Talbot revisited: Uri Gershuni reconstructs the first ever photograph
The Israeli artist and photographer uses his digital camera to imitate a camera obscura.
1. “Sometime in 1839 ... Talbot exposed a negative to the sun. All of a sudden, light was rendered dark and black, while darkness transformed into whiteness.” With these words, Amir Kliger concludes his article on Uri Gershuni’s precise and profound exhibition, titled “Yesterday’s Sun,” currently showing at the Chelouche Gallery in Tel Aviv. The photograph here, of a latticed window and a table covered with a tablecloth, is a reconstruction of the first Talbot photograph that has survived. It is seemingly neutral. Unpeopled. Unsophisticated. But make no mistake; just as the prehistoric cave paintings depict the most significant beings in the world of human tribes − the animals − so the first photograph depicts one of the most crucial themes for understanding the art of photography: the light that streams in through the window.
2. Gershuni traveled to Talbot’s home in the Wiltshire village of Lacock, in southwestern England, in order to photograph what Talbot photographed, see what Talbot saw, stand where Talbot stood.
3. Photography is male. It was created by a man. This is not a philosophical, “clever” or poetic comment. In 1840s England, only men had public careers, a broad education, power and money, and only they were oriented toward science, research and outings. By the same token, photography can be said to be rich. The poor of the time, like the women, did not have the wherewithal to conduct chemical experiments on exposure to light and with silver nitrate solutions, or to register patents. Talbot fought for his right to register his invention and published the first album of photographs, “The Pencil of Nature” (1844-1846). Gershuni’s art dialogues with Talbot’s ambition for scientific innovation. For practicability.
4. Visiting Gershuni’s exhibition evokes W.G. Sebald’s “The Rings of Saturn.” Like that work, it testifies to the initiative of an adventurer who sets out in the wake of previous researchers to recapitulate their measurements with more precise instruments (Gershuni’s digital camera imitates a camera obscura). Primarily, though, it attests to the personality of an artist who does not make do with the self-evident − for example, the universally obvious beauty of a male model photographed in the studio, which he enhanced to perfection in previous works. As with Sebald, the journey in space, the movement in time, the encyclopedic tapestry of knowledge forges layers upon layers of meaning. But they are also a way of coping with manifestations of feeling. This is how Gershuni deals with his biography − he is the son of two acclaimed artists, and his brother, too, is a painter − with the elements of his male identity, with his identity as a gay man and with the burden and the joy in the life of an artist who understands what makes him become himself.