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.