Tinney Contemporary | April 1–May 6
by Karen Parr-Moody
“Looking through a lens not only allows me to capture a moment in an image, but it allows me to delve into the depths of my own emotions.”
It was decades ago that the famous fashion and wildlife photographer Peter Beard erupted on the art scene with his evocative photos of African women, celebrating their burnished skin. The dandy/adventurer’s images struck a chord with the public as he elevated these African queens to a pedestal that had long been occupied by their paler-skinned sisters.
Photographer Adam Shulman’s work also elevates Africans’ beauty while keeping it steeped in—to use a favorite word of Beard’s—authenticity. He shoots with 6×7 film on a Mamiya RZ67 manual camera, producing images that are crisp, yet sprinkled with traces of graininess.
Shulman’s upcoming exhibit at Tinney Contemporary is called Gold of Africa. Indeed, the photographer uses the visual metaphor of metallic gold to celebrate the idea of the gold embodied in Africa’s people and land.
The show will open with a reception from 6 to 9 p.m. on Saturday, April 1, and will be on display from April 1 through May 6.
For Gold of Africa, Shulman painted clay onto his sitters’ bodies, using it to represent Africa’s cracked desert earth. He then Photoshopped a golden sheen onto the clay. The woman in Geli Front is adorned with such golden clay stripes and bears a fierce countenance, keeping her emotional distance. A similar mood is found in Miss, in which the sitter visually dares the viewer to break through her figurative shield.
Shulman explains that the stripes of Geli, which features a woman born of Cameroonian descent, can be representative of animals native to her lands. Or they can be construed as a symbol of the metal bars that oppressed her ancestors. “I wanted the gold to feel almost like a suffocating barrier,” he says of Geli. “Her eyes tell the story of a continent’s history, the mass of an entire continent just hidden behind the depths of her stare.”
He says the woman in Miss tells a similar story. Born in Senegal, she wears a plate of gold around her neck. “This could be a metaphor for her ancestors’ tumultuous past, for the shackles that took those ancestors from their native lands,” he says. “However, this same plate of gold could be construed as an adornment, representative of the royalty of her country’s past. In this image, I tried to capture the unwavering strength of Africans and in particular of African women. It is almost as if her body can be captive, but her soul will reign for an eternity.”
Aube, which claims a high-fashion sensibility, is one of the photographer’s favorite images. As with the sitter in Miss, the model wears a “costume” reminiscent of those of her ancestors, complete with a golden “crown.”
“The headdress is worn with majesty as she exudes power, sensuality, and confidence,” Shulman says. “She is the embodiment of the royalty that is the African heritage.”
Born and raised in Nashville, Shulman is a board-certified medical physicist. He received his medical training at Middle Tennessee State University (during which time he met a Senegalese woman, Adama, who would become his wife), as well as at Vanderbilt University.
He was drawn to work in Africa when he heard a Senegalese medical physicist speak at a conference he attended. She described the extreme hardships of practicing medicine in Senegal and in much of Sub- Saharan Africa (cancer is the leading cause of death in Africa). Shulman says: “From that moment forward, I was determined to use my education, and soon-to-be experience, to make an impact on the lives of Africans in need of improved access to modern radiation oncology cancer care.”
Joined by his wife, a gorgeous model who has graced catwalks from New York to Paris, Shulman has lived in Ghana and Senegal to practice his profession and volunteerism. For six years his volunteer work in and out of Africa has been done through Radiating Hope, a nonprofit focused on cancer care. He donates medical equipment and trains local medical professionals in modern cancer treatment techniques.
Science and art have co-mingled throughout his life. “Looking through a lens not only allows me to capture a moment in an image, but it allows me to delve into the depths of my own emotions,” he says.
Shulman currently works as a senior medical physicist for the National Center for Cancer Care and Research in the capital city of Doha of the Middle-Eastern state of Qatar. He is also a voluntary assistant clinical professor for the University of California at San Diego, leading medical training endeavors in Senegal. He is also pursuing a partnership between his current hospital and a cancer center in Sub-Saharan Africa.
In Doha, a city of extremes, modernity presses up against tradition. Shulman says that the element of tradition is what he prefers about Doha as opposed to, say, Dubai. “I am constantly inspired by the juxtaposition of the two elements: modernity and tradition. This has an influence on my current work, as well as on future works in progress.”
Adam Shulman’s exhibit Gold of Africa opens with a reception from 6 until 9 p.m. on April 1 at Tinney Contemporary and remains on view through May 6. For more information, visit www.tinneycontemporary.com. See more of Shulman’s work at www.adamaphotographynyc.com.