Nadav Kander – Dust

Posted on October 3, 2014


Yesterday I went along to Flowers Gallery on the Kingsland Road in Hackney to see an exhibition of Nadav Kander’s latest work, Dust. The title of the work comes from a T S Eliot quotation ‘I will show you fear in a handful of Dust’. Fear in this case relates to the nature of the places represented – three secret locations in Russia which were sites of nuclear testing and destruction.


For the most part the photographs are landscapes – barren landscapes and ruins. The formal structure of most of the images is similar. The dominant feature is the wide horizon, typically set at one third up from the bottom of the frame. The ruins rise up from the horizon towards the sky.

The images are softly lit and seem to have been made in the early morning or late evening just as the sun was rising and setting. As with Kander’s Yangtse photographs the images seem slightly overexposed. As I understand it Kander made the images with a 5×4 camera using negative film. I find Kander’s photographs aesthetically very appealing with their elegant compositions, soft light and soft colours.

The knowledge that these sites were ‘secret’, that they were locations used for nuclear testing and that they are now all abandoned makes for an intriguing set of images. The appeal to quote a recent Tate Britain exhibition is derived from ‘Ruin Lust’. Fascination with ruins operates at both a dialectical and allegorical level. We are left to ponder on what lessons might be learned from the particular past experience and to consider the inevitability of the downfall of empires implied at a metaphorical level. The buildings in Kander’s photographs are decaying but the natural environment survives and indeed is taking over…

Kander’s work is an example of what David Campany has called late photography – revisiting the aftermath of catastrophic events. The photographs are still and quiet. They are also, in my view, quite beautiful. Stillness, quiet and beauty are notions that are wildly at odds with the nature of what happened at these places! As with the work of Delahaye, Norfolk, Misrach, Burtinsky (and others), the beauty seduces and draws one in. The horror of what is depicted comes later. Personally I have no concerns about this approach. You have to grab your audience’s attention somehow! I know others find aesthicising war and environmental disaster unacceptable ethically.

The exhibition shows about a dozen prints. They are very large, as is the fashion for this type of photography. The scale gives the photographs the monumental impact of history paintings and allows detailed scrutiny of the scenes shown.

A very impressive series of photographs, albeit quite a small exhibition. Well worth a visit, especially over the next couple of months as there are many other exhibitions showing in East London as part of the PhotoMonth festival.