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Triptychs, Technology And Ed Kashi's Archives

There's a common belief that revelations occur when you least expect them. The proverbial Newton-apple, Ben Franklin-kite thing. This was the case for photographer Ed Kashi who, lying in bed one morning, envisioned three photos from his archives flowing through his mind "like a cinematic strip." Hence the birth of his newest project, Three.

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Kashi is an award-winning photojournalist, whose still images and photo essays have illustrated the pages of National Geographic, The New York Times Magazine and Time, to name a few. He's also a multimedia pioneer, creating waves in the online world with works such as Aging in America and this "flipbook" project on Iraqi Kurdistan. He and his wife Julie Winokur founded Talking Eyes Media — an organization dedicated to social change through visual media.

He's been all over the world, documenting some pretty tough pills to swallow. That's why this latest project is a real departure. In his book Three, photographs are presented as triptychs with no context, no captions. Some come from the same series, but many are related solely on a visual level: They're arranged to guide the eye in a certain way, or they all share a color palette or similar shapes. There's no real story. It's just an organic journey through his archives.

Ed Kashi

The triptych on the book's cover is of the mythic, 74 year-old, Brazilian fisherman Ze Peixe, or "the fish." These are the images that came to Kashi in his dream. For him, this triptych is one of the most effective, "and it came from an unconscious moment," he said from his studio in New Jersey.

I find that in general, it's when you forget about yourself, and you forget about what you're doing — and you get into an almost meditative or trance-like state — that you do your greatest work.
Ed Kashi

It's interesting that this trance-like state yielded a traditionally reverent art form: Triptychs originated as early Christian art. Kashi's reverence, though, is really directed toward his vocation. It's his eagerness to experiment and to embrace change that has made him so successful. In the field, he has an instinctive command of his camera and his surroundings. And in production, it seems like he's always a step ahead of the crowd. Once a film purist, he's now a digital proselyte, thrilled and empowered by the way technology has altered his work.

Once I had digitized a critical mass of my pictures, I could dip into one well to see everything. ... I'm the guy who was quoted, I'm sure, 10 years ago: "I'm never going to shoot digital." I'm proud to say, thank God, that I didn't stand by that statement. ... Because of Photoshop — as opposed to going into the darkroom, and instead of taking a week to put three pictures on an easel on one sheet of paper — I could do it in 30 minutes.

In the wake of deadlines, overstimulation and diminishing attention spans, Kashi's Three is a reminder that it's important to take a step back and digest the things we create. It's OK to take things out of context every once in a while. It's fun to play.

Be sure to check out the multimedia presentation produced by Julie Winokur that accompanies this book.

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