A young girl enjoys a treat and the company of two rabbits during an Easter in Juárez, Mexico.
"I was unfulfilled," he says. "I had a breakdown, not like the ‘lock him up and send him to the loony bin’ type of thing, but I was unhappy in advertising. I went to the brand side and thought that might be my salvation, so I spent a year and a half at Clorox. Toward the end, I ended up on the floor of my office. I locked the door, forwarded my phone to my narcoleptic secretary, and I just started crying." (Kalisher explains that his secretary had told him she was narcoleptic, and if he found her asleep at her desk during work hours, she couldn’t be fired because it was a medical condition.)
“My life,” he continues, “had become, amongst other things, a series of boxes. I lived in a box. That was my apartment. I commuted to work in a box. That was my car. And I went into this other box, which was my office. All of my fulfillment and all of my joy came from outside of work, so I had a crisis. And so ultimately I quit.”
Soon after, Kalisher hopped on a plane to Vietnam to do some traveling and some soul-searching. He says that this is where the next chapter in his life began.
One of the first two images of Barack Obama to be incorporated into the permanent collection of the Smithsonian.
“When I left advertising, I wasn’t sure what I was going to do,” he remembers. “I bought this point-and-shoot camera, and I went to Hanoi and I started to take some pictures. I remember distinctly one morning I went out just at sunrise, and these kids had set up their bicycles in the streets, and they were stringing badminton nets across the street between the bicycles, and they began to play badminton. I thought, ‘This is amazing; we don’t do this in America!’ I pulled out my camera to take a snapshot, and as I looked through the viewfinder of this point-and-shoot, I had an epiphany because I started framing a picture. Where I thought I was just going to capture a memory, I started finding meaning, and I reconnected with my inner photographer.”
“I’m fascinated by other cultures,” Kalisher explains about his love of travel. “Intellectually, I understood that there are different people leading completely different lives than me all over the world. I was reasonably well educated, I read The New York Times on a regular basis and so forth, so I understood that intellectually, but getting to Hanoi I understood it viscerally. And my fascination with meeting people and understanding how people live and the different types of lives that people are living now is never ending.”
Another photograph to be chosen by the Smithsonian, the Reflecting Pool of the Taj Mahal gets a good cleaning in India. Kalisher had planned to capture the world-famous reflections only to find that the pool was scheduled for cleaning the day of his arrival.
Now Kalisher has traveled the globe many times over, admitting that at some point he lost count of the countries that he has been to. He uses an interpretive approach to capturing scenics, in general, avoiding the cliché shot entirely in order to capture something unique or interesting. Often, his images are sublime in this way, a puzzle that takes multiple views to truly comprehend. An image taken in Jordan from his “Around the World in 89 Photographs” collection, for instance, frames an ancient stone-hewed acropolis in the background with a shadowy walkway that hides as much of the subject as it shows. For a travel photographer to show very little of the chosen destination is a risky gambit, but the image inspires far more through its mystery than a point-blank shot ever could.
While many pro photographers will go out of their way to avoid capturing local tourists or distractions in unblemished images, Kalisher chooses to emphatically embrace them as part of the scene. His “Art Watching” series on art museums explores the notion that people themselves are often just as interesting as the classic works that they’re viewing, if not more so.
“One of the most remarkable moments is when we’re interacting with art,” he points out. “We let down all our defenses, we’re just ourselves, we’re probing something with this creation that’s before us, and that’s the perfect time for me to be an observer and to capture a moment, and in some cases, a real human moment, and in other cases, just something humorous.”