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From Sally Mann to Nick Nixon, from Timothy Archibald to Reathel Geary, photographers have found muse and meaning in family. Sarker Protick’s photos of his frail grandparents add to a photographic tradition of devotion to family. They embody an answer to the eternal question, “What makes a good photograph?”

Love makes a good photograph.

Protick’s beautiful series What Remains is an ethereal work that draws a huge impact from small movements and small observations. Protick’s heartfelt study of his grandparents, John and Prova, helped them all cope with the twillight of their lives. It is a work of great weight and empathy.

It also was a homecoming for Protick. Growing up, he was very close to his grandparents. He was small, they were big and strong. As they grew older, their bodies “took different forms.” And, of course, he went out into the world to make his way. “This work brought me close to them again. And the time I spent made them happy,” says Protick.

The project started after John retired and moved with Prova to Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. John got cancer, and he and Prova faced their own mortality.

“We never thought John would survive long,” says Protick. “But then Prova slowly got weaker. It was difficult to see her.”

Prova had a heart attack and her health declined rapidly. In the months before her death, Protick did not photograph her. His grandparents, though infirm, were willing subjects. Along with heart must go a strong aesthetic — an aesthetic that fits. Protick chose high exposures and pared down compositions. The effect is one of a fragile existence. His grandparents’ whitewashed walls made every space a walk-in light box. The result is an otherworldly series of minute details.

“There’s always a story and content, but then there’s the language,” Protick says of his style. “In literature, in poetry, and in music. It’s the same in photography. It seemed that this visual language was the right expression for the story.”

The idea of bathing the images in light came during a quiet moment spent sitting on the floor of their apartment.

“I saw light coming through, washed out between the white door and white walls,” he says. “All of a sudden, it all started making sense. I could relate what I was seeing to what I felt.”

John and Prova’s lives appear slow and bathed in an aura. It’s almost as if they are at the gates of heaven, if one believes in such a thing.

“Here, life is silent, suspended,” says Protick. “Prova was almost paralyzed at the end. So what does she wait for? They believe in eternal life. I guess they are waiting for that. Another journey beyond maybe. It’s a wait for something that I don’t completely understand.”

Robert Capa famously said, “If your pictures aren’t good enough, you’re not close enough.” Everyone presumes Capa meant physical proximity, but he could just as easily be talking about emotional proximity. The intimacy of the photos draws the viewer into John and Prova’s lives and proves love makes good photographs.

“John and Prova loved that I made pictures of them and it helped me to slow down and see things differently, to feel what I never thought about,” reflects Protick. “After Prova passed away I visited John almost everyday, just to spend some with him. I didn’t photograph for a year. It’s wonderful how photography sometimes gives you so much than just good photographs.”

By Pete Brook

 

BJP’s Ones To Watch: 2014

BJP’s Ones To Watch list is published in our January 2014 edition, available now

If you’re looking for something specific, you’ve got the internet. But a magazine should be about discovery – a place to find things you hadn’t even thought about, providing new perspectives on the talking points of the day, inviting you in on discussions between the people whose opinions count. I’ve always seen it as part of our remit to showcase emerging photographers, providing a platform for new talent to be seen by a wider public and by people of influence. This month, we’ve devoted most of the issue to our Ones to Watch in 2014, dropping our usual array of features as well as our Projects and Intelligence sections, to devote a full 61 pages to 30 photographers we believe are on the verge of something big. Plus it’s a positive start to the year – a way of looking forward after looking back in our December annual review.

But I’ve always been frustrated by these kinds of surveys, which so often limit their scope to a specific geography or age group or type of institution. There is no perfect way, just as there’s no easy way to define ‘emerging’, but what I have committed to is getting nominations from every place where there is a photographic culture made by people who have an active and proven engagement with emerging photographers. So we’ve reached out far and wide to people we know who fit that remit, and searched out people who could advise us, especially on territories outside Europe and North America. In that, we were not entirely successful, but we will continue to strive to improve it for next year, and I am nonetheless certain that, with the collective knowledge and experience of our 66 advisors actively seeking nominations rather than a random call for entries, this is the most far-reaching survey of its kind.

This year, the selected photographers are: Isabelle Wenzel, Sim Chi Yin, Arnau Blanch, Ren Hang, Alvaro Laiz, Thomas Albdorf, Kazuyoshi Usui, Txema Salvans, Aso Mohammadi, Gilles Roudière, Sarker Protick, Charlie Engman, Annegien van Doorn, Cemil Batur Gökçeer, Emile Barret, Patrick Willocq, Synchrodogs, Jon Tonks, Daisuke Yokota, Thomas Brown, Sanne De Wilde, Peter Watkins, Mathieu Cesar, Jamie Hawkesworth, Mari Bastashevski, Wasma Mansour, Louis Heilbronn, Jack Davison, Jana Romanova and Jill Quigley.

So what can we tell from this year’s Ones to Watch? A decade or even five years ago, most of them would probably have been working in an open documentary approach, committed to social engagement but dismissive of any claim to objective truths. The move towards a more process-led approach is hardly new, but it has picked up momentum, and arguably it has become the new decree. Art is the sacred cow providing the unwritten rules, not journalism. The work is usually staged or the subject intervened upon. It is often shot in a controlled environment, such as a studio, and often references sculpture or involves performative acts. Narrative, if it is present at all, is loosely traced and mysterious. Meaning has become as slippery as truth.

Much has been made of a generation growing up with the internet at their disposal. But anyone who has become interested in photography in the last 15 years also has infinite possibilities to discover photography in the real world – through exhibitions, festivals, books and magazines (though, curiously, not news-led publications) that would have been much harder to seek out. There has been an explosion in the number of photography courses in higher education during that time, as many have bemoaned, and even the most snooty institutions now embrace the medium. Photography has gone mainstream.

Young photographers don’t have the same grudges, or the same trenchant positions on art and fashion, or pretty much anything for that matter. They work across different media, and their influences are likely to stretch beyond other photographers to include different kinds of artists and the vernacular of advertising and commercial imagery. But, more than anything, the work is a lot less serious. Sometimes I delight in this newfound sense of play – a throwback to Dada and Surrealism – but other times, I’m left scratching my head at the emptiness of a purely aesthetic wisdom, and the curious reappearance of certain objects, such as oranges and bananas and broken mirrors and coloured paper and test strips and rocks and, lately, that ubiquitous orange plastic barrier netting used to protect us from temporary safety hazards or freshly laid turf. Why is that suddenly everywhere, on our roads, in our parks and even in our photographs?

Read all about this year’s 30 Ones To Watch in BJP’s January edition, available in print, on the iPad and the iPhone.

BJP

Space: Organ Vida V

I wish I was there to see the exhibition and the book myself. Sasha and Marina tried their best to arrange the trip. But eventually didn’t happen. Really grateful to Asmita for sending me the photos. They look really nice. This is in Bačva gallery, Zagreb. My best wishes to this young Croatian festival.