New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 46 November 27 to December 3, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Displaced Persons
David Zimmerman
One Voice
Ed Barnas

Photo by David Zimmerman . Source: David Zimmerman, "Dunsang Rigchen" 2012

David Zimmerman has spent several decades documenting landscapes and cultures endangered for social, environmental, political or economic reasons. His last show at Sous les Etoiles, Last Refuge, focused on the abstracted patterns of shelters for economic refugees in the American Southwest – their inhabitants present only in their absence.

In One Voice the people are definitely present. Zimmerman was interested in how people, once tied to the land but forced to relocate for political reasons, were able to adapt. Although he had been visiting India since the 1990s, this series of Tibetan political refugees began in 2011 and comprises 700 portraits with more yet to be done. Many of these refugees hope to return to Tibet someday, but they are at the economic margins, too busy making a living to have much time left for activism.

Photo by David Zimmerman . Source: David Zimmerman, "Nyiki Dolma " 2012

As with his other series, Zimmerman spent time with his subjects. Many were nomads who had never “sat” for a portrait before and had not developed a “mask” for the camera. Working through an interpreter, Zimmerman talked with them and only took a dozen or so frames over the 30-60 minute portrait sessions. [He noted that he carries 5x7 prints to give to the people he has photographed. In one instance, the subject looked at the print appreciatively, folded it into quarters, and put it into his wallet.]

Each of these people is shown larger than life in archival pigment prints ranging from 53 x 40 to 73 x 55. Every detail is sharply resolved – be it the whiskers of an old man or the wrinkled hands of a five-year old girl, reflecting both a hard life lived and presaging one yet to come.

Photo by David Zimmerman . Source: David Zimmerman, "Lhakyi2012" 2012

By the use of classic Rembrandt lighting, casting the background into impenetrable shadow, every one is shown as an individual human being, divorced from the environment. With one exception, the clothing is generically Western, the men mostly in jackets. Aside from some facial features, there is nothing to identify these people as “the exotic other.” I was reminded more of rural Eastern Europeans I had seen in the 1970s or faces in classic FSA/WPA images than of the colorful National Geographic stereotypes normally associated with Asian nomads.

Zimmerman has said that his objective is “to put an emotion on paper,” in images reflecting endurance, resistance, reflection, steadfastness and hope. Whether the large size of these prints is essential to their impact is more a question of taste than a matter for debate. He printed these portraits at this size because he believed the scale best to bring out the emotions in these people. It works. [In a talk at the gallery, Zimmerman noted that he used a medium format camera with various digital backs. However, the newer higher resolution backs “out-resolved” his optics so he reverted to an older 33 megapixel back for this work.]

David Zimmerman
One Voice

Sous les Etoiles
560 Broadway Rm. 603
Lower Manhattan - West         Map

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Thursday, October 10 to
Saturday, November 30, 2013
Hours: Mon-Fri, 10 to 6

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