First-class photos: a new photography exhibit takes flight.

Michal Hardoof-Raz outfits Fresh Paint with photographs of prominent women in the Israeli art world – in flight attendant uniforms

Keren Bar-Gil, independent curator (photo credit: MICHAL HARDOOF-RAZ)
Keren Bar-Gil, independent curator
(photo credit: MICHAL HARDOOF-RAZ)
Photographers have, by definition, a singular perspective on the world around them. Some take a more panoramic approach, others hone in on minutiae, while others still like to employ the best technology has to offer, and to manipulate the images they capture with their cameras almost into unrecognizable, but no less visually arresting forms.
Michal Hardoof-Raz likes capturing what she sees in front of her in a pretty realistic format, but also has a thing about barely perceptible particles that hover suspended, and almost unseen, in the air.
Hardoof-Raz, 50, is one of the participating artists at this year’s Fresh Paint event, which takes place at the Tel Aviv Convention Center April 26-30. This is the 10th edition of the multidisciplinary arts fair and, as usual, there will be plenty to see over the five days.
Hardoof-Raz has gone for an eye-catching theme that owes as much to her fascination with flying machines as to one of her principal subject matter – women.
Michal Hardoof-Raz has been photographing airplanes for quite some time. In the series First Class, which she devised for Fresh Paint, and which is curated by Guy Morag Tzepelewitz, she asked a bunch of prominent women in the Israeli art world to don flight attendant uniforms and provide her with vital information for her survival in the art world.
While highlighting the seniority of these women in the upper echelons of the Israeli art community, Hardoof-Raz also tries to define her own place in it, while relentlessly pursuing her examination of photography, presence and place, which she explores in her works.
But back to her abiding interest in entities – man-made and natural – that spend much, if not all, of their time suspended between heaven and earth. Actually, we need to reference a different, more gravity-friendly substance to get better insight into when Hardoof-Raz’s liking for the finer details of life and Mother Nature began to take artistic form. In the mid-1990s she enrolled at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design, Boston, where she took a master’s degree in fine arts, specializing in photography.
One day, the weather gods took matters into their own fatalistic hands and ensured that not only was Hardoof-Raz forced to stay indoors, but was also left with plenty of time to consider the photographic possibilities of something as seemingly unremarkable as rain. Actually, it wasn’t just any old bout of wet weather.
“There was an amazing deluge and the trains weren’t running because of flooding, so I had to stay at home,” she explains. “I didn’t have much to do at home, but I started taking loads of photographs, with all my cameras, of raindrops on the window. It was a bit like meditation.”
The thinking behind the microcosm she spent all day documenting eventually expanded into other domains of thought and creative processes, and her artistic die was well and truly set.
“All my work comes out of that,” she declares. “It’s a sort of presence, and observing that.”
That mindset has pervaded her every shutter click since.
“It doesn’t make any difference what the subject matter is. And there’s no picture that is better or worse than another. It’s all the same. It’s one moment then another and then another. And I got some amazing photographs out of that.”
Before long Hardoof-Raz became absorbed by dust. Yes, dust.
“I’d take a projector and take photographs of dust particles in the light. That’s what interested me at the time.” It was, she notes, a way of grasping the intangible.
“I had an exhibition in which I had an enormous print of a photograph I took of air. Just air.”
She says that the physical production process turned the ephemeral into some- thing corporeal.
“There was nothing, just the photographic grain. The developing stage took a long time. I went into the darkroom with a friend and a box of cookies, and we waited an hour, an hour-and-a-half, maybe longer, and ate cookies,” she says with a laugh. “I didn’t really know how long it would take.”
Protracted creative processes became an integral part of Hardoof-Raz’s ethos.
“I went up to the roof of my building at night, and I took pictures of planes flying overhead,” she recalls. Once again, she homed in on the finer details. “I’d pick up the spots of light, you know, on the plane wings and other places. The signs the plane leaves behind.”
Her fascination with particles that hang in the air led to a high-profile gig: some of her dust pictures were featured in the “9/11: The Photographs That Moved Them Most” series published in Time magazine to mark the anniversary of the 9/11 disaster.
Matters gradually became ever more aviation-oriented.
“I remember once I was at a movie in Haifa, and there was a scene of a plane flying over a city – maybe it was Tokyo. I flew quite a lot back then, in the States, between the States and Israel. I thought about all the people in the planes, and how they move from one location in the world to another. It became a sort of obsession for me.”
When Hardoof-Raz eventually returned to Israel, armed only with an MFA, cameras, her husband and offspring, she did not exactly find the local market, and photographic community, standing in line to provide her with a means of making ends meet. A family member unwittingly helped point her in a new, interesting and income-generating direction.
“One day I took a picture of my pregnant sister in the garden. I didn’t think too much about it, but all her friends thought the picture was great. They said there was a new trend in Israel, of photos of pregnant women, and that I had to get into it.”
The new line of work not only proved to be a nice earner, it also pointed Hardoof-Raz toward a new thematic field of play.
“I got fed up with photographing families, and kids, and I started taking pictures of women,” she says. “I took a lot of pictures of men too, but women tend to hang around after the photo shoot. We talk, and they ask me questions. I felt like there was more to it than just taking their photograph.”
Hardoof-Raz discovered she had other gifts.
“Some women would be nervous about having their picture taken. I’d show them their pictures, and we’d talk and gradually they would feel more at ease.” She backed up that ataractic ability by taking a photo-therapy course at Tel Aviv University.
First Class represents a natural confluence of Hardoof-Raz’s fascination with planes and her work with female portraiture. It took more than a modicum of elbow grease to get the show off the ground, and some help. She got just the helping hand she needed.
“I had thousands of photographs and I didn’t know how I was going to manage. When [artist] Keren [Shpilser] came to my studio she said it looked like a plane,” says Hardoof-Raz. “She told me I differentiated between photographs I considered work and photos I considered art, and that she was going to help me fuse the two together.”
And thus First Class came to be.
The exhibition features a slew of high-flying women from the local arts world, including the likes of Tel Aviv photography curator Samira Raz, Givon Gallery owner Noemi Givon, art collector Ora Goldenberg, Iris Barak, curator of the Dubi Shiff Collection and Iris Rywkind Ben-Zour, director of Outset Israel which supports the visual arts in Israel. It was Bar-Gil who came up with the idea of asking the subjects to don a flight attendant uniform.
“Keren said I was the flight attendant, and I was organizing all the women who came to me to have their picture taken. She also suggested I photograph women from the art world. That connected all the dots for me.”
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