In 2013, the superb book « Promising waters » took us around the Caspian Sea to discover new post-Soviet states located around this inland sea. The new work of Mila Teshaieva reverse, this time, the proposal to make us discover an island and its inhabitants. Result of a two-year residency at the Museum Kunst der Westküste on the German island of Föhr in the North Sea, with this new series, Mila tries to understand what gathers and unites the people in their insularity (the title of the book is literally « being insular »).
It is never easy to arrive as a foreigner on an island, to enter a community without having acquired the codes. Thus you should take your time, give pledges to be accepted, and clearly, Mila has earned the trust of the islanders. She met locals and began his photographic work. A text, written by Marcus Lenz, in the book sums up this way to depict a territory : « The darkness sharpens your senses, suddenly you can hear the tiny sounds and you know where they’re coming from. You can see at night ». This is how we enter this world, Mila chose to literally paint with light his subjects. The photographs are made at night, they are very dark and we have to pay attention to explore the scene with characters and objects that are, in the darkness, revealed by a light brush. The photographic time is long, the image stretches and we are transported back in time. The characters are frozen, beyond all eternity, each focused on its task as if generations mingled to tell us the island. At no time we will cross a look and if sometimes it seems that one of them stare at us, his gaze pierces us and is already far behind us.
The choice of costumes and the use of light transform those images into paintings, particularly due to the effects of light and shade as found in Caravaggio or in some Flemish painters, but the reference to the painting also appears in a sense of déjà vu, like in Cezanne Card Players or Women at their toilette by Picasso, a sort of revisiting the history of painting ! Representation is clever, there is no need to show everything to say things. On the contrary, to represent is already taking sides, choosing what will be seen and deleting what is of no interest, putting in light, to finally understand what unites these men and women, to reach this timeless dimension, which, from universal becomes singular on this island and wwhich were the fundamentals of the community. A dimension that appears only to the one who will take the time, who will remain silent in the middle of the night to watch every gesture, every movement, to listen to every sound. The characters are revealed and nature comes to life, we discover the ancestral activities that were hunting and fishing, seasons, events, everything that was specific to the island despite the development of a seaside tourism resort in the early XIXth century. Any modernity is erased, as if the light only reveals that what lasts.
We leave this book as an imaginary world. We do not know if the story told was real or if we were asleep, just for a moment, while our imagination wandered. It remains however a few pictures, slightly unclear, of these bodies and objects that can be seen in the dark, and the feeling of coming back from a long journey in time.
The only frustration that remains at the end of this book is the desire to see the photographs in a larger size and high print quality. As for paintings, after seeing the book, we would like to see the work for real, to appreciate all the details and finesse. Of course, the offset process has difficulty to render the subtleties of lighting used.
Hardcover book published in 2016 by Kehrer Verlag, 23 x 21 cm, 96 pages, 38 color photos, texts in German and English by Marcus Lenz.
More info : http://www.milateshaieva.com/books
A previous review of Mila Teshaieva’s Promising Waters : https://whoneedsanotherphotoblog.wordpress.com/2014/09/20/promising-waters-by-mila-teshaieva/