Thursday, 11 April 2013

Ida Kar

All photos by (and copyright of) Rosalind Jana

The piece below is one that I originally wrote for Kay Montano's blog here - where she has a fascinating platform that is used to explore and unpack ideas about beauty, appearance and culture. Kay Montano has been working as a make-up artist since she was sixteen, and has collaborated with photographers including Bruce Weber, Patrick Demarchelier and and Steven Meisel. So it is somewhat fitting that the article I contributed was on the little-known 20th Century photographer Ida Kar. 
The photos above are my own small homage to Kar's work, all taken by me over the last year or so. (You can see some of Kar's photos if you click through to my original post on Kay's blog). 

What constitutes an inspiring woman? It’s perhaps an unhelpfully broad question. Inspiration is in the eye (or mind, or heart or responses) of the individual. There is no defined scale or quality, no absolute measure to rank one above another. That’s what makes finding someone inspiring for a very specific set of reasons so special.
For me, the draw to and appreciation of photographer Ida Kar (1908-1974) stems from the great capacity she had to frame characters, fix them in a shot, provide a quick glimpse into someone else’s life or vocation. Born in Russia to Armenian parents, with time spent in Cairo and Paris before she moved to London aged 37 in 1945, her early work focused on surrealism and experimentation. She forged connections in the arts world in the late 40s and many of her most accomplished photographs were taken during the 50s and 60s. From Bertrand Russell to Marc Chagall, Man Ray and Doris Lessing, she photographed plenty of the most innovative artists, thinkers and writers of the time.
Her photos have a deep, almost inky depth to them as light and shadow converge or contrast. Subjects are often pictured in situ, rooted in the paraphernalia of a studio, gallery or home environment. There is always a sense of context. Paintbrushes, canvases, sculpted heads, wire mesh. These are the frames surrounding her subjects. Bridget Riley stares up from a background of geometric lines; TS Eliot sits surrounded by shelves and stacks of books; a pensive Maggie Smith leans against the back of a chair.
Two words that often attach themselves to photography are ‘capture’ and ‘preserve’. Faces are captured by the lens and sensor, preserved on a strip of film or blown up in a print. The moment of taking is fleeting but the image often outlasts both the creator and her subject.
Perhaps part of the process of portrait photography is not only to document the sitter as they outwardly appear (which Kar so skillfully achieved), but also to catch something of the inner self – manifested in an expression, the placing of hands, a particular stance. Kar’s careful balance between internal and external gives her work an intriguing depth. There is both a curiosity and vivacity in her photos. They are utterly alive.
It’s this sense of life that I love the most. An hour spent poring over her work makes me want to put down the book, pick up my camera and seek out intriguing people. It reinforces my interest in the world’s richness, and potential. It’s so easy to get caught up in the camera-flash pace of twitter, blog views, Facebook debates and breaking news, that it can be revitalizing to be reminded of the slower satisfaction of craft – be it painting, writing, sculpting, making or taking photographs. Kar’s work not only stirs me to be more creative myself, but to be interested in others and what they do. There is so much out there to see and learn, so many to meet and make connections with. What a dazzling prospect that is. 


Closet Fashionista said...

The photos you took are beautiful! I don't have time right now to check out hers but I definitely will later today.
I agree, portraits where you can feel someones energy are always the best. Anyone can take a photo but only the best can capture the essence of their subject in it.

Willow said...

I've seen some of Ida Kar's work before - not sure if it was because of a mention on your blog previously (if you have mentioned her before, that is) or somewhere else. But I love her photography and I think her pictures are gorgeous. I absolutely agree with you, her photos capture something of the inner self, they have that whimsy and depth to them that you so beautifully explained.

Your images are stunning, the first, third and fourth are particularly evocative of the depth of Kar's work. The first one and your photo of the boy are my favourites. But they're all absolutely gorgeous.

Emalina said...

I'm struck by the real quality and beauty of the portraits you took, dear Roz, and how they capture so much of the spirit of the sitter. You're a wonderful photographer! And I'm now very inspired to look up Ida Kar as you know I've never heard of her! She sounds like a fascinating talent and I can't wait to explore her work, so many thanks for your absorbing and beautifully written introduction to her.

Vix said...

I haven't heard of her but I shall definitely be investigating further. Your pictures are utterly wonderful.#
You're right, it's easy to lose hours on Facebook, blogging and twitter - taking time out to explore your crafty side is time well spent! x

Ellinor Forje said...

Love the instensity of the photos and the stories they tell. Thanks for posting and feel free to drop by me too soon.


Fantastic works, I am such a huge fan of Weber, and Demarchelier, what an experience it must have been for Kay to work with them! The photos are also beautifully captured!

Maya Topadze Griggs said...

This is so interesting!! I'll have to learn more about Ida Karr. Thanks so much for your post.

The Cat Who Walked by Herself said...

They all look like such interesting people!

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful piece. Photography in all its forms is about preserving a moment in time, but there is something very special about what a portrait can evoke, as the focus is solely on the individual.

Izzy DM said...

I've never heard of Ida Kar. Thanks for introducing me to her work.

And I loved this: "the slower satisfaction of craft." Yes, that's exactly it. Perfect!


Izzy DM said...

And you TOOK those photos?? Wow! I thought they were a professional photographers. Didn't realize until I saw the other comments. I missed the passage at the beginning. I love the depth of emotion you capture.

Bella Q said...

You took some amazing shots- now I need to google Ida and see her work for myself. Thank you for sharing.

The Foolish Aesthete said...

Beautiful portraits, Rosalind! You seem to have captured the essence of your subjects too, not only in their pensive states, but in the naturalness of their surroundings.

All my portraits are of family & friends. I don't think everyone appreciates my "candid" shots, particularly if they're not of their "best" angle :) Many people just instinctively mug for their latest Instagram or Facebook post. But a story, even a spun yarn, expressed through the lens just seems far more interesting! (At least it is to me.)

Thank you for highlighting Ida Kar. I hadn't heard of her before and should add her to my list of admired female photographers. That list currently includes Lee Miller (must have been a contemporary of Kar?) and Francesca Goodman. - J xxx

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