10. September – 29. October 2015

Boris Kossoy - IMAGO - 50 years of photography

The soul of photographic images - Boris Kossoy

I look on this exhibition as a reunion with my photos, and therefore with myself. The set of images shown here posed a unique challenge in my photographic career when I decided to become my own curator, which is a rather uncomfortable and risky venture. However, it can be an interesting experience too, a mature comprehension of the force fields that have permeated the course I have been treading over time. My images constitute pleasant memories of feelings and practices combined with objects and contexts photographed in different places, at different times.

A journey along the course taken by our photographs ends up confounded with one’s own life journey. But there had to a different kind of logic for this exhibition: that of setting aside chronological arrangements – which are very convenient, by the way, but run the risk of coming close to something of the nature of an "inventory" or "retrospective". From the beginning, I ruled out these options. What actually mattered was emphasizing the essence of my half-century's work, while still showing it as a story with a planned roadmap on which yesterday's images could share space perfectly with today's. No conflict of form, no clashing contents.

On the other hand, there is an innate aesthetic concern in the constructive roots of my images; they emerge from the appreciation of the object, they arise from the way in which I perceive and represent something: this concern integrates the DNA of this development; it is its very expression. Artistic and content correlations dialogue between themselves over time and, with time, determine sets and subsets: editing adds meaning, narrative emerges.

By photographing, we create/construct realities. I have always noted how realities and fictions merge into a single message. It is a coexistence that lies not only in a theatrical setting such as my 1970s series named Viagem pelo Fantástico (Journey into the Fantastic), but in admitting the role of fiction as constituent of the actual production of photographic representation, actually a plot: technical, aesthetic, cultural and ideological. In other series in the following periods, I was able to see this and continue honing the idea that the atmosphere imposed on the scene and even the apparently innocent datum may cause estrangement, something that hangs in the air, impressions that are not precisely defined.

As a theoretical exercise, we do the opposite: we attempt to take image construction apart. Hence, interpretation has its foundation and instrument. Here we have a starting point to dismantle images, a path toward their inner knowledge: unveiling their hidden multiple inner-layers of meaning.

Once a photographic image has been created, it becomes a reality in itself, a second reality. The world of representation, an ambiguously parallel world consisting of constructed realities and documentary fictions in which images continue to exist and retain their resemblance to the object – but with a life of their own too, forever reinventing themselves.

At this point, I feel tempted to go on talking about my work, but it would be useless to repeat what I have specifically written elsewhere, in particular for the book Boris Kossoy, fotógrafo [Boris Kossoy, photographer] published by Cosac&Naify (São Paulo, 2008). Nevertheless, perhaps I should indicate certain aspects of my creative process.

Comics, mystery tales, theater and cinema, visual arts and architecture, fanciful history illustrations and magical realism have all inspired me since I was young and steered me toward the path I was to follow as a photographer. Indeed magic, mystery and memory have always been the essence of my work. I seek and find most of my themes in the context of what we call concrete or immediate reality. In this context I am intrigued by certain scenes and everyday events that other people not normally notice. I cannot fail to notice certain things taking place in houses, on streets, along paths, in windows at which I aim my camera Hitchcock style, trying to discover whatever drama may be taking place in a home, a shop window, or in the allure of a gesture, or the restlessness of a gaze.

Of course, some characters have been featured in my work more prominently, as shown by the mocking attitude of Mr. Américo; the mannequins sadly watching us here and there, or the lifeless stone, paper and crockery creatures in photographic image, elevated to the level of humans or vice versa. In this state, they are also static objects frozen by photographic image. There is fantasy too, as when we let ourselves be drawn into the silent evening landscape of an unending day in Marbach, or if we do not fear going into a forest, perhaps an enchanted one in which the air is green, at a mountain lookout point near São Paulo.

Through the camera shutter, I take an image of the outside world guided by intuition and emotion, by my own imaginary images: my mental kaleidoscope. As I watch the given, my imagination goes beyond it and points to a direction, everything contributes and comes together; scenes and events are shown to me and I translate them into photographic image scale. Creation and reflection.

I sometimes come across situations that seem familiar. I get a vague, blurred recollection from an earlier time, from a different period. This has been my path: images of journeys across unknown geographies, a means of discovering ourselves and tackling our phantom-shadows.

So in my photographs I am still attempting to reach beyond explicit objects, beyond apparent realities or appearances, beyond the raw material of photography and its outer reality. In the outer images, I am looking for pointers to historical recovery of their genesis and the facts they represent. So what I am talking about is that which a camera does not capture, the hidden part of re-presentation, its inner reality.

Fifty years after taking up photography, this apparent /hidden dichotomy is still the ongoing challenge that motivates and thrills me. Imaging yes, but beyond imaging too: representation. Every photo has a story behind it; every story is full of image representations. In my images, I seek to capture the soul of these representations. Therein lays the concept.

Finally, I would like to thank my friend Jorge Coli for his sensitive remarks on my work; my longtime friend and wise advisor Carlos Fadon Vicente and, in particular, my partner Malu for her affection and lasting support throughout this journey.

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Harvesting the invisible - Jorge Coli

From shifting appearances, Boris Kossoy obstinately extracts the magnitude of their lasting essence: his obsession with eternal flux underlying the phantasmagoria of phenomena.

When captured by Boris Kossoy’s photography, the visible phenomenon imbued with fickle appeal and a poetics of the ephemeral is explored further and more in depth, gradually and imperceptibly. Such is the photographer’s iteration. His art presupposes mysterious insights. Rather than capture mobility, it favors the power of lasting permanence in which inner life is rooted. Images then arise as if emerging from a reverie background. These images bring together the allure of a flair for reverie and a refined sensibility. These photographs pursue the mundane meaning and secrecy that is transient in that which it hides from the everlasting.

I am thinking of the shadows that seep into them – in one case, a photo of a shadow, so to speak, that bars a lower angle, outlining an arc and a cross on its own edge like sketches on sand, or silhouettes. We then realize that shadow here is neither dimmed light, nor neutrality, nor absence of light, but a positive force. In this case, its nature is that of a token, almost excessively so. Yet, shadow is cosmic power too. Just see how it emerges from light and gains density in the transition from the brightness of the horizon to the blackness of the cutout above and along the edge of the paper.

Even in a photo in which landscape is evenly lit in the classical manner, shadows – which at first glance seem to be excluded – are shown in discreet complicity. The photograph serenely features an 18th-century garden terrace with meticulously symmetrical flowerbeds that seem to be embroidered on a tablecloth. There is something of an aquarium-like transparency in this image. Small cone-shaped trees cast delicate shadows like oblique strokes, like the deceptively obvious symmetries seen in the gardens of Last Year at Marienbad.

By the way, the serenity of this image is deceptive too. Just see how the bushes trace capricious curves, throbbing with life in their whimsical graphism. Or yet, how dancing clouds in the sky are also animated by a throbbing vitality.

Opposed to stability in the photo I have just mentioned is the exalted lyricism of another in which widespread clouds gravitate around a bright star, hovering over an orange cityscape and an undulating mountainous horizon. There is hardly anything more pictorial. Illustrious memories come forth into quick associations: View of Toledo by El Greco comes to mind immediately, as does Turner's Snowstorm, or van Gogh's Starry Night, featuring the Saint-Remy skies created from energetic gesturality.

This vehement life is not a case apart; here, it is shown in greater evidence. In fact, the same vitality runs through all Kossoy's photos, even apparently more serene ones. Churning clouds bear witness to that which I have always judged essential for Kossoy's work. Rather than a photographic ensemble, in fact his oeuvre comprises a vibrant, living whole permeated by unspeakable forces, ranging from more immediately appealing forms to others that pose the keenest accents of spirituality.

This oeuvre expands one’s inner life through a profusion of contributions that are actually unconscious, and through silent interchange with a viewer's various insights. The visible universe is superimposed over several layers of unexpected suggestions, their immediate impact or gradual fascination capable of instigating an experience of something unexpected, indefinable, and uncanny. This is creativity disrupting our states of consciousness, judiciously and yet powerfully.

Together with a few others, the two above-mentioned photographs comprise a set in which characters are almost but not entirely absent. Presumed part of the cityscape, they are like virtualities evinced by a car in one case and the city in the other. Perhaps what I am trying to say here will be clearer on viewing a photograph so subtly lit and colored as to reveal a covered or underground parking garage. Space here is the potential of the scene, patently relating to the cinema's thriller genre. Vulnerability signified by several wide-open accesses; unease by absolute emptiness: danger is lurking.

However, there is no human figure visible in these photos. Kossoy's local and international acclaim as an exceptional photographer arose from his 1971 series Viagem pelo fantástico, whereas in this series he focused on the human being.

One has only to recall his well-known image of an orchestra maestro conducting tombs in a cemetery. The staging required to construct the image is imperceptibly dissolved to make way for a feeling of unassailably immediate and primary truth: metaphysics woven from perplexity and irony, tombs and deaths.

The conductor at center bears some resemblance to a scarecrow or a manikin. In Boris Kossoy's world, humanism springs from what is visible, but the latter is out of step. The human form emerges from unexpected places or dislocates in its media, or is itself slightly dislocated in a different way on being figured by the mask, the manikin, and sometimes by advertising or television images. The power of the composition means that a stone statue with mere hints of features will embody a humankind for whom justice is violence.

Boris Kossoy's oeuvre now reflects a 50-year journey that could easily be divided in phases or periods, although this would be a superficial exercise. His concerns are unchanged from first to last. There is still a fantasy world in those apparently "realistic" photos. There are obvious resemblances. Cosmic clouds over a city in one photo respond to another inversion: a huge female body with only its breasts and pubis showing, over which a cityscape view of the metropolis hovers. Forces overwhelmingly superior to the anthills of humans. Against a human profile that focuses drives and desires, an urban profile arises hosting the restlessness of its inhabitants; volumes formed from housing metamorphosed by chromaticism respond to the swirling sky.

Continuity is prolonged beyond singular and immediate comparisons. The manikin is primed to unleash a powerful femininity in front of a mirror or a display window, a mask to disrupt a hotel lobby. Above all, a lens knows where the invisible is hidden.

In an age of brevity and abbreviations, of multiple but summary perceptions, here is a lesson for the gaze. It requires commitment and patience, learning finely honed and paused observation. Kossoy gently transfigures the very principle of visibility, which is to be offered up to sight, in order to impose pursuit and revelation.