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Book Review: Dust


Book Review Dust By Nadav Kander Reviewed by Christopher J Johnson British photographer Nadav Kander is currently making some of the most iconographic portraits in the medium, but despite the high level of work behind these well-known photographs, for me portraiture, strangely enough, is not his strength. The fulcrum of his capabilities are shown in his latest collection Dust.

Dust. By Nadav Kander.
Hatje Cantz, 2014.
 
Dust
Reviewed by Christopher J. Johnson

Dust
Photographs by Nadav Kander
Hatje Cantz, 2014. 128 pp., 50 color illustrations, 13½x10½".


British photographer Nadav Kander is currently making some of the most iconographic portraits in the medium, but despite the high level of work behind these well-known photographs, for me portraiture, strangely enough, is not his strength. The fulcrum of his capabilities are shown in his latest collection Dust.

Dust explores decommissioned military zones and cities of the former USSR found along the current border of Russian and Kazakhstan. These places (there are four in total), are largely abandoned having been left uninhabitable by weapons experimentation and chemical runoff. What Kander captures of them is a haunting beauty that lingers in the borderland of nightmare. Through shoreline, fields, dilapidated buildings and their interiors, Dust shows us the dismal and terrifying effects of military exploitation of land, resources, and science.

Dust. By Nadav Kander. Hatje Cantz, 2014.

What is eerie and utterly unshakable about all of the work in Dust becomes a question of beauty weighed against fact. The fact is that these places have been desecrated by the worst that humankind has to offer, but nature has reclaimed them — has turned them, as nature does, from places of horror to places of great beauty.

It is this natural beauty (and, of course, a good measure of off the chart skill) that Dust portrays and if the collection has a flaw, it is precisely this; rather than revulsion the photographs fill one with a sense of wonder in the form of an eerie silence, a hushed and healing landscape that lures the eye as a siren might lure a sailor to drown through her song.

Dust. By Nadav Kander. Hatje Cantz, 2014.
Dust. By Nadav Kander. Hatje Cantz, 2014.

But, Dust is a great place to fall under, to gasp, and to drown. The landscapes are solemn in their expanse, subtle in their colors (rust, dry organic yellows, drear grey-blues), and calming in the devastation and neglect (destroyed buildings, decaying docks, abandoned soviet era structures).

In the photo entitled I am told she once held and oar, a statue of arresting beauty gazes out over the sea as if awaiting the return of a sailor whom she loves. Her arms hold nothing; she stands not on two legs, but one leg and a pole. She is the perfect metaphor for the collection as a whole, representing ideals, culture, and activities long since removed from the lands in which she stands, but her beauty and significance are intact while simultaneously giving a keynote example of what neglect and ignorance can do to the land. Dust’s main theme is certainly found in this.

Dust. By Nadav Kander. Hatje Cantz, 2014.

Nature, though abused by us, though ravaged by the petty desires and fears of mankind, always comes out on top; and, sure, maybe not in the ways that we would like, but that makes the point of these startling devastations and rejuvenations only stronger. Nature defies ravaging, laughs in the face of vandalism, and after any small amount of slumber resurges as stronger and more beautiful than ever before; nature does better without us.

Dust. By Nadav Kander. Hatje Cantz, 2014.

After regarding Dust I tip my thinking cap to Kander like never before. I did not like the previous collections 6 Bodies: 5 Woman, 1 Man in the least, if for no other reason than it didn’t show us Kander’s full eloquence and range of thought; Dust does and, for me, does more to fully establish the importance of this photographer. After all, how is the human body to stand up in the face of the immortal beauty of nature? Nature in defeat, nature returning victorious. —CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON


CHRISTOPHER J. JOHNSON is an artist, radio host, and poet living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. His reviews, interviews, and essays on poetry can be read in the Philadelphia Review of Books. Johnson also hosts the radio program Collected Words on 101.5 KVSF, where he interviews authors, poets and artists.

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