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(photo credit: Gili Chen)
After nearly a decade of international success working with the most prestigious fashion houses in New York and Paris, fashion photographer Gili Chen is back in Israel and putting on her first exhibition in Tel Aviv. Entitled "Expand Your Vision," Chen's exhibit is a convergence of artistry, fashion and commerce. By taking the product which she is commissioned to advertise and combining it with unique elements of design and her own personal style, her photography stands out from the rest and brings the eye to a screeching halt.
Chen started developing her skills when she was 16, attending the Wizo College of design in Haifa despite her parents' wishes. "My father constantly takes pride in me for going behind his back and registering to art school," Chen tells The Jerusalem Post.
In her first year, she won an award for her work, which took her to New York for the first time. It was there that she first felt that if she wanted to work at the top of her field, she would have to leave Israel, at least for awhile. "I realized that it would be very difficult to live the life of an artist, like I wanted to, in Israel," said Chen.
In her third year in college, Chen took a course in fashion that made her decide that she would become a fashion photographer. "It all came together for me then. I have always loved shooting pictures of people and I have a developed sense of beauty. Fashion brought everything together for me," says Chen.
After three years in Haifa, Chen decided to move to New York to complete her studies and begin her career. She began working as an intern at a modeling agency shooting screen tests for aspiring models. "In the beginning I was a control freak, a fashion drill sergeant, I had to have everything my way," says Chen. With time, she learned to soften her approach, work more openly with the models on the set, and allow the perfect frames to come naturally.
Working for modeling agencies allowed Chen to get to know the important players in the field, learn from them and make professional contacts. Before long, she was freelancing for some of the biggest names in the fashion industry.
"Working for publications like The New York Times, Sportswear International, Paper magazine and Random House publishing allowed me to gain experience on the highest professional level," explains Chen. "In a way I became spoilt, I got used to having a whole support system in place to serve me. In New York you have 10 people doing what one person would be doing here in Tel Aviv."
Chen's career blossomed in New York and she was living the life of an artist in the big city. There was also no shortage of Israelis to keep her company. "There was a whole group of us involved in the fashion industry; photographers, designers, stylists. New York is packed with Israelis and we met often and cooperated on projects," recalls Chen.
Yet there was always a nagging feeling of displacement. "I spent half the time fretting about my legal status, worrying about my visa expiring and making sure I could get it renewed. I missed my family and my friends back home, the feeling of Friday afternoons when everything relaxes for a while. I never felt completely comfortable. I was always being reminded that I was an immigrant and an outsider."
After five years in New York, Chen decided that that she wanted to be closer to Israel. She took a brief tour around Europe before deciding to settle in Paris. "Paris has the best lighting in the world and it makes a perfect backdrop for shooting fashion," said Chen. In Paris Chen worked with esteemed fashion publications such as Madame Figaro, Jalouse, Elle and casting magazine and some of Europe's top models and fashion designers.
Now Chen is working on her third fresh start, this time on her home turf. Her reputation and experience allows her take her pick of projects and her photographs appear in the pages of At, Laisha, Cosmopolitan and Go. She also worked on catalogues and campaigns for local fashion companies.
"Nearly every day people ask me why I came back to Israel and I always try to come up with an original and clever response, but the truth is that I wanted to come home," said Chen. "Being in Israel cleared a lot of my worries. I've found my comfort zone. While it's not easy to be here, I feel a sense of belonging. It's a rough package, but it's my package."
"I feel like my work expresses part of my internal world, my personal logic, my soul," said Chen. "My exhibition is a resume of my life and my experiences; it shows people my creativity and my vision. I hope that people in Israel can connect to my photographs and that they will be appreciated here in the same way they were abroad."
Gili Chen's work is currently on display at the Casco Urban Lab restaurant and gallery in Florentine until the end of the month.