Nadav Kander (*1961 in Tel Aviv) lives and works in London. Professional photographer since the 1980s for magazines such as The Sunday Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, Esquire, Another Man, Dazed & Confused, and The New York Times Magazine. 2009: Prix Pictet for his series, Yangtze, The Long River; named the Lucie Awards International Photographer of the Year.

Evidence of our times: succinct portraits and melancholy landscapes

“The most overwhelming feeling triggered by Kander’s photographs of the historical changes along the Yangtze is nostalgia . . .” (Jean-Paul Tchang)
“I am interested in how man affects his surroundings; what is left behind often tells us more about ourselves than if we were present . . .” (Nadav Kander)

Nadav Kander grew up in Johannesburg and at the early age of thirteen discovered a passion for photography. During his military service he developed aerial photographs for the South African Air Force; afterward, he embarked upon his career as a photographer, which took him to London in 1986. With his photographs for extraordinarily successful advertising campaigns and commissions from renowned magazines—primarily for portraits of famous personalities from politics, sports, and pop culture—Kander has become one of the most respected and successful representatives of his craft.

He photographed the Obama’s People series for The New York Times Magazine, which published the series in a special edition on January 18, 2009. The 53 succinct color photographs depict members of Barack Obama’s administration. Besides famous politicians, such as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton or Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, there are portraits of some of the American president’s closest and oldest friends and associates. Kander has positioned them all in front of the same neutral background, with or without attributes, but in different poses. The order of the pictures produces a very subtle dynamic, while the people in the portraits seem likeable and human, even within the official framework. “Together, the personalities form a mirror image of the public’s reception of Barack Obama. They embody a modern political style [and] symbolize the rapprochement between the American center of power and American society . . .” (exhibition brochure for The Kennedys Museum, Berlin, 2010)

Aside from the portrait, a large portion of Kander’s work is devoted to cities and landscapes: places where people leave behind visible traces. In 2006/07 the photographer journeyed down China’s mightiest river, the Yangtze, from estuary to source, capturing along the river the rapid development of the Middle Kingdom into a modern industrial state. Kander’s melancholy, muted color photographs show a still-intact, impressive landscape along the Yangtze, but more than anything else, they show us the pollution, as well as inexorably change and destruction occurring along the river and its banks. People are portrayed as very small and powerless, in contrast to the gigantic, new, western-style bridges and buildings that are replacing the old, traditional buildings and houseboats. In Kander’s series, the Yangtze becomes the symbol of the high price that China is paying for the compulsively propelled upheaval of the country, which is happening in the name of progress. China’s historical, cultural, and spiritual traditions are being forcibly and irretrievably extinguished, causing heavy damage to both man and nature in the process. A moment of this turmoil is captured in Kander’s disturbingly beautiful photographs, which can never depict the same things ever again.

September 6, 2010 Anja Breloh

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