London-based Mummery and Schnelle, a gallery of contemporary art, is currently exhibiting a collection of photographer Ori Gersht’s work. The exhibition, comprised of selections from two previous series, Evaders and Hide & Seek, depicts the surreal landscapes of the off-the-map routes and terrain that were used by many—to escape Nazi-occupied France during WWII, and throughout history to seek refuge.
“They are images of places or journeys that are simultaneously physical and metaphysical, partly real and partly mythological. Photography’s claim to truth is questioned and rather than being presented with the depiction of a specific moment in time, the viewer is left instead with images that are suggestive of something that happened in the past, or might happen in the future.”
Even seeing only a few pieces of the larger collection suggests that in desperate moments, we survive in an in-between state of awake and dream. Gersht’s photos reveal uncertainties — those that belonged to long-ago travelers and to viewers of now. Fog-filled paths, even when observed from a computer screen, transport one to a place that transcends self- and topographical-awareness. Sometimes, a blurred, leafy foreground obstructs scenes, and even though we are not in the foliage, it is difficult not to feel compelled to brush the branches out of our eyes.
The contrast of the “partly real and partly mythological”-ness of the exhibition reminded me of one I saw a couple of years ago with a friend in London. Life Before Death, exhibited at the Wellcome Museum, is the culmination of the work of photographer Beatte Lakotta and journalist Walter Schells. The two interviewed and photographed 24 terminally ill individuals and visually documented their passing through a living portrait, and then another taken shortly after death. Much like Gersht’s ominous yet breathtaking landscapes, these diptychs suggest the impending nature — both the hostility and benignity — of the unknown. Any uncertainty that the patients—or travelers—exuded transforms itself to absolutes and fact as they pass through the fog.