This exhibition is organized in association with JAMES WYMAN FINE ART
"Mirror photography is much more than photographing a reflection, it produces a visual alchemy that combines the physical world with that of the great mystery.
Photographing with mirrors allows me to see the world in a different light and capture some element that remains hidden in straight photography. The use of elongation in indigenous and western art has long been an archetype for the unconscious. Following in this tradition, I use my mirror to shine into the internal deep spaces where we universally connect to something greater."
Third Friday @ 78th Street Studios
16 September 2011 (through November 2011)
5 - 9pm
Open to the public
Anima - Animus
For the past twenty-five years my muse has been the unyieldingly expressive and devastatingly beautiful continent
of Africa. My fascination with the continent began with my grandfather Paul Bough Travis, through the stories he told to me as a child of his intrepid Africa adventures from Cape Town to Cairo in the late 1920's. Exploring my own passion for the great continent,
I have lived among the people for as long as I have been photographing them, immersing myself in cultures such as the Efe of the Ituri Rain Forest in the Congo Basin, and the Tuareg people of the Sahara Desert.
My photography explores the integral relationships between the indigenous people of Africa (and other parts of the world) and the natural world. The Efe for example, cannot imagine a forest without its people; they are the forest, and embody the very consciousness of nature. Similarly, the Tuareg cannot imagine living under anything but the stars, and find their desert irresistibly beautiful. Whether the forest or desert, these environments are one living system inclusive of all the forms of life. The use of the mirror in my photography synthesizes this connection and illustrates the symbiosis the indigenous people of the world experience with nature and their environments.
The exploration of the feminine principle or Anima began with the introduction of the forest spirit shared with me by the animist Efe, a hunting and gathering tribe of the Congo. Anima refers to a much older Latin term that means "breath of air/air/soul/life." It came to mean, "a living being." I had been photographing the Tuareg for a couple of years before I creating the Anima Portfolio. The women are covered, suggesting feminine identity is introspective and hidden. The fabric shrouds them and yields to the external force of wind. Yet in spite of their covering, the movement, the wind and the fabric convey their spirits using simple lines. Anima is about reducing the feminine spirit behind nature into its purest and most simple form.
Animus, being both the antithesis of the Anima principle and its pair, represents the masculine side of humanity in nature. It is confrontational and the faces are clearly visible. In traveling to the country of Ethiopia in East Africa I met the painted tribes of the Omo Valley in the southwest near the Sudan. In their parched and cracked land, the Omo Valley tribes are warriors and in fierce opposition to their environment and each other. I met and photographed the painted Koro men, the Hammar and the Mursi. Animus also means "soul," but represents the destructive power behind the natural world. Each culture has not only a great love of their environment but a great fear -- and this Animus principal is one aspect of that appreciation. The Animus Portfolio explores the shadow side of masculine identity. The prints capture the male spirit in an intoxicating combination of elegance, beauty and danger.
Tuareg Grace - The Taureg Portfolios
The last, great wild places on earth are populated with people who have been living with the rhythms and cycles of nature for thousands of years. In so doing, they experience nature; their nature, in concert with the beautiful, yet unforgiving landscapes that surround them.
Their very beings are infused and shaped by their connectedness to these places and their knowledge about them. I believe native wisdom remembered by people who still live with the wild places is our collective, global heritage. Through photographing indigenous people who have not yet forgotten who they are, or been broken from the lineage that binds them to their primordial culture, I become a trans-cultural bridge builder, reminding us of who we are and where we come from. I have heard this same message repeated unanimously from many elders across the world.
The Tuareg, or Kel Tamasheq, means "The Free People" would like to declare an independent state. They have lived in the desert for thousands of years and are nomadic, ranging across the great expanse of the Sahara Desert --from eastern Mauritania to the west, the southern-most reaches of Algeria to the roiling dunes of northern Mali, and Niger to the east. Many Tuareg people in Mali still travel by camel caravan, bringing flats of salt from the ancient ocean beds in the far north back to Timbuktu, the gateway to the desert, where it is traded or sold.
In Mali, the traditional Tuareg clothing has not been politicized or influenced much and remains very authentic, particularly in the north. Double layered flowing wraps, generally indigo in color, is the original garb for all desert folk.For both men and women alike, this loose fitting clothing that fully encases the body is required by the environment to protect against sun, sand, heat and wind as it has for thousands of years. While the Tuareg are nominally Muslim in Mali, most still engage in pre-Islamic shamanic beliefs of spirits and jinns. First and foremost the Tuareg are desert dwellers --proud, and in love with their endless sea of dunes and overwhelming night skies perforated by a myriad of stars, under which they travel and know every name and seasonal position by heart.
I connect the Tuareg with the elements present in their desert world by photographing them in the context of their environment. I set up my camera between rising sets of dunes. The subject is positioned beside me and we both face the mirror as I compose my shot. The reflected image enhances the Tuareg expression of grace, a kind of cultural memory of movement given to them through the ages of arranging and rearranging their wraps. Even the extension of an arm or hand to perform any mundane task is an art form in itself, a thing of beauty. The folds and twists in their clothing are elegant and precise and when coupled with gestures from fingers, hands, wrists and arms, is like observing a well-choreographed dance.
As an artist, I see form and line, movement and gesture. The wind plays a role and shapes the lines. The reflected image elongates and sometimes embellishes the form. In the photograph "Emerge" [above], the wind sweeps over the dune rippling the fabric in successive waves. The wind patterns shaping the figure are the same that shape the dunes. The figure mirrors her environment and is seen to emerge from it. Within the photographs titled "Aligned" and "The Step," are the stories of the Taureg's balance and strength in the context of their desert. The wind from the seasonal Harmattan is blowing hard against them, whipping their clothing behind them. There is struggle and strength. Tuareg don't easily succumb to desert forces; theybelong. The more abstract image, "The Resilience," is another example of their strength and plasticity within the context of the desert. Despite the odds and the pressures against them to change, they are also flexible and adaptable as the photograph suggests, moving with the wind instead of in opposition to it. The use of wind represents the invisible forces faced by the Tuareg and their ability to meet it. Through photography, I look to reveal their deep nature and understanding of the great wild places they were born to.
From my Journals, 2008
Click here to read more blogs and journal entries from Elisabeth's travels and experiences.
Selected Solo Exhibitions
2011 Tregoning and Co. Cleveland, OH
2011 Gallery 291, San Francisco, CA
2009 Gallery 291, San Francisco, CA
2008 Louis Stern Fine Arts, Los Angeles, CA
2008 International Photography Biennial, Brescia, Italy
2008 International Airport Museum, San Francisco, CA
2006 International Photography Biennial, "150 Years of Women in Photography," Brescia, Italy
2003 Oakland Arts Gallery, Oakland, CA
1999 Museum of Art, UC - Berkeley, CA
Selected Group Exhibitions
2011 Touring Exhibtion, "Violence, Women and Art" ArtWorksForChange
2010 Gallery 291, San Francisco, CA
2009 "Portraiture: American Photography 1960 to the present," Cleveland Museum of Art, OH
2009 "Au Féminin" [curated by Jorge Calado], Centre Culturel Calouste Gulbenkian, Paris, France
2007 Box Gallery, Bruxelles, Belgium
2006 International Photography Biennial, Brescia, Italy
1999 Smithsonian/Anacostia Museum, Center for African American History and Culture, Washington D.C.
1998 Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, TX
1997 Los Angeles County Museum of Art, CA
Peter Fetterman Gallery, Los Angeles, CA
Tregoning & Company, Cleveland, OH
Throckmorton Gallery, New York, NY
Pamela DeMonbrison, Paris, France
Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, DC
University of California Art Museum, Berkeley, CA
Stanford University, Cantor Art Center, Palo Alto, CA