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Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Parish Kohanim: Light And Form

Parish Kohanim continues his lifelong fascination with the indefinable beauty of imagery

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Interpreted roughly as “bright light” or “shining” in Italian, Parish Kohanim has spent a great deal of the last three years of his life working on a personal project titled Luminosa. In it, he has been working with past and present Cirque du Soleil performers to explore the boundaries of human endurance and form. Kohanim wishes to note that the project is in no way directly affiliated with Cirque du Soleil, only that many of the models are culled from the incredibly talented acrobats of the world-famous troupe.
Kohanim’s great degree of success has afforded him the opportunities to devote his time to these personal pursuits and so, between other projects, he has been working on a special endeavor that has consumed much of his personal attention for more than three years now—Luminosa, a portfolio of fine-art portraiture centered on a variety of past and present Cirque du Soleil performers. Through it, Kohanim has been detailing the human limits of strength and endurance, perseverance personified by form, shape and light. He has been using his camera to create living sculptures of flesh and bone.

“These performers are outstanding above and beyond any other gymnast and performer that you can imagine,” Kohanim gushes, “and these guys are even beyond that. They’re pushing their limits as far as it can go. They’re doing some impossible things. It’s really a pleasure to spend the time with them and watch not only their passion, but also their commitment to their craft. I’ve enjoyed it. I’ve learned a lot from them, and it’s been a great journey, and I can’t wait until this book is ready to be published.”

Kohanim has always loved working with performers—ballerinas, dancers, actors and the like. It fascinates him that a select few are able to achieve a level of accomplishment so far and above the natural talents of most people. As a photographer, his own particular challenge lies in capturing such dynamic subjects and presenting them in a still image without losing their feeling of potency. Kohanim has chosen to go tack-sharp with this project in order to capture the performers poised at the absolute pinnacle of each meticulous movement.

Kohanim’s story began as a struggling
immigrant to the United States from Persia. He made the journey as a teenager with only $300 in his pocket, a humble beginning that has led to a penultimate success story. His impressive résumé includes commercial work for a variety of Fortune 500 companies, including IBM, AT&T, Coca-Cola and many more. He also has been published in numerous magazines and online sources, including an Apple Pro Profile on their site. Canon nominated him as one of its first Explorers of Light, and Kohanim tours the country lecturing on photography. Despite all of this, he shows no signs of slowing down. “We always have to push forward,” he says. “There’s a quote I love that says, ‘We’re never there’. There’s always the next step and the next level that we can transcend to.”

“What I love about them is that they just don’t take it easy,” Kohanim says admirably. “We go through these positions that’s painful for them, and they keep falling over and over again and they get up and do it again and again. After three days of shooting, they’re pretty sore, and on the third day of shooting, they’re really sore. That doesn’t deter them from really pushing their limit even further. Pain is an accepted price they pay to get perfection that they want to express.”

A Frozen Moment

One of the greatest challenges for Kohanim is to be synchronized with the performers. He’s using high-powered strobes to stop movement, freezing the action at 1⁄7500 of a second in many cases. For such unusual, almost impossible positions, anything lower would result in blur.

Says Kohanim, “That’s a pretty small duration, 1⁄7500 of a second. So I need to be in perfect sync with them because it happens so quickly, that if you blink your eye, then they’re already falling down on the mat.”

The photographer decided early on that they would prefer to work without the guidance of an outside party, so though the project isn’t affiliated with Cirque, it’s a group that’s known for its keen artistic sensibilities, and Kohanim has entertained the notion of approaching them for sponsorship after the project has been finished. In the meantime, the images he has produced are a pure and unadulterated form of collaboration between him and the performers. Ultimately, the collection will be edited together and presented to the public as a high-end coffee-table book with both a limited and standard edition.

“They do the most difficult things well,” Kohanim muses, “and easy for them is impossible for most, even the most skilled gymnast. In fact, there was one pose that one performer was trying with his partner, and he said, ‘No, this is too easy; let’s make it a little more complex and more interesting.’ They want to make it more special and bring it to the next level, and each and every time it’s something completely different. It’s never repeating the same scenario. It’s always a new fresh concept.”


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