If you could choose just one photo exhibit to see all year, it would have to be Hurban Vortex in Cannes.
Often, photography is the visual equivalent of telling a one-word story, expressed through an immediately comprehensible image. In contrast, Parisian photographer Boris Wilensky takes you on a journey through time, space, and humanity. His photos are true documentaries which require time to contemplate, and listen to. Yes, listen to, not just look at. Because all of his work tells a powerful, juxtaposing story. A story of humans in cruel, all-consuming urban environments… facing challenges beyond their control… surviving in harsh conditions… A story that is already written but that is reinvented every time you look at the image.
Boris Wilensky’s current exhibition Hurban Vortex at the Suquet des Art(iste)s in Cannes opened on December 9 last year, featuring a selection of 30 of his works. Much has been said and written about it, and him, since, so no further biographical introduction is needed. And what really shaped his life, are locations rather than dates – Israel and Palestine, Tokyo, Fukushima, and Cambodia.
An emotional trip to Israel and Palestine in 2005 left a big impression on the idealistic young man, and he started keeping and publishing travel journals to share his impressions. At some point he began illustrating those with photos. Meanwhile he kept working as a photographer in entertainment and sports.
In 2008, a café in Paris offered him space to display his photos. Thinking to himself, “This is a great opportunity… probably the only one I’ll ever have to exhibit”, he went for it. It was a success, and the impetus to turn his passion into a profession.
A visit to Tokyo in 2009 would prove to be the pathway into that professional career as an art photographer. The swirling, frenzied city of dazzling lights around the clock inspired him to find a way to capture the craziness of the megalopolis and the loneliness of its citizens … and he found a way to do so by superimposing two photos taken in the Tokyo subway, of the train and its travelers. It turned out so well that this type of photography would soon become his signature.
On his next visit to Japan – and in fact to Fukushima, just one month after the 2011 reactor catastrophe there – he found a country that had profoundly changed. The Japanese were beginning to awaken to the consequences of boundless, unchecked use of nuclear energy. As a consequence, the garish lights all over town were dimmed, and the mood had become much more somber and sober.
This was when the Hurban Vortex project started taking shape in the artist’s mind. “Hurban Vortex is an urban adventure with a big H”, he explains, the constant game between the concepts of humanity and urbanity, extending into notions of modernity and identity, future, sustainable development, ecology and economy. The City, symbolizing Progress and Modernity, in constant growth, now become a “megalopolis”, or a “City-world”, a space built by humans to live in but one that eats them up in return.
For this project, and forever drawn to Asia, Boris Wilensky returns to Tokyo, Shanghai and Bangkok to take as many “photographic backgrounds” as possible. Then he tours Cambodia for two months, the stark contrast to the other cities’ modernity. Here he immerses himself fully in the ancient Khmer culture, taking portraits of men, women and children. Many of those faces bear silent witness to the horrors of the Khmer Rouge regime, and yet retain pride and dignity that speaks of inner strength.
Over 15,000 photos later, Hurban Vortex sees the light of day. The ensemble of artistic, esthetic and human adventure are at the core of the triptych that represents his works: Origins corresponds to 2009 (present), the period of an oblivious, profligate, consumerism-driven world. Collapse takes us into 2011 (future)…Fukushima, with its worldwide impact. The glasses and gas masks worn by the humans represent the man-made destruction of a world as we had known it before and which will never be the same. And in Post we find ourselves in an urban landscape filled with waste and shattered ruins. But people are no longer wearing their blinders… Maybe there is hope after all that cities may disappear but humans are still around? Or does the urban jungle always win in the end? You decide, because it is your personal interpretation, after an intense dialogue with the image… exactly what Boris Wilensky wants.
What the viewer sees, is how this artist sees the world – not in the literal but figurative sense. But he does not dictate, he suggests. He considers himself a storytelling portraitist first and foremost, and an urban photographer second. As you look at his large-size pictures (180 x 120 cm), the image in front of you transforms from a flat canvas to a three-dimensional scenography. You are drawn in, pulled onto a stage, you become part of the performance, an actor engaged in a dialogue. You are the person across from the man in the photo, but you also become him, turning outward to the viewer.
The continuous movement – the vortex – pushes and pulls you as the borders between Human and Urban blur and become Hurban. There are violently cold and anonymous city landscapes, consisting of monochromatic and starkly geometric patterns, entirely unlike anything you find in nature. But the human element, superimposed, invariably bestows them with a strangely appealing aesthetic. For the Silo, Natja Igney. This article originates at Riviera-buzz. Banner diptych image Boris Wilensky- concept by Jarrod Barker.
Blackjack 400 hit by B-40, down and burning, crew still inside slick, eight critical wounded, unknown killed.
Radio Transmission – 22 March, 1969,
Kontum Province, Vietnam
By MPP Toby Barrett
Last week’s newspaper column described the Greatest Generation – those who fought with honour and valour. The very same attributes we now see in our returning Afghan veterans.
I came of age in the Vietnam era and, during two years on the road, had an opportunity to talk to a large number of US soldiers – particularly during my time in Southeast Asia in 1969. What I learned was in stark contrast to my Father’s war stories and my brief stint as a Gunner with the 56th Field Regiment.
Whether in Penang, Kuala Lumpur or Bangkok, those on R & R (rest and recuperation), from the front lines, told me, “Don’t stand up to get a better shot”. And those behind the lines, the REMF described a cynical war of Washington bureaucracy and fabricated statistics.
Case in point, a first hand detailed account I received in Bangkok of how patrols are done Saigon – fence and secure a park in the city, flood light every square inch and then patrol nightly and report nightly to the number crunchers set up by Secretary of Defence McNamara.
Guys my age I met during Vietnam were either gung-ho, or AWOL, or dragged there kicking and screaming. They carried M-16s but often wished they had AKs. They carried C-4 plastic explosives and burned it to heat their C-rations. And over and over they told the stories they heard of fragging officers – by grenade.
One reason I was in Thailand in 1969 was to continue on to Cambodia. I thank the guys in Bangkok for stopping me, explaining the war had just moved there too – something the US Congress was not to find out until four years later.
This year, I find myself back in the Brantford Armouries – my first parade there since 1963 – in front of 100 active duty and returning soldiers. They knew Afghanistan and we were proud of them that night.
Often, when we think of war our minds immediately conjure sepia images from the past of gun battle from the trenches and firefights
Soldiering in Afghanistan in the 21st century is different from Vietnam in 1969, but nonetheless complex and brutal. In contrast to the leeches and jungle rot of Vietnam, imagine carrying a 70 pound pack or more in combat gear through the 60 Celsius heat of Afghanistan.
It takes a toll as Christie Blatchford describes in her book Fifteen Days: “I had last seen the soldiers in early April. When I caught up with them just three months later, I barely recognized them. They were exhausted and skinny (many sweated off twenty in the heat, some as much as forty), and even if there were only a troubled few with the thousand-yard stare (and usually then just for a short time), most of them obviously had been through the wringer.”
Whether it is the stench of trenches, the bone chilling cold of the North Atlantic, or starvation in POW camps, war is hell for those who put their life on the line for the rest of us. Regardless of where they served, our warriors past and present are a cut above the rest.