Monday, August 15, 2011
London: Renowned Sufi Sheikh Abdal Qadir Al-Jilani once said, “Reflect on the work of art and you may come to know the artist.” Indeed, such is the case with celebrated artist and photographer Peter Sanders.
Having undertaken extensive travels throughout his life, Sanders is no doubt the quintessential artist in search of something greater and more beautiful. His life has certainly been an extended journey in search of beauty and refinement.
Although Rumi once reflected: “I am not hidden in what is high or low, nor in the earth nor skies nor throne. This is certainty, O beloved: I am hidden in the heart of the faithful. If you seek me, seek in these hearts,” surely the sensation of living, experiencing and breathing different people, cultures and traditions no doubt grants a renewed life and energy for the artist and provides them with their much-needed inspiration.
Sanders’ extensive travels have also allowed him to develop himself, gaining a better understanding of different societies, traditions and cultures. Indeed, Sanders’ work intends to capture a “moment” in time and to then reflect and unravel the story behind the silence. Before we delve into the art, however, let’s explore the man behind the work.
In his early career, Sanders began photographing famed bands and musicians such as Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, The Who, The Rolling Stones and many others. Whilst working as a photographer, Sanders says he “did not feel the passion to carry on taking those kinds of photos any longer.”
This belief led Sanders on a journey in search of enlightenment and fulfillment, and so his first stop was India in search for a religious leader. Sanders expounds that many “Westerners” looked towards the East at the time because there was a yearning for “something spiritual which had been neglected by Western societies with the rise of materialism and capitalism in the ‘50s.”
His journey through India, although providing him with the spiritual leader he so desired, still left him unfulfilled, he states. It was only later, during his extensive travels through Muslim-dominated countries, that Sanders embraced the religion of Islam. He reflects that he was one of the few and fortunate photographers to have been given permission to photograph the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca, the Hajj. The images were subsequently used by several established British papers.
Sanders’ photography is a portrayal and exploration of integration. For Sanders, British society has overcome the so-called problems surrounding “multiculturalism” and is a fully integrated society with its different religions, cultures and traditions.
“The Art of Integration,” one of Sanders’ most acclaimed works, explores his belief that religion, race and gender are no longer controversial or cause for conflict. For Sanders, people have successfully integrated into society.
Yet Sanders has often been asked if he, as a photographer, only portrays that which is “beautiful,” as opposed to the often harsh realities of life.
For Sanders, however, there is “no desire to show the brutality of situations.” He adds, “I have had many friends doing that sort of photography, and they were affected badly by what they saw.”
He refers to the case of renowned photographer Kevin Carter, who, shortly after winning the 1994 Pulitzer Prize for his now famous “Vulture and the Child,” took his own life. While there were various reasons for Carter’s eventual suicide, Sanders points out that the moment at which he captured the vulture and the child was an eventual trigger for Carter to take his own life. “I am haunted by the vivid memories of killings and corpses and anger and pain. ... of starving or wounded children, of trigger-happy madmen, often police, of killer executioners,” read Carter’s suicide note.
“Artists are mystics rather than rationalists. … they leap to conclusions that logic cannot reach,” insisted Sol LeWitt, famed American artist.
Indeed, this may be a reflection of Sanders and his work. Although the notion originally refers to conceptual art, photography is also an art form. Pictured, framed and exhibited; this medium of art offers a story within its framed borders. For Sanders, the splendors he has captured across the world are but a reflection of the monotheistic and all-present God.
In conversation with Sanders, one realizes that far from aiming to cause controversy with his work, Sanders hopes to attain peace, both spiritually and physically. He is continuously on a path of purity and refinement. In the words of English poet John Milton, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
Sanders’ photograph from his travels to Senegal of the two children by the shore is effortlessly beautiful and ethereal and captures a world of conscious evaluation of different societies. Indeed, Sanders brings to mind the famous lines of Lord Byron, “There is a pleasure in the pathless woods, there is a rapture on the lonely shore, there is society, where none intrudes.”
As our conversation with Sanders draws to an end we discuss his future projects and what we can hope to see from him.
His most recent project, “The Meeting of the Mountains,” is a collection of photographs taken over the last 40 years and will be unveiled to the public shortly. The project will include photographs of Islamic scholars, academics and sheikhs who have played a significant role in the 21st century.
He is also in the process of gathering an archive of images and footage under the single banner of “Islamic images,” which can be used by a wide range of people interested in the material.
When asked about his future plans, Sanders notes that he would like to delve into filmmaking. For Sanders, although photography is an “individual experience,” film is in fact a “collective vision” for a wider audience. He cites Jane Campion and Godfrey Reggio amongst his cinematic inspirations. Reggio, who has “created poetic images of extraordinary emotional impact for audiences worldwide,” is no doubt a model for Sanders and his future work in the world of cinema.
Finally, we quiz Sanders about current affairs and his views on the various happenings around the world, Sanders returns to us with his most beloved Bob Dylan track, “Masters of War.”
[Visit Peter Sanders Website]