Through the lens

Photographer Luc Dratwa brings his unique perspective to the Tel Aviv Photo Fair this week

March 23, 2015 21:07
luc dratwa

luc dratwa. (photo credit: Courtesy)


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From March 26 to March 28, the Tel Aviv Photo Fair returns for the fifth time. Held at the “Aza 13” space for multidisciplinary art in one of Jaffa’s historic houses, the fair features a mix of fine art, fashion and journalistic photography.

The fair features photos by Alex Levac, Eitan Vitkon, Merav Ben-Loulou, Archive Magazine, members of the Indie Photography Group Gallery, and Luc Dratwa. The Jerusalem Post sat down with Belgian-born Dratwa for a conversation about seeing life through the lens.

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You are originally from Belgium, but are in the process of making aliya to Israel. What prompted that decision?

Yes, I was born in Belgium in 1958.

I’m not a young man, but I’m not so old (laughs). I have five children and three are living in Israel. It’s a pleasure to live in Israel. So I will go after my children; they showed me the way.

Do you remember the first photograph that you ever took?

I started out as a painter when I was 13, and then I began taking photographs when I was 20. I bought my first camera, which was a Canon, only because it was a beautiful object, not to take pictures. When I bought it, it was very cheap because it was broken. I just displayed it in my apartment because it looked nice.

Then, one or two years after that, I decided to return to the store to tell them that the camera was broken.

They were able to fix it for me, and it was then that I began. Up until then, I was a painter. When you are painting, you start with nothing; white paper. If you want to write a poem or a piece of music, it’s the same.

In photography, you need to begin not with the white pages, but with reality. Then from reality, you create another reality. I think that’s more difficult. You have to bring an alternate reality. That’s what I liked, and what drew me to start taking photos.

I’m very technical. My photos are very sharp, very clean.

Does it take you a long time to process each photograph?

Sure! Each photo takes me about two weeks. The camera is not something very clever, it can take what it can take, and no more. So after the photo is taken, you have to make it your own interpretation. You can give a negative to 10 photographers and they will interpret it in 10 different ways. I teach a photography class in Brussels, and for one of the assignments, I give each student the same negative to see how differently they all treat it. It’s very interesting.

In my opinion, to have a nice photo, you have to first think about it, then take it, then throw yourself into the post-production. That’s the process.

Is the Tel Aviv Photo Fair your first exhibition in Israel?

Yes, it’s my first exhibition in Israel.

That’s why I am putting a few photos from each of my current series: two from “Windows,” two from “Subways,” and three from “Streets.”

How did you go about choosing which photos to display?

I picked the ones I like (laughs).

I hope the Israeli people will also like them. I’ve been very successful in Belgium, France and Holland, so I hope that my photographs are received well in Israel also.

I read that you made an app that people can download to their phones, that goes with your ‘Streets’ photo series. Can you talk about how that works?

It’s a little bit of a secret, but I will explain it to you in general. You have to go to the app store and find the app, which is my name. Once you download it, you can scan my photos and it gives you information about them. It’s a way to understand what happened behind the scenes. When I was taking the photos, I was also writing in my notebook whatever I observed on the street and what was happening in my mind. It’s an option for people who want to know more about my process when I take photos. Try it and you will see it’s very good.

Do you think that this idea of digitally interactive photography is something we’re going to see more of in the future?

I don’t know what will be in the future of photography, but I think that we always have to move forward.

It’s just a different way to show the photo and what’s behind it. I’m sure that we will see more things like this.

Judging by the photos in your current three series, it seems that you’re influenced by architecture and shapes. Is that true? Yes I like architecture, my wife is an architect, but it’s geometry more than that. Architecture is just the support of a way to think geometrically.

I’m always looking for clean, geometric lines. It’s exactly the opposite of what I have in my head and how I live. I’m a big balagan [mess] man. I don’t know where my shoes are, or where my glasses are, but in my photos everything is in the right place and at the right angle.

How do you come up with titles for your photographs?
My first series, “Windows,” portrays people from behind looking out a window onto Rockefeller Center.

All of the titles of these photos are the names of people from my family, who are no longer living. It’s an homage to the people I love who have died. There is one called Chaya, which was my grandmother’s name.

She looked exactly like the image of the woman in the photo. Henry was my father, and the position of the person reading is exactly how he used to read. It’s an inner, personal concept. Again, it’s all very geometric; the windows are the same height. The studio was painted black, and for me, the photos came out very strong.

With the “Subways” series, when I was taking the photos, I was losing my mother. It’s been five years now. At the time, it was as if I went with my mother underground. I took all the photos from 11 p.m. to 4 or 5 a.m., so that there wouldn’t be anybody in the shots. You don’t have a lot of noise at this time, it’s warm, and it’s very strange. This was a very difficult time for me, but the photos came out beautifully. Life wins every time. People won’t know all this when they see the photos, but it’s not important. If they put it on their walls, then for me, that’s enough. The moment I finish my work, it’s not really mine anymore; it’s for them.

To see Dratwa’s new three photographic series (Windows, Subways, and Streets), from which he chose the photos displayed at the fair, visit his website at

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