When is a visual documenter not a photographer? Just to be clear about this, we are talking snappers here, not painters, sketchers or even sculptors.
According to Eyal Landesman they are one and the same. For his money it doesn’t make any difference if you are capturing some spur-of-the-moment image with your trusty, eminently ubiquitous smartphone, or the picture you take is the result of some meticulously planned project involving the use of camera equipment costing many thousands of shekels.
Then again, the latter probably won’t come into play this morning when the seventh annual Photography Marathon kicks off, running from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. The event is a precursor of the annual Photo Is:Rael grand happening, which has been run by the eponymous public benefit company since 2012. The idea is to promote “the art of photography in Israel and abroad. For us photography is a language,” the organization’s website credo continues. “It is the language in which we speak, communicate and argue, the language with which we volunteer and initiate dozens of community outreach programs throughout the year.” Clearly this is not just a once-a-year effort.
Ordinarily, in pre-pandemic times, Photo Is:Rael features a slew of real life, face-to-face workshops, lectures and other activities involving some of the top artists and professionals in the field from across the globe, and quite a few exhibitions on various topics. Naturally, this year’s festival, which is scheduled – oscillating lockdown constraints permitting – for the first week of November, will largely be a virtual get-together. However, it is hoped that several thousands of prints, covering a wide range of themes and styles, will be actually, physically, out there in the street-level public domain.
“We are planning on putting the photographs up on a wall that runs around Kikar Hamedina [in Tel Aviv],” says Landesman, the perennial Photo Is:Rael artistic director.
By all accounts, this will be a mega-presentation of the fruits of creative juices and labors. The said structure stretches for a full 800 meters, with the entries into today’s marathon contest that are adjudged to be of the highest quality and creative insight due to join the pictorial rollout around the square.
During the course of today’s four-hour program, several hundred amateur snappers will take pictures based on the lockdown-induced general theme of “the domestic domain.” And they will have to be on their toes. The contestants will receive a total of six assignments, via text messages, and will have half an hour to complete each one. Entrants must carry out a minimum of four tasks, and they have to submit their pictures within 24 hours.” Not only will the highest-placed works get their several days of fame on the aforesaid urban wall, the photographers will also win vouchers of varying values, which they will be able to use to upgrade their camera equipment.
One would have thought that confining photographers to a very limited physical milieu might stunt their creative endeavor. Landesman begs to differ.
“You can do all sorts of projects within your close circle of people and surroundings,” he posits. “I know from experience that it can produce very moving and far more powerful results.” Looking on the bright side – and there appear to be a few – of these coronavirus times, Landesman feels social and political strictures can also help to get the muses on board.
“We firmly believe that photography is a perfect means for conveying ideas and burning issues,” he notes, adding that there is still plenty of room for maneuver, coronavirus cabinet recommendations notwithstanding.
“The idea of the domestic domain is very much open to interpretation. We don’t tell people what to do or what to take pictures of. They get an assignment and they do with it whatever they want.” It is very much about focusing on the micro rather than taking the expansive scenic route. Again, that has been prompted by the limitations placed on physical movement.
“With the new lockdown, I think people have actually been empowered to take a look at the things around them,” says Landesman. “You don’t have to go to the North Pole to find something good to photograph. You can be creative in your own home patch too, in your own neighborhood.” The fact that this is a multi-participant activity, Landesman thinks, also gets the pulse racing and provide the spark for breaking new ground.
“You know, it’s like a [running] marathon. You always end up running faster than you thought, because there’s the crowd, and other runners. All that pushes you to get more out of yourself. It’s the same with a photography marathon. It is not competitive per se, but just knowing there are others also taking pictures can push you higher levels of achievement.” It is also a matter of mindset and how you approach the tasks in hand. Experience in the field does not necessarily mean you have a head start on the rest of the pack.
“The last time we had a marathon there were around 800 people taking photos, including pretty dedicated photographers,” Landesman notes. “The winner was a 22-year-old woman from Tel Aviv, a dancer. She was, in no way, a serious photographer. This project produces exciting and surprising results, for us and for the entrants.” There may be prizes on the line, Landesman says, but evoking the competitive spirit is not the point of the exercise.
“We approach this from a standpoint of emotion and enjoyment. That is also very important, not just being creative.”
Rather than cramping the artistic style, the time frame aspect of the marathon is expected to channel the participants’ efforts to a more clearly delineated pathway to getting the job done.
“I believe that creativity needs to have a deadline,” the Photo Is:Rael artistic director suggests. “It helps to concentrate the mind and how you go about your work. It is easy to get distracted, and to start shooting off in all directions.” Landesman explains, “We had to get up to speed really quickly, to organize the marathon in the current circumstances. Normally you need to get a panel of judges together and there are all sorts of logistics which we, at the moment, we deal with.” Again, from a creative perspective, practical challenges can yield more distilled results.
“We are looking for people to surprise themselves and us,” says Landesman.
Even so, we won’t be entirely on our own.
“We will send people tips in the middle of each assignment slot, such as telling them to elevate their gaze and that sort of thing.”
The marathon is very much a level playing-field affair.
“We want to get rid of any hierarchy aspect. Everyone is a photographer. The means is not important. This has nothing to do with age, although, of course, having more experience of life can inform how you express yourself artistically. It isn’t a matter of training, either. It is about having something to say.” Presumably, the latter also necessitates finding a suitable way to convey one’s ideas, thoughts and feelings. Amateur standing regardless, it won’t exactly be a merry free-for-all.
“We will also be looking at the way each person has employed the photographic language in their entries,” Landesman explains. “It is about what we all bring to the process and, of course, the end result.” THE FORTHCOMING marathon is a new stage in a continuum that began seven years ago.
“The competitors can learn a lot from the process they go through and that can have a knock-on effect on what they do in the future, and on future marathons,” Landesman asserts. “Of course, only time will tell about that,” he laughs.
The artistic director happily points out that the advent of the smartphone and opening the field to amateurs with varying levels of expertise or artistic acumen, have only served to galvanize the visual documentary domain.
“You know, it’s like saying the invention of the typewriter was going to have a detrimental effect on the writing profession. The opposite was the case. It opened everything up to more people and enriched the discipline.” Another benefit of the pandemic curbs is the increasing use of online means of running events and, hence, making them accessible to people from everywhere and anywhere.
“We will have participants from all over the country, and I know there are some people from Australia taking part too,” says Landesman. “It will be interesting to see what each person brings from their own surroundings.” Come Friday, hundreds – possibly thousands – of amateur photographers, armed with tripods and state-of-the-art image-capturing apparatus, or just with a plain old smartphone nestling in their pants back pocket, will be on the prowl for the unexpected. Could be an eye-opening experience for us all in these geographically constrained times, over at Kikar Hamedina in a month’s time.
To register for the marathon: www.photoisrael.org/photoismarathon/login/?action=register
For more information about Photo Is:rael: www.photoisrael.org