Today I am very pleased to present photography of Johan Entchev. His work explores many themes, most commonly people, family, childhood, memories and fear. And as before this short piece, an introduction to his work, will initiate a series of this week’s posts: first an interview, then an opportunity to showcase one project and finally a selection of one photo picked from the images published during the whole week, which will be later printed on a t-shirt.
Johan Entchev is a photographer from Helsinki, Finland who works primarily in black and white while pointing his camera mainly to his family – namely his children. When you think about kids in photography your thoughts go straight to Sally Mann and her black and white images of her three children. However you couldn’t be more wrong when you try to compare his work to hers. Apart from the starting point, everything is different. He is much closer in his approach to Robert Frank or Daido Moriyama with his intense, dark images, but he also confidently stands on his own. There is something captivating in his work, something I can’t name directly, some hidden layer of emotions and unresolved conflict that is palpable under the skin of what’s visible. At the same time he is a master composer, working freely at all ranges from uncomfortably close to grand views, his visual alphabet is vast and satisfying and his imagery darkly beautiful.
As I mentioned, the family and children are the starting point of his exploration, but the path leads through his own emotions – him as a father, looking at other consciousness forming in front of his eyes, trying to understand himself, trying to get a grip on his own perception, after all, to be a true parent one has to have a high level of integrity, and that requires one to exert internal effort on a daily basis. In the process going back to your own childhood is inevitable. As so what we get is a curious shift or overlay of two timelines, two lives – the present of the child and the past of the parent, both influencing one another in an intense cocktail. In the hands of a skilled artist the work coming out from this baseline is captivating.
I don’t think I will exaggerate if I point out another aspect I can’t stop thinking about while looking at his work. Clearly the images as dark and heavy, and the occasional glimpse of a silent sense of humour don’t really make them much lighter, if anything they underline the unspoken disturbance filtering through the harsh grain. What we are dealing with here is the power of art to serve as auto therapy, as a mean to channel past events in an almost psychoanalytic, if altogether hidden and symbolic way.
A good example of the present being overlaid onto the past is this blurred figure of a child in the foreground that won’t let you see much of the harshly sharp background. It’s almost like the past is blocking the father’s capability to connect with the child standing in front of him, bathed in soft light, so close and yet unrecognisably blurry.
A very different composition with the little black figure surrounded by a vast flowing landscape where even the sand seems to be crawling constantly, the child is again removed from any contact, it has become just a tiny black silhouette, anonymous, fragile and alone against all of nature that seems to be roaring above, beyond and around.
Johan’s photography obviously carries lots of hidden emotions and tensions. Feelings of isolation, lack of any possibility of true contact, expressing what we truly want to say to the ones closest to us can be painfully overwhelming once you really go deep into his world. The image where we see the back of a child just in front of the wall, the little head repeated next to it in a shadow on the wall again introducing a shift, a gap, very Beckett-like lack of possibilities, a suffocating stiffness. Looming above the child’s head there is this heavy black rectangle of the carpet, extending it’s threads towards the little person below.
Similarly in this peaceful scene, the little dinosaur toy suddenly evokes some hidden tension and sense of danger, the whole scene really almost like taken from some horror movie. The child standing in the balcony door looking out, frozen on the border between the inside and the outside, his head washed in the daylight and the toy like some unseen danger from the past. It takes just a little shift of perception to get a different reading though – it is after all a plastic toy, unable to do any harm, a paper tiger, a rather insignificant object that can lose all its power if viewed from a new perspective. Here, gently, the sense of humour I mentioned before seem to slip into the dark frame, the artist seems to be gently mocking himself, which is a very rare quality and one which I cherish a lot, not only in art but in people in general.
Another theme reoccurring in Johan’s work is birds, which I thought was worth mentioning, as it stands in quite a contrast to the very touchable topic of family and kids. Birds are all about distance (and yes, freedom, of course, but that actually means distance in practice), about space separating them from the photographer, they are quick, split second glimpses of a different life, of being totally removed from our human existence. In short, they are all about longing.
And then you come across this (forgive my ignorance as I don’t know much about birds) poor creature, murdered, stuffed and forever frozen to be a mere decoration. And the darkness comes back, squashing the hopes and longings with cruelty. Damn you, Johan. I guess we should expect that by now.
I would like to finish my introduction with this beautiful image of child hidden behind the curtain peeking through the gap. The single eye reflecting the flash, a glimpse of fingers, and that strange little circular something, repeating the shape of the child’s retina, repeating the reflected light. There are multiple possible readings here, as with all good work of art. We can talk about the fear but also about innocent play, is it the sub-consciousness sticking out through the opening or is a game of hide and seek? I leave you to decide for yourself.
If you enjoyed reading this post stay with us for more of Johan Entchev’s photography. Also you might want to check his website to find out more about his work.
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