Theories of Realism and Social Activism in the work of Daniel Efram

Written by Deianira Tolema

If you describe the smile of a woman in a novel, you will always be wrong: it’s not something that can be described. If you make her smile at a certain time, this smile loses all its value; the meaning is its grace, not its beauty, but this – grace – remains unsaid, and that – beauty – remains silent. Jean Paul Sartre

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

Imagine you don’t have a body; you are pure consciousness, and you run freely in the streets of an imaginary city. Imagine time has stopped, and empathy has been sucked into capitalism’s indifferent vortex. Perhaps, you can still open and close your eyes and tell the difference between observing and seeing. During the day, with fear in your pockets, you walk in a grassy park. Your shoes are filthy with mud, rat excrement, and pigeon debris. Now, imagine that you can do this at the speed of light. Your attention is on empty benches recently occupied by someone worn-out by the weight of their existence. You sit by scaffolding, its dust, dripping water and rubble falls onto your coat and pants – and your hair.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, Courtesy of the artist

“Curiosities” are Efram’s verite’ photographic sketches, moments from a fictional 24 hours in his “nouveau noir” imagination. They revolve, becoming photograms connected in an abstract anti-linear sequence. And yet, they are ordered by the creative logic of the artist. The objectiveness of the camera is used with unpredictable freakishness in capturing an ephemeral world that is simultaneously disappearing. Daniel Efram’s subjects, not actors, but real people, are caught in the act. Stories live in these images. One senses an ancient music, one forgotten by humanity in this third millennia. It’s as if a new, yet undeveloped, vision is required.  But still, we get a whiff of life as we live it. We get undressed, we put on our slippers, we sprawl on the couch, watch tv, read and a 95-year-old lady welcome us home. The scene proposed by Daniel Efram is documentary in its intimacy but containing  frames from a film we will never see. His work sparks our sensitivity to extreme discomfort and grotesque happiness. He masterfully reveals the subtle veil of resignation.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

Jean Paul Sartre once said, in an interview with Edoardo Bruno, that documentaries and their revolutionary potential can only be engaged when the documentary is shot in a certain region of the world and analyzed by the locals. Is this possible in the current political climate? When that doesn’t happen, as Hegel would say, the esthetic of the work remains empty. “Everything that is tasteful in art is a useless tinsel.” The portrait, the cityscape, etc., what remains is a two-dimensional surface – a metaphysical place that is just as far from the artist as it is from collective perception. Efram’s photographs (concentrate on the separation of mind from matter, as well as that of the eye from the subject observed) contain a perpetual finality. They reflect the movement of the human situation, the different phases of the soul, in the arch of time.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

The absence of color – besides the rarely brilliant whites and the tones of gray that sometimes verge on the black – reveals a reality that is far from our daily lives, and conveys a hint of nostalgia. It’s like seeing with the eyes of a dog, whose chromatic range is minimal. The feeling evoked is not dissimilar to the visual alterations ascribed to the effects of psychotropic substances. And then too, perhaps it describes the alienation and artificial comfort manufactured by techno-societal thought control. Efram’s characters are not interested at all. They run free. They wear masks. They sleep at a McDonald’s. They are driven to dance, to dominate the composition with their energy in the face of watchers – in the face of the system.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

The work of Daniel Efram is never vulgar or frivolous, never approaches kitsch. Recurring disguises make us wonder about the identity of his subjects. We analyze the clothes they are wearing – or the ones they are not. The only element that can be deduced with any certainty is of a broad nature: ballerinas, prostitutes, drunks, street artists, dancers, and children.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

The social background of these characters is purposefully dim. In some of these photos you can see people who are busy going to or coming back from work – but it’s just a hypothesis supported by very few ambiguous elements. Everything remains in the imagination of the observer. These are real characters. However, the meaning of “real” is turned upside down – reality becomes that of dream and vice versa. Theirs is the dream of a different, free life that does not revolve around materialism.

Efram presents himself as both a realist and dreamer.  The neat separation of these two planes of perception create an ambiguity about what is more important. Trembling hands or the distracted facial expressions in the background are unreadable. The elements of the blurred backgrounds offer little clarification about the subjects’ lives. Their place on society’s pyramid is a mystery.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

In his works, we are in a parallel universe where, at some point in history these characters chose a different, fictional path. It’s a bit like the sci-fi tv series, “The Man in the High Castle.” Everything physically appears exactly the way it’s supposed to. However, mystery and ambiguity are presented and the scenes take a tremendous turn for better or worse.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

The images are black and white, but their meanings reside in gray, in mystery. The truth is behind the lenses of the binoculars of a girl who, in one of Efram’s photos, is smiling while looking at the sky, ecstatic under the watch of an old man who is staring at her – possibly living a perverse, dark fantasy or not. The truth may be behind a closed window with urgent hands pressed against the glass, reaching for escape. The truth is in a temporal conception that implies an initial disorientation conceived to deny Roland Barthes’ theory about “temporal ponderation” (according to Barthes the impression of the past makes the photograph unreal in value in front of a spectacle in movement. Thus, before movement, photography itself was a moving, esthetic medium that follows the breath of the observer by giving him back an authentic movement of the soul.

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

Daniel Efram, Untitled, 2018, Courtesy of the artist

Daniel Efram’s work conveys tactile qualities that are rare in contemporary photography. There are the reflections; some erase and some highlight. Some grains of light are infinitesimal. Pixelated surfaces that escape the hands by producing kinetic effects. Efram’s style relies heavily on happenstance, but the artist’s true talent is like that of a surgeon of reality, vivisecting subjects and their emotions. All the while containing an honesty and warmth toward humanity.

Efram’s debut photography book “Curiosities” is available worldwide via Tractor Beam Press.

Instagram @eframphoto

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