Capturing my husband's roots

Though her husband didn't live to see his birthplace in India, photographer Michal Yehezkel took a grief-stricken journey for the both of them.

MICHAL YEHEZKEL 88 298 (photo credit: Maxim Reider)
(photo credit: Maxim Reider)
'I believe that Micha was with me in India, he looked through the lens of my camera together with me, and we took these photos together," says photographer Michal Yehezkel in a Tel Aviv café in front of the Cinematheque, where her exhibition "Spirits" is on display. Micha is Yehezkel's late husband who died of cancer less than three years ago at the age of 47. A Jew of Indian heritage, he came to Israel at the age of 10 and always dreamed of visiting the land of his birth, but never realized his dream. Two years after her husband's death, Yehezkel went to India in lieu of her husband, in search of his roots. "I've always taken photographs, but four years ago I decided to study photography properly." Yehezkel, who was born in Israel but spent her early years in New York, returned to Israel at the age of 18. "My appointment at the photography studio was scheduled for the day my husband was diagnosed with cancer - the day my world turned around." Yet Yehezkel, who knew what awaited her in the coming months, decided not to cancel her studies, and photography turned out to be a large part of what helped her survive her ordeal with some sanity. She made portraits of her husband "on his heroic descent down a slope of no return. I am usually a very quiet person, and I spoke out through my photography." "I've always been full of joie de vivre, we had a great life together - he was my soul mate, and we have wonderful kids." Yehezkel, who has been active on photography Internet forums, says that when the news of her husband's death spread through the Web, "many people, strangers, came forward to comfort me - this is the [power of the] language of photography." About a year ago, when Yehezkel was still deep in grief, her friends invited her to participate in a photographic journey to India. "I agreed without hesitation, not even knowing if I would be able to photograph," recollects Yehezkel. "This was a very hard period. I was stuck, I was lost. I said to myself, 'Michal, stop crying, you have to get better, to do something drastic.'" When she went to the Indian Embassy to acquire a tourist visa, Yehezkel was asked if she planned to travel for business or pleasure. "Neither," she responded, "I'm going to the land where my love was born, I am going there for healing. I hope next time it will be for pleasure." Speaking about the journey, Yehezkel says that she "was drawn to certain images which only became clear to me once I returned home and observed them. Unconsciously, I was photographing themes of symbolic significance to me. Many of the photographs are characterized by powerful contrasts of light and darkness, happiness and sadness, past and future." The results of her photographic journey are now exhibited at Tel Aviv Cinematheque. "I kept the title of the exhibition in English, since 'The Spirits' has a multifaceted definition; it is human spirit, soul, morale, and also alcohol. "Micha, who was a very practical person and absolutely not superstitious, used to say: You should not be afraid of the spirits, they are here to protect us." Preparing the exhibition turned out to be a healing and awakening process for Yehezkel. "It was like a rebirth. I was surrounded with death and grief and then I did something different. By sharing my internal pain with other people through my photos, I may be to help those who are in my same situation. For me, this exhibition is like closing a circle. First you feel anger and pain, then reconciliation comes. "I consider myself an eternal optimist, always in search of the aura and flora in this world, despite the sadness, despite the darkness. With my photography, I search for the same things I search for in life - light and color. And now I am looking forward to my future." 'The Spirits' will be on display until August 22.