Eli Durst is an American artist.
The book explores the strange experience of religious group meetings sometimes in and out of basements with a heavy emphasis on the observation of ritual, which at times and on a purely visual level can look strange, uncanny or queer. Things look amiss, the experience of spiritual reality conveyed through Eli’s images feels familiar and yet skewed and perhaps cultish to a degree, though I do not believe Eli’s intent is to broadcast any political perspective on the matters at hand.
If you consider titles important to a body of work, it is often that the most simple and direct form that they take can be the most efficient. With The Community, this is especially pertinent. It shades the book and asks the viewer to forfeit any precision of meaning, but within the images begs lateral associations which can be harvested, re-examined and purposefully tweaked to emphasize nuance, spectacle or dissociation. I find Eli’s use of The Community compelling for this very reason. The images dutifully carry out a un-calcified message between joyous epiphany and moribund pursuit. This of course sounds familiar to religious traditions of all type.
In our conversation, we speak on a wide-range of topics from politics to race to the work itself. We really gelled on this, which is why the conversation is probably as long as it is. There are copious moments of humour and good-natured ping pong between us. It makes talking about the work a joy, even though the work itself has a slightly obtuse or slanted edge that gives it a morose feel.
We speak on a few particular pictures at length. this is notably when the topic of race comes up. It is a strange moment as both of us are trying to, or at least I was trying to express the peculiar nature of the picture and while trying to unpack it felt my words could have been less clumsy, but I am glad we had the discussion none-the-less. The nature of conversations like this in which we speak about politics through images makes dialogue sensitive and I hope that is conveyed.
I look forward to seeing more of Eli’s work in the future. I truly believe that this is one or less heralded gems of the year and it should be on many of the year end lists. I want to commend Aron and Eli for that choice of cover in particular, which is still 100% the best cover of a photography book published in 2020.