This is polish born photographer Henryk Hetflaisz’s second exhibition in London. The first, Fragments and Shadow Figures, was at Cork Street’s Gallery 27, about which Gail Buckland, former President of the Royal Photographic Society of Great Britain, wrote, “Each picture is indefinable, timeless, impossible to categorize, symbolic. Each picture challenges the viewer to make up his or her own story about what they are seeing and, like origin myths, where it came from. This often leaves the viewer confounded, not from confusion, but in reverence of the beauty of the work and his mastery of the photographic process.”

The same could be said of The Eighth Veil, Hetflaisz’s recent work on show at the Surface Gallery. Yet there is a progression from the earlier, often more literal images. “Photographers tend not to photograph what they can’t see, which is the very reason one should try to attempt it,” writes the photographer Duane Michals.

Henryk Hetflaisz is not one to go on forever photographing more faces and more rooms or places. He lives true to Michals’ manifesto that “Photography has to transcend description. It has to go beyond description to bring insight into the subject, or reveal the subject, not as it looks, but how does it feel?”

As an accomplished photographer of portraits, (his work with Italian artisans is soon to be exhibited in New York) Hetflaisz understands the layers we all project to fit in with how we think we ought to be perceived. In an age when everybody is judged and assessed, photographing models nude does not mean that those layers will fall away.

Here, Hetflaisz seeks to strip our naked self one level further, beyond nakedness, beyond perceived reality into the realm of the spirit to the protean energy of light that bonds us. Like Robert Frank, one senses Hetflaisz’s desire for us to feel the way we do when we want to read a line of a poem twice.

The twelve large images you see here are inspired by the Dance of the Seven Veils, thought to have originated with the myth of the fertility goddess Ishtar of Assyrian and Babylonian religion. In this myth, Ishtar decides to visit her sister, Ereshkigai, in the underworld. When Ishtar approaches the gates of the underworld, the gatekeeper lets Ishtar pass through the seven gates, opening one gate at a time. At each gate, Ishtar has to shed an article of clothing. When she finally passes the seventh gate, she is naked. By giving this exhibition the title ‘The Eighth Veil’, Hetflaisz is alluding to both the sensuous dance of Ishtar (and later in history, of Salome) and to the beauty of the human form, once stripped of all clothing and human attachments.

In this series, taken at night in the photographer’s garden, dancer Sarah Cattrall becomes the lightning rod that transmits Hetflaisz’s protean strokes. She is a celestial body, a force of nature. Here the traces of comet, there a ribbon of the cosmos.

In an age of digital manipulation, it’s worth noting that these images are the result of direct photographic exposure. No digital trickery or post-production interferes with the alchemy of photons propelled into movement, captured simply with the release of the shutter.

To paraphrase the American photographer and poet, Minor White, Hetflaisz wrestles the intangible from the tangible, using his camera as a machine for metamorphosis. His photo- graphs are metaphors, free of the tyranny of surfaces and textures, pursuing a more poetic truth, that when all poses, all clothing, all artifice is gone, in our state beyond nakedness, we are light.

“Stare. Die knowing something. You are not here long.” (Walker Evans).

Text by Helena Srakocic-Kovac, international curator of photography and Founder of Focus.

Surface Gallery
51 Scrutton Street, Shoreditch
London EC2A 4PJ United Kingdom
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