Whether through staged photographs and tableaux vivants, most of Israel’s contemporary photographers deal with their homeland’s current situation. Read on to discover the ten best photographers and lens-based artists that keep the flag of Israel’s photography flying.
Israeli contemporary photography has a revered father in Micha Bar-Am. Born in 1930 in Berlin to Jewish parents, Bar-Am moved to Israel with his family at the age of six. He picked up a camera at a young age and has never stopped since, dedicating his entire life to photography. After documenting crucial events in Israel’s history, including the 1967 Six-Day War, Bar-Am has continued to contribute to the photographic community as a curator. In 1974 he collaborated with famed photojournalist Cornell Capa to establish the prominent International Center of Photography in New York; and from 1977 to 1992, he was head of the Tel Aviv Museum of Art’s Department of Photography, a key role in the promotion of the photographic arts in Israel.
The works of photographer Ohad Matalon all share one common goal: to alert the viewer to the incorrect assumption that a photograph tells the truth. In his latest project, North True, the mission is achieved quite blatantly through the combination of the positive and negative images of the photographed scenes, thus obtaining a final representation that has little to do with the original subject. Matalon plays a much subtler game in The Zone, his best-known body of work to date. It is an apparently documentary essay of Israel’s peripheries; in fact, many pictures are digitally altered, sometimes so slightly that guessing where the manipulation took place requires a very close look.
Adi Nes is known for frequently drawing inspiration for his photographs from the works of major painters and photographers of the past, from Caravaggio to Dorothea Lange. His most noted image is a remarkable reinterpretation of Leonardo Da Vinci’s painting The Last Supper, featuring a group of Israeli soldiers in place of Christ and his disciples – the work is called Untitled (The Last Supper Before Going Out to Battle). The image belongs to the series Soldier, a provocative body of work which has sparked controversy on the grounds of the homoerotic content that characterises the photographs. Nes describes his latest project, a series of visual tableaux titled The Village, as a metaphor for Israel, ‘a small place that was built after a tragedy.’
The diaristic photography of Elinor Carucci is a visual journey into her intimate life. Carucci started photographing her family: her father, her brother, and above all her mother, the first fetish of her obsession with photography. Then she took to photographing her husband Eran and their life as a married couple. She photographed him even during a major crisis which endangered their relationship. For three years, when she worked as a dancer, she chronicled her trips across New York to reach the locations where she was supposed to perform. Her most recent series, Mother, exhibits her life as a pregnant woman, and her later experience as a mother of two twins.
Beautiful flower arrangements in crystal vases stand still against a black backdrop, until a controlled explosion shatters them in myriads of petals and glass bits; that’s the moment when Ori Gersht shoots. Big Bang, his best-known and most exhibited work, is a poignant combination of beauty and violence — a recurring theme in Gersht’s work — a visual metaphor of the armed conflicts Gersht witnessed as a young boy growing up in Israel while the 1973 Yom Kippur war unravelled. As a result of a visit to Andalusia, Gersht recently conceived Cells, a mix of video and photographic works that reflect artistically on the spectacle of bullfighting.
Simcha Shirman was born in Germany in 1947 to survivors of the Holocaust, and moved to Israel with his parents the year after his birth. The tragedy of the Holocaust has clearly had a deep impact on Shirman’s life: it is one of the major themes to be viewed in his production. One notable work of his, Polish Landscape, is a series of pictures of watchtowers of the Birkenau extermination camp, photographed with the same cold, clinical approach that Bernd and Hilla Becher used for their documentation of Germany’s industrial structures in the late 1950s. The images are signed with SS, Shirman’s initials as well as a clear reference to the Nazi Party’s feared military unit; and followed by a string of numbers that indicate the date the photograph was taken on, but also allude to the number Jewish people were marked with upon entering an extermination camp.
Closely reminiscent of the work by such master portraitists as August Sander and Diane Arbus, Michal Chelbin‘s staged portraits impress with their intensity and the beautiful colour palette that distinguish them. Chelbin usually chooses small communities as the subject of her work. For Strangely Familiar, she photographed performers from small towns in Eastern Europe, England and Israel; for The Black Eye, she took portraits of athletes she encountered in the same regions. In both works, the pictures of the youngest performers and athletes are the most striking, as they mostly show sulky children and adolescents tired by the hard work they have to endure. Sailboats and Swans, Chelbin’s latest monograph, is a collection of portraits the photographer made of the male inmates in a Ukrainian prison.
Natan Dvir is a documentary photographer concerned with exposing the effects of politics and economics on contemporary societies. His work Coming Soon has been featured on international newspapers and magazines like The New York Times, Newsweek, the Wall Street Journal, Focus and Paris Match. The striking images in the series show the incredible contrast between enormous ads found in the streets of New York and the tiny passers-by on the sidewalks. Eighteen, a more recent work, explores the world of 18 years old belonging to the Arab community living in Israel.
The main aspect of Shai Kremer‘s photography is the investigation of how military operations and war episodes impact on the locations they take place in. For his series Infected Landscapes, Kremer championed sites in Israel somehow disfigured by combat, using the affected sites as a metaphor for the effects of conflict on Israeli society. Fallen Empires looks at archeological ruins across Israel that stand as the evidence of one fact: that no form of power is perennial. For Concrete Abstract, an ‘homage to America, to New York, to their trauma and their recovery,’ Kremer obtained layered photographs by combining many images of the World Trade Center’s site and its rebuilding.
Take a look at an image by Barry Frydlender, and it will feel like there’s nothing wrong about it. It will probably be a panoramic picture of a street scene, showing a piece of social life in Israel. But at closer inspection, the eye notices that something not quite right is going on, like the same human figure showing up more than once in the same picture. In fact, Frydlender does not take photographs, he literally makes them up. His large-scale images are the extraordinary result of the digital composition of hundreds of small different shots taken in the same place, but in different times. Frydlender, who has had solo exhibitions in such museums as New York’s MoMA, challenges the very basic idea of photography as the depiction of the fleeting moment.