Nadav Kander Portraits 1999 – 2011. Photographer with great musician picturesNadav Kander Portraits 1999 ”“ 2011
©Simon Bowcock 2011
Nadav Kander is a photographic powerhouse who moves quickly and consummately between styles and genres, from Prix Pictet-winning Chinese landscapes to New York Times Magazine-filling portraits of the entire Obama administration. Having long been at the top of the corporate/ advertising tree, Kander is nowadays garnering a solid reputation in the art world, which this exhibition of recent portraiture aims to cement.

The portraits themselves reveal Kander to be an inventive risk-taker, constantly pushing the boundaries of technique. There might be a lesson here for other successful but less illustrious commercial photographers who play things much safer, but I suspect Kander only manages to pull this off through an extremely rare combination of talent, inquisitiveness, market savvy, courage and hard work.

Highlights of the show include a wonderfully dark and dreamy Sofia Loren, an ethereally dead-looking Morrissey, and a brooding and dynamic Michael Stipe (which says more about his band REM’s music than many a magazine article). In each of these and many other apparently simple portraits, Kander eschews sharp and static exposures in favour of a much looser approach using subject movement or long shutter speeds, which is refreshing and brave in the normally risk-averse field of celebrity portraiture. The work in this style probably reaches its climax with the recent “phoenix” portraits of the now grown-up boy band Take That, which are a good example of Kander’s ability to produce much more daring and interesting results than the conservative output such a mainstream commission would generate in lesser hands.

The more static pictures yield only slightly patchier results: Richard Ashcroft stirring tea may come across as a little forced in a slightly generic broadsheet supplement style, but many of the images do deliver something out of the ordinary. For example, the much-photographed and perennially fearsome Nick Cave looks astonishingly vulnerable in perhaps the best portrait of the musician since Anton Corbijn’s cover for Cave’s 1997 heartbreak album The Boatman’s Call.

Over a decade ago I bought one of those sweeping histories of photography which surveys several dozen of the medium’s greatest ever practitioners. Kander was already of sufficient stature to warrant inclusion, but none of his portraits were to be seen, underlining this undeniably mercurial photographer’s ability to amaze across a wide gamut of styles and subject types. While even the pickiest critic will find it difficult to dislike the work on show here, there is a risk that the exhibition could aggravate Kander’s artistic Achilles’ heel: the sheer variety of his virtuoso output is a problem for the art market, which likes artists to have an easily identifiable, if not instantly recognizable style.

Venue: The Lowry Centre, Salford

When: until 4th September 2011

Links: (a photographic tour de force where you’ll even find some ambitious and compelling portraits of Richard Ashcroft)

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Simon is a writer and photographer. His music photographs have appeared in many publications from The Guardian to the British Journal of Photography. As well as music, he also writes about art photography, notably for Harper's Bazaar Art. His obsession with music seems to be increasing with age, and people seem to think him mad when he says things like "The Walkmen are the best band ever". You can follow his ramblings on twitter @simonbowcock


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