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Photographer's Showcase: The Mark of Abel

The Photographer's Showcase is pleased to announce the opening of The Mark of Abel from Lydia Panas
Invincible -- Lydia Panas
photo-eye is happy to welcome The Mark of Abel back to the Photographer's Showcase. In this updated portfolio, Lydia Panas presents twenty portraits of friends and family. Photographed in loose undirected poses by Panas and her large format camera, they are affecting images, the subjects memorable in their penetrating gazes. It is hard not to attempt to read into the figures in these images, Panas' depictions of them seem so revealing, as if back-story can be deduced from a single frame, caught in facial expression or body language. The relationships between the subjects feel pointed, as if the tension, love and conflict between these people is hanging in the air around them.

Kehrer Verlag has also recently published a collection of images from Panas' multi-year Mark of Abel project in a book. We asked Panas to tell us a little bit about this project and the process of putting the book together. -- Sarah Bradley

Tony and Maddie, 2007 -- Lydia Panas
photo-eye:     Your project The Mark of Abel features images of friends and family who arrange themselves in front of your lens without your input, which makes for striking portraits that feel exceptionally revealing. How did this project come about and what made you decide to photograph in this manner?

Lydia Panas:     I was making black & white still life images before this and I wanted to get out of the darkroom to start making portraits again. So this project started out as an experiment. By chance that summer, I was hosting some visitors and had a number of kids at my disposal. One day I asked if they would pose for me as a group, just to see what would happen.

The result from that shoot was so vivid, that I began inviting other people to come to my property, again with no specific idea in mind. The project grew organically. As in all my work, the project drove me, rather than the other way around. Making photographs keeps me interested because I always learn about myself through my work and through the process. When I allow my unconscious thoughts to drive the process, the images become more interesting and revealing. The process allows important things in my life to come to the fore, such as my eagerness for honesty, clarity and directness. I think this is the element that makes the portraits so revealing. I look for an essential connection between the subject and myself. Every portrait sitting is a little frightening before hand, as I am never certain that I will be able to perform, or connect. Though so far, I have.

Canvas, 2008 -- Lydia Panas
PE:     You shoot using a large format camera, an object with an imposing physicality. What is your process of shooting and how does the camera affect your interactions with your subjects?

LP:     The large format camera does look imposing to others but it does not feel that way to me as I work. I find it slows me down just enough to observe carefully and this precision is part of the effect. The process is intuitive. I see the models upside down and backwards in the ground glass. This makes the image somewhat abstract. Sometimes I do wonder, how I manage to capture the expressions. I have only a glimpse of how the final image will look which creates intensity in the process. I shoot when I feel a connection. I try to connect to each individual, as well as to what happens between them. It’s complicated but is something that fascinates me. When something interests me it seems natural and easy. I know that some of the models are amused during the shoot. I move back and forth from under the dark cloth, opening and closing the shutter and moving the film holder in and out of place. It’s almost like a dance or a performance, as I try to get everything right. A lot of the models tell me it was fun and interesting to watch the process.

The Mark of Abel on press in Heidelberg, Germany
PE:     This series has just been published in a book from Kehrer Verlag. What was the process of putting this work together in book form? How did you come upon the title for the book and project?

LP:     I have always thought this series should be a book due to its narrative and somewhat literary nature. The images tell the story better together than individually. I have been thinking about this for a long time. I came up with the initial sequence and then worked with the designer to iron out the details and the design. We were in full agreement about the simple elegance of the design. I provided good scans and match prints (really important) and I went to Heidelberg to be on press. We tweaked the files, to match the press’ interpretation. The entire process was interesting and I learned a lot from being there. I imagine, like a first child, the first book is the hardest.

The title is a quote from Diane Arbus about the idea of success. She wrote that the higher one goes the greater the possibility of the fall. It is interesting in her case, as she killed herself at the height of her success. I was thinking about this at the time I began the project. It also refers to complicated family relationships. People love the title or hate it. I find it complex and rich in literary history.

Family, 2008 -- Lydia Pans
PE:     You’ve been working on this project for a number of years, do you see the book as completion of this project? If so, what are you currently working on?

LP:     Oh yes, I finished this project in 2008. I have since finished another project called Falling from Grace… 2009-10, which was recently shown at the Athens Photo Festival. This is a series of studio portraits of people holding different foods that resemble some of the old master paintings. I am fascinated by portraits of a single sitter against a plain dark background, for instance the Dutch masters and even some of the earlier religious works. This project was great fun, finding the right food for a specific model, and trying to make sense of the combination of still life and portrait. The result is both dark and somewhat humorous.

Central to my creative process (in all my series) is to make the most, with the least. So I try to work with little context. I want to challenge myself to find beauty where it does not necessarily exist. I don’t seek out beautiful people or exceptional locations. I want to create the beauty within the concept.

The book took up a lot of time last year and I am eager to get back to photographing. I am currently working on two new projects. One is another series of exterior portraits with a different feel from The Mark of Abel and the second is a series of “portraits” of fabric. This work leans to the conceptual and somewhat towards sculpture and I am really excited to develop it.


View Lydia Panas' work on the Photographer's Showcase here

View a video of The Mark of Abel on press shot by Panas here

The Mark of Abel was selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Susan Burnstine.

Pre-order a signed copy here

For more information on Lydia Panas' work, please contact photo-eye Gallery Associate Director Anne Kelly by email or by calling the gallery at (505) 988-5152 x202