My primary interest lies in exploring the relationships between time and place as they relate to memory, cultural identity, and the concepts of “self” and “other”. For me, art making is an exploration of the duality of our existence and the synchronicity of the experiences of the conscious and subconscious. My mentor, artist Jan Groover, told me years ago that good picture making happened when the artist “knew something” – when the looking and gaze was deliberate and conveyed meaning. It was an astounding statement coming from an artist recognized as a master of formalism. I learned photography as an art of “making” not “taking” images.
As an artist I had the privilege to pursue graduate studies at Bard College in an atmosphere that valued dialogue across multiple disciplines. My work was nurtured under the watchful gaze of my mentors Ken Irby (poet), Nicholas Maw (composer), Archie Rand (painter), Christine Berl (composer), and Elie Yarden (composer). I was greatly influenced by the works of Heidegger, Derrida, Walter Benjamin and Baudrillard. The rejection of a singular point of view led to my art work being informed by personal experience and vision as well as cultural, and historical constructions.
Photography is neither about technical skill nor visual acuity. It is a tool for creating a visual paradigm for the most basic comprehension of the world and our place in it.
“The transition from signs which dissimulate something to signs which dissimulate that there is nothing, marks the decisive turning point. The first implies a theology of truth and secrecy (to which the notion of ideology still belongs). The second inaugurates an age of simulacra and simulation, in which there is no longer any God to recognize his own, nor any last judgment to separate truth from false, the real from its artificial resurrection, since everything is already dead and risen in advance." - Baudrillard
Life is about process and photographic art creates a visual system of signage to describe that process. Art cannot be made by only learning about art. Photography cannot be taught in an institution dedicated only to the visual.
After graduate school I worked in my studio in NYC. Through the exploration of the interplay between cultural identity, collective memory, and religion I went deep into the community of ultra orthodox Judasim. As I began my journey into that world it was suggested to me that I photograph “Jewish children” but I chose to create them instead; I am a parent to five children.
“The beginning of the end of all literary activity is the reproduction of the world that surrounds me by the means of the world that is in me. All things being grasped, related, recreated, loaded, and reconstructed in a personal form, in an original manner.”
I believe that the same holds true for photographic art. Reproduction can only be imagined or created if one understands, knows, or can even acknowledge the presence of the original. In my fifty years of life I have learned much about the original; about both my inner and outer worlds and the interplay between the two. My work is informed by and synthesizes many perspectives and allows for the interplay of personal experience, cultural memory, and social identity; an aesthetic integrating the narrative of both “self” and “world”.
Chana Wiesenthal Elias