Pictures that enrich, intimidate and inspire

An eye-opening exhibit from Hadassah College.

CABINET OF CURIOSITIES 311 (photo credit: Yoni Passi)
(photo credit: Yoni Passi)
The serpentine corridors of Hadassah College in Jerusalem compete with those of Hebrew University’s Mount Scopus Campus for architectural inconvenience. But walking them on Wednesday evening, seeing an exhibition of 24 graduates from the Photographic Media class minutes after they had received their diplomas, was nonetheless a refreshing experience.
All of the works presented are technically proficient, evidently shot by young people in control of their craft; more than half are thought provoking, and there are a few truly stellar talents on show.
The school’s graduates this year are the first to receive a full BA degree, following a four-year program. (Until this year, the course lasted only three). But unlike the photography department in the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design, specializing in art-photography, Hadassah prepares its graduates for a diverse career. From the pictures on the walls it was clear that those who may opt to branch out to photojournalism have received the appropriate schooling.
None of the pieces utilizes shock-value and few are in any way offensive. The college does not require its students to avoid shooting nudity or violence, but most graduates chose to articulate their artistic statements more subtly, poetic license notwithstanding.
There are some politically loaded pieces on show – a sine qua non in Israeli art – but thankfully they are not the majority.
And even those which carry political overtones do so cleverly, avoiding in-your-face imagery.
A hallway in the entrance features one piece by each graduate; rooms around the college contain small solo exhibitions by the photographers. Finding one’s way around the Hadassah complex, made up of two buildings connected by a bridge that arches over Hahavazelet Street, is a frustrating challenge. A map with “You Are Here” on it is posted in various locations; it is schematic nearly to the point of defying interpretation, but the effort pays off.
AMONG THE promising talents, Matanya Tausig’s works, displayed in Hadassah’s second building on Hahavazelet Street, stand out. He took pictures of men and women of the cloth from the Orthodox Ethiopian Church, both in Israel, where the church holds many assets, and in Ethiopia. The theme continues a project he has been pursuing over the past few years – the research through photography of rituals, religions and cults in the Holy Land.
The pieces, mostly full length portraits of standing or sitting figures in full clerical attire, are shot against a lavish backdrop of church ornaments – devotional paintings, carpets, bronze crosses and other Ethiopian Orthodox paraphernalia. The highly expressive faces are etched in sharp relief against the colorful backgrounds, and Tausig is adept at asserting his personality as an artist without treading on the subjects’ own individuality.
His photographs are as much inspired by Byzantine and western Medieval icons as they are by Pop Art from the 1960s. Many of the pictures contain subtle pictorial echoes between the figures and their backgrounds which are only revealed after lengthy observation.
All the pieces are highly polished in execution, jewel-like in their richness.
Impressive too, at the other end of the spectrum, is Hila Vugman. Her prints are on a similarly large scale, but unlike Tausig’s, they are minimalistic in execution.
Vugman took pictures of children exercising, apparently training to become athletes. Some are shown practicing, some are just posing for the camera; all are classical portraits in the sense that the subjects are facing the viewer directly, confronting him.
While the immediate association that comes to mind is that of Soviet children groomed from a young age to win Olympic gold, the black and white, slightly grainy photographs are infused with a sense of melancholic nostalgia. Like Tausig, Vugman manages to assert a clearly defined artistic personality without overpowering the humanity of her subjects.
Shay Zinger, who also shoots in black and white, conducted a dialogue with the concept of the postcard – how recipients of postcards experience a sense of sharing with their senders despite the usually generic, saccharine vistas shown in the format. Zinger turns the concept on its head, shooting corners of insignificance in the Jerusalem landscape – electricity posts, construction sites – mostly topped by a vast expansive sky, not what a typical postcard photographer would choose to shoot. His works, mostly diptychs, force the observer to appreciate a quiet, abstract aesthetic in the seemingly random situations one’s eyes might flick over while driving or walking a well-known street.
Of equal asceticism are the large photographs of Noam Feiner, who shoots empty room spaces, dominated by diffused, ochre light. The pieces are at once inviting and intimidating in their emptiness and deepness.
But there is also a very modern, clean aesthetic to the overall geometric compositions created by the lines where walls and ceilings meet.
MOST GRADUATES chose to display a collection of medium or large prints, exploring their chosen theme. But a few opted to use the medium of photography as one component of a wider concept, setting up installations based on photography where the space works with the pictures to complement and amplify the theme.
Hagar Haran Porat displays in succession still shots of dancers on a video screen, accompanied by the notes of a music box. The work is projected in a darkened room and, according to the artist, explores the dichotomy between body and mind.
In a room painted all black, Gal Hemo’s installation, “Windows,” is made up of photographs lit as if from within. The photographs show slices of life – a bathroom window, a naked leg seen through venetian blinds – all in thick, black, deep-set frames. The observer walking inside immediately becomes an unwilling voyeur, and the installation explores the mystery of the concept of a window which, when viewed from the outside in, always hides more than it allows to be seen.
The most dazzling display is Yoni Passi’s room.
Unlike other graduates, Passi gave no title to his exhibition – and while others wrote prefaces ranging from a few sentences to a few paragraphs describing their artistic mission, Passi’s introduction simply says “Welcome.
Come in and make yourselves comfortable.”
In a relatively small space, Passi stacked pictures, floor to ceiling, some larger pieces leaning against the walls. The pieces are of different sizes, shot in different techniques, some in color, some black and white and a few manipulated by Photoshop filters. Some are face portraits, others show sitting figures or still lifes, others still are pictures of people looking at pictures.
The overall impression is that of a cabinet of curiosities – a conglomeration of bits and pieces building up a picture of a life. But unlike Hemo’s room, the ambience of Passi’s exhibition is inviting, casual, bright and optimistic.
And there are reasons for optimism: If this exhibition indicates the shape of things to come, Hadassah’s young graduates have a bright future ahead of them.

The exhibition at Hadassah College in Jerusalem runs until July 27. It is open from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Sundays through Thursdays and from 9:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. on Fridays.