The Past in the Present Reviews
Joan Almond's approach to her subjects is respectful,
unhurried, and unobtrusive. Almond's oeuvre is not easy to
classify but like other photographers who step carefully and
respectfully into other civilizations, she has an empathetic
yet unsentimental approach to her subjects.
Art Books, 2002
Joan Almond: The Past In the
Present showcases an amazing and impressive
photographic journey by documentary photographer Joan Almond
through the Islamic desert communities of North Africa,
Egypt, and the Middle East in an outstanding anthology of
images featuring ordinary village people and daily life in a
profound black and white photography that fully captures the
spirit of a land and its people. An extraordinary look at
the human culture and the daily quest to survive and
prosper, Joan Almond: The Past
In the Present is a very highly recommended and
enduring contribution to personal, professional and academic
Unlike the hurriedness of much candid journalistic
photography, Almond's images are graceful, serene and
unrushed, and formally composed. This is an absolute gem of
a book, a substantial argument for the importance of Joan
Almond as an artist. Any student of photography would find
much to learn from here - once he got past the awe
Her pictures marvelously capture the dignity and
resilience of these desert people so much so that her aim is
clearly understood-- to enlighten America about an exotic
people and their exotic land. Mrs. Almond's book is a
perfect conversation piece at dinner parties and will
brighten any coffee table. Now we all can enjoy fine art in
our very own homes.
The photographer's own personal notes on each picture help
us to gain an understanding of these often foreign and for
bidding locations. Almond delights in the full process of
picture-making, developing each roll in her own darkroom and
then employing the age old process of platinum printing to
create that special illusion of depth in the two dimensional
images she recreates on the page. Almond's eye for the human
and the profound, captured in small unfamiliar moments,
lifts The Past In the Present
to universal themes of continuity and oneness and
gives the book its truly unique and all encompassing vision.
She prints all her own work, and is a perfectionist in the
Through her poetic imagery Almond the artist invites us to
hare her journey as she incisively penetrates the rich
interior of an unaffected world that quietly exists
regardless of the civilized world's political posturing,
military operations and mass paranoia. The near 60
photographs selected by Almond for this linen bound edition
of visual poetry begs the viewer to wonder just how did she
get to these faraway places, get inside such nook and
crannies of personal lives, and then finally gain the trust
of her subjects.
Joan Almond's photographic eye has gazed territories that many western people will never see. Morocco, Algeria, the walled city of Jerusalem, Egypt and India are among her muses of the past two decades. Her images together read more like a diary, filled with visions of personal encounters and private lives. Through her patient pursuit of natural moments, an intimacy unveils, blurring the borders between outsider and native.
Regardless of where Almond is, the picture is more about seeing things in a way that has not been captured. Fortunately, her gender has been a profitable aspect in obtaining entry into worlds where others are restrained. Almond points out that in some ways "it may be a hindrance being a female, but to be a male and get into female quarters is nearly impossible." Thus she has been able to get some shots that male photographers who tread the same terrain are never able to get. In her book, Joan Almond: The Past in the Present, which spans her career in pictures from 1976 to 1996, she acknowledges, "My status as a women off the beaten track in developing countries can have its disadvantages. Moslem men usually forbid their women to be photographed, but I have found that women alone can be just as curious about me as I am about them, and so become willing subjects."
One example of this was in a village in Egypt where the people were being displaced because of a dam being built. The women there marry between thirteen to fourteen years old. Inside the home of a bride-to-be, Almond recalls one of her favorite memories. As the father sat in one room, addressing the invitations for the wedding, the daughter took Almond into her room to show her jewelry. There Almond found herself among a group of henna-painted girls whose expressions include singing, dancing and giggling, but whose cultural conformities restricted them from talking. In male-dominated societies such as these, Almond was touched to find the spirit and energy succeeding to emerge from her speechless company. In capturing these areas commonly interpreted in the West as less civilized, we can preserve the rudimentary elements of communication, relationships, and dynamics from which western societies have drifted away.
The ease sensed between Almond and her subjects stems from Almond's natural ability to not just physically enter a new territory, but to internalize her surroundings into a new frame of mind, a multi-dimension perspective. She notes, "it's much more inspiring to jump into a place where you've never been to then to photograph somewhere you always had." Initially, she enters an unknown situation without photographing, but extending her appreciation of the culture and concern for its possible diminishing without record. She finds that if she gives her subjects something like a Polaroid or money in return for taking a picture, they are less likely to feel violated, that something has been taken from them. Almond reveals in her book, "For me the hardest part is dealing with their delicate personalities and making sure that I do them justice. Photographing people I admire is the most rewarding part of the whole adventure."
After September 11, 2001, Almond felt even more of an obligation to provide documentation of the Middle Eastern people as she had seen them, which was unlike the stories circulated in the media. Almond felt, "People need to know some things about these people that they're simply not hearing on TV." Her reaction turned from hesitance to release a book with images of Arabs, into choosing to write the text for the book herself, in order to say what she needed to say. In her book, Joan Almond: The Past in the Present, she states, " I attempted to document the past in the present and to portray a way of life which is quickly disappearing from our consumer-oriented world."
Her approach to these cultures, combined with meticulous platinum / palladium printing, invites the viewer to share the collected moments intimately as she has. One of Almond's greatest gifts is her heightened sensibility for passing moments- glancing eyes, soft shadows, subtle gestures. With the camera as a tool to extract what is meaningful, beautiful and timeless, her work feels more like quiet thoughtful insight. Altogether her photographs reflect what is her own eye for solitude, empty spaces, brief glances, stirring emotions and meaningful gazes. Almond writes in her Artist Statement, "We have much to learn from these tremendously simple and beautiful people."
Joan Almond is a Professional Photographer member of
Women In Photography International, www.wipi.org. Her work
is featured this month in a solo show January 23 - February
28, 2003 at June Bateman Gallery, 560 Broadway, Suite 309,
New York, NY 10012 / Tues-Sat.11-6 / 212-925-7951. Proceeds
of her prints will be donated to "Women's Commission for
Refugee Women and Children." For more information see
http://www.junebateman.com or http://www.joanalmond.com. Her
book, Joan Almond: The Past in the Present, is available in
limited edition of 65 copies (including five artist proofs)
with a folio containing two platinum prints, Casbah Street
and Granddaughter with Tobacco Leaves, each hand coated,
printed and signed by Joan Almond. For more information,
please contact St. Ann's Press, or visit