Solitary figures amid desolate landscapes in Nadav Kander’s latest series

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In Solitude – Quietude – Contemplation Kander revisits miniature figures from his childhood in a meditation on the state of the world

When Nadav Kander was a child growing up in Johannesburg, South Africa, and the government banned televisions, the photographer would entertain himself with a German electric train set and the miniature human figures that came with it. He made them perform in the imaginary worlds he created.

Soon after the advent of the pandemic, Kander found himself alone in his studio. He reached into a box filled with the tiny figures of his childhood and began playing with them again. The images from his latest series Solitude – Quietude – Contemplation, created during the lockdown in London, employ these figures to reflect on how bleak the future will be if we continue down our current path. “I strongly feel that the world collectively and interconnectedly has come to terms with the fact that we cannot continue with the habits we’ve formed, and that a new paradigm, a new way of thinking needs to be born,” Kander says. “Unless that happens, we are facing incredibly bleak times.”

The images Kander created are beautiful and unsettling at once and were inspired by the silent, eerie portraits and landscapes of the Belgian painter Leon Spilliaert, who exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art, London, earlier this year. Kander’s figures appear cobbled together: blue tack sticks out beneath their feet, and the card, on which they stand, is stained, slightly.

© Nadav Kandar.

The desolate landscapes Kander photographs the figures amid are only two or three feet across, despite feeling much greater. “All of my work is about the human condition. I don’t make landscapes as natural landscapes; they are about humankind and tie into the climate. How can they not? It’s the most urgent catastrophe that faces us,” Kander continues.

Climate change is a theme that is present, somewhat abstractly, throughout much of his work, especially his award-winning series, Yangtze – The Long River. In this project, Kander employs the river, which was, at one point, the largest source of pollution of the Pacific Ocean, as a metaphor for constant change.

© Nadav Kandar.

China has made progress in the Yangtze region, and this has given Kander some hope. As have the responses of governments around the world to the pandemic. “Governments will react, but they leave it until late […] Knowing they will react makes me feel positive. But, then there is a predominant feeling of wanting to relapse to how we were beforehand, and that concerns me.”

Alone in his studio, creating work, Kander reflects on our ability to move forward collectively. “We are so out of balance with nature,” Kander points out. “But I think there is a great awareness that we can do with less and the way we were carrying on was driven by greed, rather than by community.” The future of the world is unsettling, but Kander does draw some comfort from returning to the miniature figures of childhood.

Marina Watson Peláez

Marina Watson Peláez is a freelance writer. She has contributed to Magnum Photos, the Guardian, Equal Times and British Journal of Photography among other publications. Her work focuses mainly on social issues and arts and culture.