THE BLACK GARDEN - A New Photography Project by Jason Eskenazi
My project The Black Garden is a photographic investigation of the East/West divide. Basing myself in Istanbul for one year, I will photograph the texture of life throughout the Middle East and beyond as the Muslim world continues to confront the tide of western-style ideals for better or for worse.
I want to understand the contemporary dilemmas of our civilization by seeking modern equivalents to the East/West dichotomy. From the mythic Trojan War, to the split of the Roman Empire, to Islamic control over Western Europe, to today’s wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and to the revolutions in Egypt and Libya, human history has been plagued by successive waves of both territorial and cultural conquest across the Eurasian divide over the course of 3000 years. This ancient world spanned the same locales where many of the world’s crises are now taking place.
After 9/11, the real battles and new borders of the 21st century are no longer being fought over physical territory, but over imagination, West vs. East, of how best to attain, order, and maintain a society. I want to investigate this dichotomy.
I will do this by creating a companion to my published book Wonderland: A Fairy Tale of the Soviet Monolith (recently reviewed on National Public Radio and winner of Best Photography Book by POYi) where I interpreted the former Soviet Union as a story about childhood maturation – from childhood fairy tales to adult mythology. And like mythology, this new story, The Black Garden, centers on the nature of duality. Does it arise from out of our imagination or does it have a physical geographical basis? I will investigate the influence of ancient Greek ideals and myths, as well as eastern views, in our modern time by photographing today’s current events within our the vast geographical and mythical world known to ancient Greece: from Southern Italy to the Indus River in India in order to see contemporary dilemmas within a historical, journalistic, and artistic light.
I feel qualified and confident to undertake such a task. My past work has been accomplished on a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as other grants. And I am a grandchild of this east/west epicenter in the Dardanelles, growing up as a 2nd generation American in New York with traditions of the East.
The end of the 20th century has seen the disappearance of isolationism: be it of the cultural kind: a small mountainous community in danger of losing long-held traditions or of the political kind: civil strife over power within a country. Geographical borders have virtually been eliminated. Due to technology, our new century is ordered on a global scale. We can no longer isolate the drama of enfolding events across the ocean from ourselves. Therefore we must now consider the bigger picture: the corrosion and decay of the ideals that form the underlying structure of western societies. And we can only understand the present by looking at the ancient past. I want to expand the traditional photo essay format from microcosm to macrocosm: to frame not just the many aspects of one story but to look at how current events around the world are interrelated through visual metaphor and equivalents helping us better understand how all societies are connected and where they diverge.
Ancient Greek civilization forms the basis of Western contemporary society. This project seeks out modern equivalents to Greek myths and ideals within the geographical locations known to the ancients Greeks. In essence showing an Ancient Greek what his world looks like 2500 hence: A world that spanned from the Mediterranean to the Caucasus, to Afghanistan and beyond.
The East/West divide shows itself in the feminine/masculine; earth/sky; images/words; abstract/concrete; body/spirit; chaos/cosmos; good/evil dichotomy, and geographically split with modern day Istanbul at its epicenter as it was in ancient times.
But what are those images; those road signs, which connect the ancient world to ours in the physical and internal landscape? The photo-apparatus is a tool for the imagination. The language of photographic metaphor allows us to translate abstract ideas into images. Skyscrapers are images of striving towards perfection. A circle is the cycle of life. Barbed wire = our minds confusion. The bent steel rods of a bulldozer’s destruction or the sealed tire tracks of a kid’s bicycle in dried concrete become the untamable heads of the mythical Hydra. In black & white, pools of black oil reflect the bloodstains of conflict. The sea: the vastness of the imagination and the futility of hubris.
I have already photographed in Afghanistan, and Palestine and around the Black Sea in Ukraine and Georgia; all places where the Ancient Greeks traveled to, knew about, and tried to spread their influence and ideals. To continue this project I will need to base myself in Istanbul and photograph in Gaza, the democratization of Iraq, Greece and Turkey, Iran, and countries on the North African coast. In the end the project, though far- reaching and broad in scope will be brought together by a sequence of visual metaphors on both sides of the Atlantic and journalistically driven by the front pages of our daily news.
Awards & Grants:
Best Photography Book POYi, 2008 “WONDERLAND.”
Fulbright Scholar, 2005
Guggenheim Fellow, 1999
Dorothea Lange/Paul Taylor Prize, 1999
Jason Eskenazi website:
NYTimes Lens Blog: http://lens.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/07/07/showcase-15/
Kids With Cameras: http://www.jasoneskenazi.com/kwc/index.html
Studio 360 Interview with Jason: http://www.studio360.org/2009/dec/18/aha-moment-robert-frank/
- (60 days)