Ori Gersht, Blow Up, 2016
Throughout his career the work of photographer and filmmaker Ori Gersht has been concerned with the relationship between history, memory and landscape. In 2006 the artist developed a series of works which specifically explore the trope of violent beauty.
Blow Up depicts the destruction of a floral arrangement captured by Gersht’s lens at a rate of 1600 frames per second. The photograph explores both Gersht’s interest and mastery of the technical and philosophical aspects of photography. In his writing, the artist makes frequent reference to Walter Benjamin’s concept of the ‘optical unconscious’; a term that Benjamin used to describe the camera’s unique ability to capture more than the human eye is capable of viewing in a single frame. Gersht’s photography has a similar aim – to reveal instances that would otherwise be unseen.
The artist’s work is also influenced by Harold Edgerton, whose pioneering work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the mid twentieth century led to the invention of the electronic flash. Although he did not consider himself an artist, Edgerton provided photographers with the ability to freeze high-speed movement, such as that of a bullet moving through space. In Blow Up, Gersht visually articulates the precise moment of explosion at the same time as raising metaphysical questions relating to time and space.
Aesthetically, Gersht owes an additional debt to those masters who saw the beauty in the natural forms of fruit and flowers, albeit compositions which for the most part remained intact. Amongst them are the Spanish Baroque painter Juan Sánchez Cotán, and the nineteenth-century still life painter and lithographer Henri Fantin-Latour. Adding the element of destruction to such familiar scenes is an exercise in exploring both imagination and memory. Gersht’s photographs of violent rupture of romantic subject matter, such as flowers, have an air of disquieting poeticism, one that is unique amongst the output of his contemporaries.