DPP Home Profiles Jesse Kalisher: World Traveler

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Jesse Kalisher: World Traveler

Jesse Kalisher’s unique talent for going beyond the snapshot and an intimate knowledge of marketing make a winning combination

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An image from Kalisher’s “Art Watching” series, where the people often are more interesting than the classic works they’re looking at. Taken in the sculpture atrium of the Louvre, a print of the shot is now included in the museum’s permanent collection. B
In one image from the series, a yawning museum security guard adds a bit of social critique to the ancient relics that he’s guarding. In another, Mona Lisa at the Mona Lisa, taken in the Musée du Louvre in Paris (which now owns a print of the shot in its permanent collection), Kalisher’s subject, a woman eerily similar in countenance and mood to the Mona Lisa, stands in front of the famous painting while a crowd of art lovers behind completely ignores her in order to gain a cursory view of the distant painting itself. It’s a single image with multilayered satire.

“I teach photography workshops around the world,” he says, “and I know that you can teach people tools on how to frame a picture, and I can teach them tricks, and I can teach them things that will help them improve their photography, but there’s something innate that some people have and some people don’t that you can’t teach. I’m not sure where that comes from or how we develop it. So where does that come from for me? It comes from what I call ‘active listening’ with my eyes.”

Staying On His Toes
Kalisher is known primarily for his black-and-white work, though he does shoot digitally in color for processing to black-and-white later. He says that although the viewfinder is in color, his brain often sees the world in black-and-white. Thanks to his renown in the black-and-white field, Kalisher had a taste of Internet fame recently, when a group of black-and-white glass-plate negatives were discovered at a garage sale by a construction worker named Rick Norsigian. Norsigian alleged at the time that they were original Ansel Adams photos, estimated to be worth a considerable amount of money, nearly $200 million if authentic. (Norsigian and the estate of Ansel Adams have since settled outside of the courts.) Kalisher was asked by Norsigian to make prints from the negatives, which he did after getting in touch with Adams’ grandson to firmly establish his neutrality. At one point, Kalisher even received hate mail over his participation in the hotly debated situation, and though he made no presumption as to the original photographer of the negatives, he made an interesting argument on his blog regarding his involvement.
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.

Kalisher’s “Around The World in 89 Photographs” series showcases his travels through iconic images that encapsulate the characteristics of an area. In this case, a dancing boy manages to stay within the dictates of the warning signs while still having a bit of fun next to Barton Springs Pool in Austin, Texas.
“We’ll never know who took the pictures,” he says, “and for me, it doesn’t matter. When I was asked to print the negatives, I agreed with the understanding that I wouldn’t be asked to authenticate them. They’re magnificent negatives, negatives that should
be well looked after and preserved. I’m honored to print them—whoever happened to take the pictures.”

To Kalisher, these shots were emblematic of what he considers a successful photograph to be. He defines a great image as “one that’s defined by the content and the style fighting equally for the attention of the viewer.” He says that when viewing a truly great image, he may not know whether he likes it better because it’s telling a good story or because the aesthetic of the image is so compelling, and to him that’s the challenge of putting together a great shot. It’s an objective that he gives to the students in his workshops, and it’s the standard with which he takes every image.

To see more of Jesse Kalisher’s work, visit www.kalisher.com. Kalisher has three workshops slated for the summer of 2011 in Maine, Santa Fe and Tahiti.


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