A photographer friend of mine recently asked me to write about some photographers that inspired my own works! This is a bit absurd for me because inspiration differs form love and while I can safely talk about the photographers I love, it is tricky to discuss about inspirations because it is supposed to be directly related to my work. I’ll start by saying a bunch of photographers that (at present) deeply impact my way of seeing things!
Just like the bodybuilders tear the muscle groups by lifting weights just to regrow new muscle tissues, ideas and perceptions need to be shattered from time to time in order to grow new strains of ideas and perception. After about 2 years of taking pictures, around 2013, I realized almost everyone including me is doing the same thing around; same style, same narrative and same perfect compositions year in year out. I needed to get out of the droll and the first jolt I’ve got from the slow-shutter-smooth-water-esque boredom was Antoine D’Agata.
Antoine’s pictures were a slap, on the face, with a chair, made of steel. I’ve never seen such honesty and spontaneity in any other photographers before that. They completely changed my idea of making a picture and all the glory of the word “Picturesque”.
The first thing I noticed about these pictures are the defiant challenge on the face of all the things pretty and sober in our perfect little bubbles. To quote from one of his books Anticorps, “It’s a theory that is both spontaneous and instinctive, a relentless practice born from personal experience, an experiment through excess, a political questioning about what photography is not and ought be about, in precise and, most of all, concrete terms.” The dormant fear, paranoia and the deepest and most honest hungers of the human mind pushes you towards a parallel existence where you question the limits and rules of sanity.
Like his mentor Nan(cy) Goldin, he lives his works. Most of the time he is sick or in drug rehabilitation centers due to his relentless self-destructive sledgehammering on the walls of sanity, existence and stability. But as you spend more and more time with his works, you realize, above all, he is an explorer in a pursuit of another dimension, another reality that is being hidden from our very eyes. Like he says in one of the interviews on American Suburb X magazine, “My aim is not to provide answers. But all these questions we ask – that some of us ask and others choose not to consider, are my responsibility, and duty, to keep on putting forward and to keep seeking answers for – meaning, to keep diving into the void and exploring the darkness – not in the hope of understanding it all or of attaining anything in particular, but in order not to give up on the exploration.”
After Antoine, my world of understanding a photograph was shattering and was in a rebuilding phase. Martin Parr once said, “Good pictures say nothing”. I stopped posting pictures in social media because I was bored to death with the burning dishonesty of perfectly timed decisive moment compositions and this culture of making good photographs of Unicorns taking a leak at the end of the double rainbow near the pot of gold and all of that captured in shallow depth of field with cutting age petapixel image sensors and f/0.95 lenses. Though I stopped posting them, thankfully I never stopped taking pictures. I kept looking for a new world full of photographers that pushes the boundary of our perception of the human psyche.
It was a February afternoon in 2014 when, chilling and planning an upcoming trip to Benaras in the grassless Kolkata Maidan, a photographer friend/senior asked me to check out a few images of Benaras from the book End Time City. We were discussing about a lot of photographers and their works such as Jacob Aue Sobol, Anders Petersen, Daido Moriyama, JH Engstrom, Nobuyoshi Araki, Olivia Arthur , Sohrab Hura, Roger Ballen, Prabudhha Dasgupta, Munem Wasif and many more, but I had no idea what was waiting for me inside End Time City by one Michael Ackerman.
What Antoine’s works did to my perception about photography, Michael Ackerman gave it a new direction. My world shattered once again and a new rebuilding phase started. The screams in Antoine’s photographs were replaced by the deafening silence of Ackerman’s surreal lighting, dreamlike fictional narrative and an eerie control of emotions in devastating landscapes.
Although his works may seem as personal documentary, Michael Ackerman is not interested in documenting anything. Like Antoine, Ackerman is an explorer, delving deep into the psyche to resurface with emotions that you never knew you’ll feel. But there the resemblance stops. Where the reach of documentary ends, Fiction starts. Ackerman takes pieces of emotions and weave them into a nonlinear storyline open to as many interpretations as the viewer’s brain supports. The speeding landscapes and haunted streets leading to the eerie buildings paired with the deranged portraits of wounded but defiant men might spur images of Auschwitz from the Nazi period to some. Some might find their own self in the narrative. His work is not to be understood, but felt.
Ackerman hardly talks. You won’t find him talking about his pictures much. Heck, you won’t even find his pictures that much unless you get the (really expensive, almost collectible, cult status) books but once you do, I can guarantee your perceptions about how to see will be changed forever.
I personally am still exploring his works for 2 years and I can’t say I am anywhere close to be able to discuss about his work to the full extent. However, Michael Ackerman changed the way I see and make photographs and life. It drove me to a turning point which will either bring some answers, or will probably make me insane looking for it.
Either way, I’ll be pushing my boundaries and I hope you will start doing the same.
Have a nice week.