Chester Higgins / Zéma Photographs
May 21 – June 20, 2015
Skoto Gallery is pleased to present the exhibition Zéma, A Love Song celebrating Ethiopia’s unique landscape and people as well as impressionistic imagery honoring ancestral spirits along the Blue Nile by the acclaimed American photographer Chester Higgins. This will be his first solo show at the gallery. The artist will be present at the reception on Thursday, May 21st, 6-8pm.
With his camera, Chester Higgins “wrestles with issues of memory, place and identity, he sees his life as a narrative and his photography as its expression. His art gives visual voice to his personal and collective memories. It is inside ordinary moments where he finds windows into larger meaning. Light, perspective, and points in time are the pivotal elements he uses to reveal an interior presence within his subjects as he searches for what he identifies as the Signature of the Spirit. The works of Chester Higgins challenges us to see the full breadth of our humanity. Through his portraits and studies of living rituals, traditional ceremonies and the monuments and ruins of ancient civilizations, viewers gain a rare insight into cultural behavior — a window to another place and time.
Higgins is the author of the photo collections Black Woman, Drums of Life, Some Time Ago, Feeling the Spirit: Searching the World for the People of Africa — a comprehensive look at the African Diaspora — and Elder Grace: The Nobility of Aging. His memoir entitled, Echo of the Spirit: A Photographer’s Journey and illustrated Ancient Nubia: African Kingdoms on the Nile. Higgins photographs have appeared in ArtNews, New York Times Sunday Magazine, Look, Life, Newsweek, Fortune, Geo, The New Yorker and Archaeology. His work is the topic of two PBS films, “An American Photographer: Chester Higgins Jr.,” and “Brotherman” and has been featured on CBS: “Sunday Morning News,” PBS: “The NewsHour,” ABC: “Like It Is,” and “Freedom Forum.
His solo exhibitions have appeared at the International Center of Photography, The Smithsonian Institution, The Museum of African Art, The Museum of Photographic Arts, The Schomburg Center, The Newark Museum, National Civil Rights Museum, The Field Museum of History, The New-York Historical Society and the Windows Gallery/Kimmel Center of New York University and The Dapper Museum in Paris.
He is the recipient of grants from The Ford Foundation, the Rockefeller Foundation, the International Center of Photography, the Open Society Institute, The National Endowment for the Arts and the Andy Warhol Foundation (ICP). He recently retired from the New York Times as a staff photographer for nearly four decades.
Wrestling with issues of memory, place and identity, I see my life as a narrative and my photography as its expression. My art gives visual voice to my personal and collective memories. It is inside ordinary moments where I find windows into larger meaning. Light, perspective, and points in time are the pivotal elements I use to reveal an interior presence within my subjects as I search for what I identify as the Signature of the Spirit.
Apparitions: “The revelation of the Spirit comes in a fleeting moment, ethereal and unreal, yet its impact on our senses can be profound and unrelenting. We perceive the Spirit on many levels, in the most mysterious of ways. Its appearance is by nature impermanent; like smoke, it cannot be contained. The Spirit affects us in ways like none other because we have no reference; by definition, it is the other—the other side, the other way.
Like people who see divinity in the complexity of Nature, I believe there is a Spirit in all things. To me, dried plant leaves are the remains of the once fuller Spirit that inhabited the plant. Life is fleeting, but in its departure I believe the Spirit is the only thing that can transit time and space.
My new imagery comes from a decade of falling in love with plant leaves. I’ve experimented with different leaves, but for me it is the very large leaves of tropical plants that tend to dry in the most interesting manner. Each summer I plant bulbs, tend them and, when they begin to die back, harvest the leaves. These are hung to dry inside the studio for a few months before I start making computer-generated images of them. I position them and use software to accentuate a more abstract expression. By freeing the image from its reality, I believe I allow the Spirit to linger and viewers to commune with it—to embrace the Spirit and make it their own.
I title these abstract images of plant leaves after the ancestors. In ZEMA, I am naming them after ancient Ethiopian ancestors.”
When I travel to Ethiopia or Africa I’m not in search of something exotic, I’m in search of reflections of myself. In Ethiopia, I’m no longer in a society where I am a minority. I am the majority – Chester Higgins
Chester Higgins, 2015
Brooklyn, New York