Capturing life’s ebb and flow

by Stuart Munro

Special To The Japan Times

Alejandro Chaskielberg is an Argentinean photojournalist who visits places most of us only read about. His current show at Gallery 916 in the Takeshiba district of Tokyo’s Minato Ward, brings together two photographic series, one from his time in Argentina and the other from Kenya.

“High Tide” documents the lives of workers in Argentina’s Parana River Delta region, focusing on the few people left living there as the culture around them changes and slowly disappears. To protect and revitalize both the local culture and wildlife threatened with extinction due to the rapid industrialization of the area, it has been declared a National Park and Reserve.

In “High Tide,” loggers sit in front of campfires while boats are dragged from the delta and people clamber onto riverbanks while others sit porch-side at night and sing. These relaxed images are far from ones of the developing country we have grown used to seeing in magazine and film photojournalism of a land under threat from industrialization and pollution. Instead they’re painterly, abstract and at times visually deceiving, with images looking film-like and his subjects looking like they are actors in a movie. Chaskielberg employs long exposures to take photos of people who, while appearing mid-action, are in fact silently still.

The other series is “Turkana”, which collects photographs from Chaskielberg’s journeys to the Kenyan region of Turkana, made at the request of the international aid organization Oxfam. A small Helix-brand tin pencil case sits beside a sleeping figure beside three others, all spread under a tree with the sky surging overhead. The landscape is barren, the figures and faces in “Turkana” are confrontational yet somehow welcoming. Despite the reality of these people’s situation, Chaskielberg’s “Turkana” looks altogether more surreal. We understand what we are looking at but we are not sure why and to what end. Is it that we just miss the stories behind these people? As a photojournalist, Chaskielberg is not a compatriot, but a witness to the secrets and lives of these often ignored communities.

Whereas “High Tide” is romantic, inspired by the ebb and flow of the delta tide and an almost Pre-Raphaelite approach to the mood and lighting, “Turkana” is warm and a marked contrast despite the seriousness of the situation. Here the trickery is less evident. Normal lives are described without the overindulgence of romantic fantasy. All the stories ever needed are written in the wrinkles, laughter lines and the eyes of the people he photographs, people ready to impart their own history. The real landscapes on display are in the faces photographed, not a sequence of disparate locations but a landscape we can all identify with.

“Alejandro Chaskielberg” at Gallery 916 runs until Nov. 10. For more information, visit www.gallery916.com.