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The world, reflected from a closed room | Yair Barak


Often, when I am called upon to consider the difference between a photograph and a painting, I think about a painter in a closed room. He has the whole world at his disposal: imagination, memory, his visual and perceptive database. He can paint whatever comes to his mind.

Conversely, a photographer in that same room - what might he[SN1]  or she photograph? Only that which is in the room. Photography forever depends on the world's ontology. You can only photograph what is there.

Natalie Issahary’s show undermines this rash assumption and absolutely repudiates it. Issahary’s images are based on a pure photo-chemical process, and emerge as a consequence of the encounter between light and chemistry. In this unique process, the chemicals are slowly absorbed into the photographic paper, sometimes coming together vertically and sometimes horizontally. The developer then penetrates the layers of the paper and leaves traces. Each image in the show is a true documentation of the light-matter process, absent the ultimate mediator of photography – the gaze. Without a camera or a photographic eye, Issahary weaves a world of images without a subject.

In its early days, the pioneers of photography made frequent use of the photogram – the primary instance of photography: light meets photographic emulsion. In the early 20th century, this has also been due to a technical limitation, since cameras evolved later than the photographic chemistry. The outline, the undisputable hero of early photograms, has prophesied the indexing power of photography, its ability to claim, "this is the world." Almost two hundred years later, Issahary chooses this apparently limited tool, but she takes away its crucial component – the object. Her photography is subject-less and object-less. This is a fundamental negation of the essence of photography. And while she's at it, as she subverts the obvious in this medium, she creates worldscapes, horizon lines, a rich and varies topography in the best 19th-century tradition. She outlines the world with singular, irreproducible images, which undermine the distinctive Modernist act the medium has introduced with its inception.

There is another aspect of crucial disruption in the work: the traditional photogram lives in a dark room, protected by a light wavelength that doesn't endanger the sensitive photographic material. In Issahary’s works, the paper is exposes to white light, and thus the emergence of the image also takes place under bright light. This action abandons the image to chance and complete loss of control. The ability of the artist to plan and predict her output is limited, and she is constantly surprised by the outcomes. 

The pioneers of photography in 19th-century England were well-to-do intellectuals, but also aficionados of magic and alchemy. Some were deeply influenced by the Lunar Society, from the 18th century, and viewed themselves not only as inventors and scholars but also as magicians as well. Natalie Issahary’s works are well situated along this line. She is a scholar/magician. She studies the behavior of the photographic mechanism while working miracles and allowing randomness to rule. She spins images of deserts out of silver-Nitrate particles, draws the moon and its craters with a round of black paper. A magician without a wand[MOU2]  , she creates something out of nothing, and brings the whole universe into a closed room.

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