Wednesday, February 14, 2007


Koudelka's pictures speak volumes. Photography paralyzes me because so much must be left out--yet this is precisely its power; everything that remains in the frame is quite literally everything. The balance, or dialectic, between what is excluded and what is revealed, when successful (as in a masterpiece like Exiles), is both frightening and inspiring.

Frightening because it's a maddeningly difficult and haphazard process of accumulation and subsequent cherry-picking, a hodgepodge of shots taken from a dozen different countries over a period of years that nonetheless cohere and congeal like the viscous fluid of Koudelka's black eye. His sensibility pervades each photograph in Exiles: bleak and skeletal and windy and uncanny, as textural as it is literary. I can only attribute this to the strength, the incessant presence, of that sensibility, which forcefully reflects the natural light of the world from the camera back into the world, projecting the author's own dreams and nightmares onto its landscapes and bodies. This secret unbalance marks those of us who can't help but be artists, despite our equally secret wishes that we could be just as happy as corporate businessmen or marine biologists. You see these images and first you think "what kind of a place is that" and it hits you, immediately thereafter: What sort of human being is this?

And this is why Exiles inspires, too ... it's easy and beguiling, immediate and bottomless, a quick reference guide for how to be a hard-working natural talent, a testament to persisting against "merely great enough" status. Any one of a certain dozen of these haunting pictures could have been Koudelka's last word on the medium, a decent excuse to leave this pursuit for other pleasures, but for whatever reason--a lack of greater pleasures, a perpetual sense of unfinished business, a score to settle with his past--he kept talking, until so much had been said about the subject of Exiles that it was already time for the next stage in his life.

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