scale, in which humans are dwarfed by new construction, of many of his images in Yangtze, The Long River (Kander 2010).

The interview covered a lot of ground. Kander talked of the importance of printing and framing: ‘the materiality of the print is key’ and carefully chosen frames are ‘massively important’. I did not know, for example, that his recent project Dark Line, on the Thames Estuary, is greatly influenced by Chinese landscape painting, nor that the dimensions of many of the prints have been chosen to match those of Chinese Sanctuary Scrolls. In fact Kander emphasized throughout the importance for any photographer of studying art, the more widely the better, but particularly painting. Doing so builds up a store of mental images and offers inspiration, quite apart from being interesting and enjoyable anyway, so it is a vital part of photographic practice.

Kander covered many nuts and bolts that don’t particularly apply to me though they would to someone in their twenties. Magazine work barely pays, he felt, though it puts one’s name around. Netflix and some film/TV commissions have been good. Much of the advertising industry is steadily becoming so prescriptive and controlling that it is hard to work with. Starting out as an assistant can still be a good move, but only if the photographer or studio is ‘really decent’. He thought getting an agent was perhaps the most useful and important move of all. Rushing into a personal website is a mistake. Chances are you will only get one shot at the goal, he said, so don’t go big until you have something to go big about.

What has consistently returned me to Kander and to other artists like him, however, is their stress on the interior life as the key to good photography. In Kander’s words, ‘If you have the building blocks of the thing that makes you tick, if you have that strength in you, you always go to it.’ This is all a process – of self-questioning, of determining why one likes or dislikes particular things, even colours, of research, art study, reading or simply using Google. Kander said that we must always ask ourselves what our ‘core’, our intuition, is saying to us. ‘Bringing your nature to consciousness is your core strength.’ In some ways, this is an argument for slow photography. Rushing around won’t make time for any of these things to emerge.

There are some photographers I have come across on this course that I would take no little care to avoid, but Kander strikes me as a remarkable man and I would love to meet him.

References

ASSOCIATION OF PHOTOGRAPHERS. 2021. ‘Starting Out: Ask Nadav Kander’. Association of Photographers [online]. Available at: https://www.aopawards.com/starting-out-ask-nadav-kander/ [accessed 06 Jul 2021].

KANDER, Nadav. 2010. Yangtze, The Long River. Berlin: Hatje Cantz.