By Tammy Scileppi
In the spirit of 13th century merchant explorer Marco Polo, who traveled the ancient Silk Road that linked China to Europe, two New York photographers recently set out along a similar route that took them to a variety of exotic destinations.
Both of them returned with their own kind of “riches:” stunning photographs that reveal a way of life different from what folks in Western cultures are familiar with, steeped in Muslim tradition and sustained by communal connections, despite the surrounding unrest.
The combination of elements that result in such memorable photos was the topic of an artist talk held at Queens College’s Godwin-Ternbach Museum Saturday.
Museum Director and Curator Amy Winter sat down with photographers Lynn Gilbert and Didier Vanderperre to discuss their work and travels along the Silk Road. The discussion took place amid a must-see exhibit that features Gilbert’s photographs of Turkey and Uzbekistan and Vanderperre’s images of Xinjiang, China, now on display through Dec. 15.
In addition to those photographs, ikat robes and textiles from the collection of George Anavian, an authority on Eastern arts, are also on display. A complex method of printing woven fabric, ikat is widely practiced in Central Asia, and Uzbekistan in particular. Selections from the Godwin-Ternbach’s permanent collection, representing the Silk Road’s civilizations and cultures, will also be on view in the museum’s Lobby Gallery.
“Lynn Gilbert’s passion for Central Asia has resulted in a series of contemplative images of interiors and portraits of people engaged in their traditional way of life,” Winter said. In contrast, Vanderperre’s series on Xinjiang, a terminus of the Silk Road, showing bustling scenes of people in action, display the photographer’s talent for direct, spontaneous imagery.
As the talk got under way, Winters asked: “What is the serendipity behind the process?”
Gilbert said it took her more than 60 years to realize that “you never go with expectations, because if you do, no matter what happens, you’re going to be very disappointed.”
She has visited more than 60 countries during the past six decades. Her new book, “The Silk Road: Then and Now” is the result of her travels throughout Turkey. Photographs from her recent travels to Uzbekistan record the people and their traditional ways of life.
Vanderperre, a native of France, has lived and worked in New York since 1986, and is a member of the community of Getty photographers. As a “street photographer” he said what he’s looking for is “off the beaten track, places where culture is changing very rapidly.” His mantra: “Follow your instinct. Follow your nose. Every trip is different, special.”
Winters asked: Why are we fascinated with Central Asia and the Middle East, with everything going on in the world today? What is it about Muslim countries that draws us to them?
“There’s so much negativity around Islam today,” Vanderperre said. “In Muslim provinces of China, like Xinjiang, people are extremely welcoming and friendly, and the culture is so rich, so interesting.”
Gilbert agreed that wherever she traveled, people were very welcoming. “What I’m attracted to,” she said “is humanity, kindness, warmth. And that these people care about life, family and connections and not about things.”
That same interest in other cultures can be found elsewhere at Queens College. Many of its departments have explored the history, technology, art and culture. of countries which are on the rise geopolitically and economically, according to Winters. Each year since 2010, the college has organized a “Year Of” an emerging country. “This is important for our students and communities,” she said.
So, what makes a great photograph?
Pointing to one of her photos, Gilbert said it was emotional, intellectual, aesthetic. “Taking the ordinary and capturing what’s beautiful in that. For me, it’s memorable because it’s about life. Once in a while, I get a picture like this; this does it for me,” she said.
Vanderperre said “a good photo tells a story. A great one also tells a story, but one that stays with you for a long time. In the life of a photographer, you can take many good photos, but very rarely take great ones.”
On-campus public programs will run throughout the exhibition. These will include lectures and music, dance, and theatre performances related to the college’s 2015–2016 Year of the Silk Roads.
A website with all events and programs for the Year of the Silk Roads will be available soon on the Queens College website: qc.cuny.edu.queens
If You Go
“Along the Silk Roads”
When: Through Dec. 15
Where: Godwin-Ternbach Museum at Queens College, 405 Klapper Hall, 65-30 Kissena Blvd., Flushing
Contact: (718) 997-4747