LOOKING FOR A GAZE

Presentation of a series by photographer Martin Atanasov for the magazine Eyemazing.

The photographer always puts something between his eye and the naked truth —a photo camera, to start with. A camera is not a microscope or even a magnifying glass, it requires a distance from the object to create a picture, and this distance (a separation) comes with an angle, a framing, a composition, a light, a tension, which are all part of the moment captured by the photographer.

In his most personal works, Bulgarian photographer Martin Atanasov increases as much as possible the distance, the separation, to capture something intimate, which could appear as a paradox: he uses black and white rather than the whole range of colors, captures faces through textured materials, creates halos, and during the development process, he reworks the material as a mixed-media artist, cutting and deforming the image to recompose a new one… thus sharing with the viewer a subjective impression constructed with powerful shape and light contrasts, rather than a documentary picture of the objective moment. His use of the technique of photograms (as a poetry illustrator), using various materials to create completely new shapes and textures, gives this endeavor its most sophisticated and radical form.

8 minutes plus a beat is a series of portraits of one same woman. What is a portrait? Technically, the representation of a model, of course. But the most fascinating portraits throughout the history of arts are those that seem to stare at us: the generosity of a well-known Renaissance woman, the ambiguous seduction of a naked prostitute painted by Manet or Picasso, the two almost empty cracks in the face of Modigliani’s lovers, the weariness of Van Gogh’s last self-portraits… Something from the look the model sent to the artist (or that the artist sent to himself in the mirror) is not only captured, but also reconstructed by the whole work.

Photography has of course the ability to capture the very glance itself, the authentic glimmer in the model’s eyes, but merely freezing “minutes” from an encounter between the photographer and his model is not what Martin Atanasov is aiming at. While photographing this series, he created an intimate atmosphere, where the young woman could playfully look for poses and attitudes, laugh, meditate, move as well as stay still, unveil her body. But on the other hand, during the development, the fragments he kept from this moment were cut, distorted, mixed with bright flashes of light in contrast with the overall dark and warm atmosphere, and given a new, smaller frame, placing them in a darkness which could be oblivion or simply the night we see when we close our eyes.

These “minutes” are a whole because none of the pictures is a full portrait alone: the portrait of the model is built by the addition of all the pictures, each one being an attempt to grasp the personality behind a face that expresses so many different emotions, perhaps “playing” them in the process of consciously playing the role of the model. While looking at all of the photographs together, we have difficulties finding the first thing we look for in another person’s face: the young woman’s eyes. They are closed, looking elsewhere, disappearing in a glowing smile that irradiates the whole face… It is only by chance that we seem to be able, two of three times at most, to make eye-contact with her, through a halo, or from a sidelong glance: like in most great portraits, we share the portraitist’s effort to capture the inmost sensibility of the model through her gaze. And in a time where automatic home photography seems to be selling us instant true memories of our relatives and friends, it is important to share this proof that photography can actually reflect and meditate our struggle to overcome the appearance to get to know in a deeper, more intimate way, even the persons we think are the closest to us. And as a direct trace that is afterwards repeated and retouched, photography is the best media to touch upon the fragility of the memories we have from these moments we thought we shared deeply with someone, whether unknown or beloved —which I think these 8 minutes plus a beat are also about.

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