December 27: Gunar̄s Binde (aka. Gunars Binde or Gunnar Binde) is a Latvian photographer born on this date in 1933 in the district of Aluksne.
It is easy to respond to his images of opposing binaries, such as the contrast of youth and old age, as being sentimental or at worst cliché, but for their sincerity, and a quality that is characteristic of a certain era of Eastern European and Soviet photography, they deserve a closer look.
He might be compared favourably with the better known Czech photographer Jan Saudek in that both develop a personal mythology and are forthrightly emotional in their image-making and their interaction with the models who pose for their quite confrontational and sometimes overtly sexual nudes.
Most intriguing to me is Binde’s series The Flight, a collaboration with his partner Tanya, an actress and yoga teacher, who has been the model or subject for a number of Binde’s artworks. It is a dreamlike sequence of images made with fast shutter speeds in which Tanya Binde appears suspended in a recreation of the dream we all have had in which we can fly, and that supposedly signifies an erotic yearning or memory.
These pictures are reminiscent of Yves Klein’s ‘action’ Leap into the Void of 1960, for which he hired the photographers Harry Shunk and Jean Kender to re-create a jump from a second-floor window that the artist claimed to have executed earlier in the year. A group of the artist’s friends held a tarpaulin to catch him as he leapt from a rooftop in the Paris suburb of Fontenay-aux-Roses. The negatives of Klein leaping, and the other of the surrounding scene (without the tarp), were then seamlessly blended with masking under the enlarger.
There is no such trickery in the Bindes’ images; Tanya actually is executing her ‘leaps into the void’ for her husband to ‘catch’, before she falls to the ground onto what look like some potentially injurious surfaces! The images all present sharp detail and deep focus despite the high shutter speeds required to freeze the subject’s leap and in some the dreamer appears to interact mid-flight with objects her surroundings, such as the harbourside crane in #6 below.
The spirit of this series corresponds in many ways with the work of Americans Duane Michals or Arthur Tress, though there is no evidence that Binde was aware of their work. He was isolated behind the Iron Curtain until Latvia gained independence from the Soviet Union the year before these were shot, so the various sensations and emotions aroused by this flight; of euphoria, of striving, suspension, falling and a final collision with cold hard reality might be read in this political context.
Binde’s work as a lighting designer at Valmiera Drama Theatre (1961 – 1962) and the Youth Theatre in Riga (1962 – 1963) contributed to his technical repertoire. He first gained notice in the USSR for his Psychological Portrait (1962) the method for which also stems from the theatre. Working with artist and scenographer Arnolds Plaudis, they developed an approach to the staged photograph, synthesising theatrical and cinematic acting and scene-setting reminiscent of Italian Neorealism and the French New Wave.
Indeed, he went on to made documentary films with dynamic montages of black and white photos, drawing on his documentary photography experience.
His films include Hello, Moscow! (1966, in collaboration with Arnolds Plaudis and Sarmīte Kviesīte) Salute (1975), a newsreel Art (1966), and he also participated in the making of the documentary films Valmiera Girls (1970), I have been, I am, I will be (1974) and Mirror of Thirst (1976).
Gunar̄s Binde has been recognised internationally with awards and solo and group exhibitions in Japan, the USA, Slovakia, Austria, France, Czech Republic, Poland and elsewhere, participating most recently in “INTEPHOTO 2015”, Białystok, Poland, in October 2015. Awarded the Order of the Three Stars which is the highest award for meritorious service to Latvia, his status in his home country is of a photographic ‘legend’.
Binde resides in Riga, Latvia with wife, muse and model of The Flight, Tanya and maintains a helpful English-language webpage.