Wednesday, April 25, 2012

In the Light of Darkness: Kate Brooks

Spring showers and spring flowers have arrived here in Florence, along with a perspective of spring in the Middle East, seen in the above photo of a woman in Afghanistan walking through a field of opium poppies.  Part of the retrospective In the Light of Darkness, it is the work of  renowned American photographer Kate Brooks, currently on view at Tethys Gallery, via Maggio 58/r through May 1.

The show is part of a larger event entitled "Middle East Now," which includes a mini film festival at the Cinema Odeon, and an exhibition by Iranian photographer Newsha Tavokolian at the Otto art gallery directly across from Tethys on via Maggio 13.

Above is another photo by Kate Brooks, of a highly decorated (see the medals on her chest?)
paratrooper official, forced into early retirement and sent home when the Taliban became a powerful political force in her home country, Afghanistan.

Who exactly is Kate Brooks?  I have to confess, I had never heard of her until I flipped through "D,"
Repubblica's magazine for women.  I happen to detest "D" but it comes as a supplement to the paper's Saturday edition.  I was surprised to see that the exhibition was scheduled to open at my photographers' (Atlantide: Stefano Amantini, Guido Cozzi, Massimo Borchi) gallery, Tethys.
After an animated phone call with Stefano, he confirmed he had never heard of Kate Brooks either until Guido began working in collaboration with "Middle East Now."

In her mid-20s at the time, Kate Brooks went to the Middle East right after 9/11, moving first to Pakistan.  Determined to work as a photojournalist, she also wanted to document the impact of American foreign policy on the region, ultimately covering the invasion of Iraq and the ousting of the Taliban.  In the form of news stories and features, she has documented conflicts in Bagdad, Kabul and Beirut as well as social change in Lebanon, Saudi Arabia and Yemen.

Above is a group of Afghan women surreptitiously acting out a Shakespeare play at home.

Participating in this scene for Newsha Tavokolian growing up in Iran would have been impossible.   As a child she dreamed of being a singer--in a country where it is illegal for music soloists
to perform on stage or release a CD.
Instead of singing, she decided to document Iranian singers, photos of whom are featured at the Otto gallery.

For Tavokolian, photojournalism became her voice, and ultimately, her weapon in
a male-dominated society.

Below is the artist's self portrait.
As for her American colleague Kate Brooks, she now works for the New York Times, Time magazine,
 the Wall Street Journal, the New Yorker, Newsweek and other periodicals, never calling anywhere home but the Middle East since the Twin Towers exploded and the world changed.

This is Kate Brook in the field, quite a contrast to her Iranian colleague Newsha Tavokolian.
Makes you think...she's not wearing the helmet because she's having a bad hair day.
Wait a minute, when she packed her camera 11 years ago and up and left the U.S., she wasn't going to  a post fisso (a steady job or job for life, so dear to the Italians, less so to Premier Monti who publicly commented that he would find it boring).
How did she live before she became famous?  Now that's a story.

I actually met Kate at the Tethys opening, which became packed.  She was dressed soberly all in black and Guido Cozzi lifted a camera above the crowd to take photos of her (hey Guido, how about a shot to publish in Beautiful Florence?)

I spoke to her briefly--she was only in Florence briefly as she was returning on assignment to Lebanon a mere day-and-a-half after the show's opening.

This reminded me that there is work that remains to be done in the Middle East, and photos to take.
Part of Kate's body of work has recently been published in the book
In the Light of Darkness:  A Photographic Journey after 9/11.

This is the cover of the book.
These are Taliban in an Afghan prison.
One can only hope that the ray of light had the same effect as the one that 
knocked Saul off his horse in the New Testament, granting him 
a new life 
(and a new identity) as St. Paul.

Observing this from the safety of Beautiful Florence, having lived in Italy for many years and reported on art, I can only say that chiaroscuro (the interplay and contrast of light and shadow) is fundamental in a work starting with the Renaissance.

Kate Brooks is discovering light as well as shining some light
in an area with marked chiaroscuro.
The amazing result is beauty.

1 comment:

  1. What an intriguing post! Her work is stunning, I can't wait to pick up the book. I hope the show is still up when I arrive in Florence on May 14th.

    Ironically enough, I just wrote a paper on chiaroscuro for my Italian Cities course. Florence is calling my name.