Catalog for Month Of Photography
Bratislava, Slovakia, 2003

Rafaelo Kazakov
Untitled Cigarette Butts
2003, toned gelatin silver prints

"They also serve who only stand and wait"
John Milton

One of the forgotten virtues of photography is the patience it takes to make meaningful observations about the power hidden in the commonplace that surrounds us. Every photographer looks through a viewfinder to see her subject in an eloquent way. The job of most photographers ends there. The job of an artist begins with the search for the moment that reveals something beyond the eye's scope. Once that moment has been captured, it becomes with time part of the long continuum of photographic history.

The images in this exhibit already have their place in that history: they evoke the cool elegance of Karl Blossfelt and Irving Penn but also offer new ways of seeing their lowly and commonplace subject matter. Once you have figured out what the objects are and you have moved away from historical precedents, it becomes obvious that the artist's true subject matter is the act of seeing, sight itself.

These photographs are observations of wonder. Think back to a childhood experience of holding some small object very close to your face and then turning it and peering into it, and as your concentration brings the object into sharper focus it acquires otherworldliness and becomes almost magical. Extreme proximity reveals patterns and relationships hidden to normal vision. Seeing from up too close becomes seeing anew. Robert Capa is often quoted as saying: "If your pictures aren't good enough, you're not close enough." Rafaelo Kazakov takes this adage to its extreme - seeing from a quarter of an inch away makes a cigarette butt look like a dancing dervish, just as a bird's-eye view might make him look like a cigarette butt. The artist says:  "Normal 20/20 vision needs about 5 inches or so of minimum distance for the eye to focus on an object. The eye of someone severely nearsighted (like myself) needs about an inch to have a silver dollar coin fill up the whole field of vision, every strand of hair on the Susan B. Anthony engraving pin-sharp clear. Significance is inevitably shaped by distance - physical and emotional".

From across the gallery these images may look like strange and overtly organic flowers or weathered bones. From up close one sees strange orifices like decaying wounds and dry brittle shafts like shriveled limbs. The abstractions, which are not really abstract, make you stop, wait and see. Patience on the side of the viewer reveals what the artist is showing in these dry sensual images - whether or not we can decipher the visual content - each image strives to be a revelation, if only a minor one. Every next photograph surprises, confuses, and reaches out with an emotional clutch that appears to close in on the viewer. Throughout this series, as in his previous work, the artist continues to insist on the primacy of emotion over intellect.

Good art creates a sense of duplicity. It lies in order to tell us the truth. While standing in front of these images and looking at a cigarette butt as if it were a glamorous head, shot by Hurrell of Hollywood, I wonder if I will ever look at a cigarette the same way again.

John A. Bennette

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