The Genius who photographed the Winds and Clouds of the Cultural Revolution

That was before certain practices had become entertainment, or performance that would be exhibited on stages worldwide. In those days if you wanted to know what the practice of the Shaolin monks was about, you had to go out there, to observe them, to create with them some form of trust building that would eventually enable a project to go through. Isabel Munoz achieved that, in her quest for the body, as well as for images that can account for it or at least approach it. That has always been her way of practice, when she let us believe that she was still dealing with subjects, she in fact had already developed a unique iconography of the human body, in a plastic and sensuous journey of searing intensity and structured down to the smallest detail. Certainly, she began with these classic ballet dancers whose elegance rivals their power and precision. Indeed, she had produced some rarely seen images of tango and flamenco, and had approached the Turkish wrestling before starting her Iranian travels. Certainly she had began her long love affair with Africa that was to give birth to such an important part of her body of works, a renewed exploration between contemporary dance and what once was called ethnological documentary.

With regard to Asia, she had discovered Cambodia where, true to her way of taking dance as a guideline, she had collaborated with artists of the Royal Ballet in Phnom Penh as well as in the splendor of Angkor Vat. That was where she really developed an approach linking architecture and body in space. We can trace that origin also to Turkey, to the old houses of Istanbul where belly dancers posed for her, those who despite having a bad reputation still attracted a large following in their country. Working on the architecture as well as on the body in Cambodia, had enabled her to further refine the accuracy and depth of her shots: they had to match the extreme precision of one of the most difficult dances in the world, for which you sew the costume directly on the body of the dancer.

Armed with such experiences, she approached the Shaolin project with heightened requirement in order to adjust herself to the degree of the incredible of what she would see:? men flying in the air, without apparent effort, men walking on a vertical wall, or again, in total defiance of gravity, men standing upright on their head. She chose to document these extreme situations with minimalism, just adding here and there, in counterpoints, or as footnotes, some architectural elements. Those stunning sights were actually produced by men in total effortlessness. Here we have a form of miracle, even mirage, ?a form of disbelief that will be swept away by the realism of photography. Opposing a feeling of familiarity to the overcoming of the impossible, contrasting images of a body able to escape Earths gravity with everyday contingencies that pull us down, this series of work testifies, but not too heavily of course, to the spiritual dimension behind such feats. And it gives, once again, a perfect example of what Isabel Munoz demands to photography: to go beyond.

 

Christian Caujolle
Founder of Agence VU international curator, author of many books
Paris May 2012



Li Zhensheng - Winds & Clouds
       
 
             
Li
Zhensheng
               
 
             
 
             
4 color printing
21x14cm
128 pages