Abraham Menashe shares his contagious passion for life, and what has been an extraordinary journey, with Priyanka Chharia.
What makes any moment of discovery unique is that it is truly your own. I was introduced to a phenomenon called Abraham Menashe over a cup of tea. In an inexplicable way, I could not help but experience the magic of epiphany. I knew him, much before he knew me. And, before I realised it, I was making a call to New York in the middle of a warm summer night.
As a little boy of 10, Abraham travelled from his hometown in Egypt to America along with his mother. “The journey was fairly easy as I adapted to the new circumstances well. I learnt English really fast by watching a lot of cartoons. My favourite was Mr Magoo.” Nonetheless, Abraham is quick to admit that there was a degree of culture shock that he had experienced at first. He recalls, “We were in France for nine months and waiting for our visa to the States. I remember a group of boys playing with a baguette and kicking it around like a toy. It was a huge shock because in our culture, bread is considered sacred and an extremely valued item.”
“I am a great believer in what the new day has to offer.”
His very first project, Inner Grace, brought him face to face with serious issues early in his career. “I was interested in people with disabilities and at the same time, the idea of grace fascinated me tremendously,” says Abraham. It was only after the suggestion of a friend that he decided to combine the two. From the very beginning, Abraham was striving to see in new ways. I suppose this brought him on the opposite spectrum of the commonplace notion of beauty. “While working on this project, I felt that I was not the power behind that work. I was simply lead towards it.” “The administrators of the institutions I photographed at had a fear of the camera and so, it was very difficult to photograph the disabled population. However, I had a different agenda and it did not matter to me if they rejected me.” He then volunteered for six months in various health institutions in America. It took him a year to eventually connect with his subjects and win their confidence.
“That which is broken is truly graceful. After going through loss, we recieve something in order to be whole again.”
Abraham seems to be on a perpetual quest for meaning. He works primarily with B&W, but also experiments with colour and hand-tinted work. “I enjoy the process of taking something B&W and adding colour to that by hand,” he says. His project, Street Poems, is full of unusual perspectives. “I like to believe that the street graphics contain secrets—that if decoded, would shed light into our lives.” In addition to making lyrical photos, Abraham also writes poetry. He admits, “Poetry has always been a deep, deep passion of mine. Currently, I am looking forward to start a new chapter in my life. I want to do the same thing with poetry as I did with photography.”
As he spoke, I could not help but gauge a profound sense of spirituality emanating from his photographs, and his very persona. “The idea of grace is divine because it is a gift of god. For me, every photograph is like a prayer and stands as a testimony to life and goodness.” Abraham speaks of his experiences with the disabled, “These people were more complete and whole than others. It made me think that the kindness in the universe keeps everything balanced. Through my photographs, all I wanted to say was that we are never really handicapped. In fact, the only person who is truly handicapped is one who does not try.”
“We need to be awake and see what is in front of us. There are so many great opportunities lurking at the corner of our eyes.”
His photographs are intimate, personal and a celebration of the present. “I like to photograph close to my subjects. I listen to them breathe. If you are not in the moment, then you are simply stealing the image with your camera, and not making it.” For Abraham, a photograph is a gift, an offering, and above all; it nurtures within it an incredible power to heal. “A photograph is a labour of love that might not make you rich, but will change perceptions and have an effect on the world. And, that is where the real test of photography is. A photographer needs to keep on going, keep working…just because they have to.” As I glanced at my watch, I felt time fly. Abraham Menashe had already summed up the core of life and photography in just a few words. His modesty and unparalleled insight had altered my way of seeing. And somewhere in the bustling city of Mumbai, I felt lucky to bask in the serene greatness of a master so far away.
To see more of Abraham’s inspirational work, visit www.humanistic-photography.com
Tags: Abraham Menashe, After the Rain, better photography, Couples, Great Masters, Inner Grace, june 2012, New York photographer, Priyanka Chharia, Street Poems, Tea Bags