Old is the new black

Miri Davidovitz’s photojournalistic exhibit ‘Rock in Black’ depicts nightlife and subculture in the Tel Aviv ’80s club scene.

Photographer Miri Davidovitz's photojournalistic exhibit ‘Rock in Black.’ (photo credit: REUTERS)
Photographer Miri Davidovitz's photojournalistic exhibit ‘Rock in Black.’
(photo credit: REUTERS)
From September 4 until September 28, the Eretz Israel Museum of Tel Aviv is showcasing Miri Davidovitz’s photojournalistic exhibit, “Rock in Black.” The exhibit captures the dark, angsty alienation that epitomized the Tel Aviv club scene in the ’80s. Davidovitz is primarily a fashion and fine art photographer, whose work is well known in and out of Israel. Her deep and personal connection to Tel Aviv in the ’80s, as well as her extensive collection of negatives from that time, led her to create an exhibit that both documents and celebrates a Tel Aviv that is long gone.
How did you first get into photography?
I studied photography in Jerusalem.
Then I was an assistant for about a year. Then straight away, I started photographing. This is how I really got into it. At the age of 20, I shared a flat with some friends and we had a darkroom, and I started playing around in it. That drew me in.
Who is your favorite photographer of all time?
It’s a cliche, but Helmut Newton.
He was a genius in photography, in the sense of seeing light and knowing how it’s going to work in the final photograph. The way it looks in reality is not the way it’s going to be reproduced in the photo. I love everything about him: the way he directed his models, the way he saw the world with a sense of humor, his glorification of women, the way he worked with color. He was really a genius. He’s very appreciated and famous, but he was a working photographer until his last day.
Can you talk about the inspiration behind the ‘Rock in Black’ exhibit?
All of these pictures are from my archives; they are 30 years old. It was the very beginning of when I started photographing. The collection is very photojournalistic, which is not my main line of work. I’m more of a directing photographer. The large scope of photographs portrays a period and place that not many other photographers documented.
It’s also well done, if I may say so. It was such a special and specific period; the dark ‘80s. It was the punk, new-wave era of Tel Aviv.
Also, it’s not just the documentation; it has artistic value.
What was your involvement in the ’80s club scene in Tel Aviv?
I was very involved; me and my friends. I was experimenting with fashion shoots and I was always using my friends.
I had no connection or ability to use models.
I also thought that my friends were the most interesting and the coolest.
Nowadays, there is always this request for “real people.”
At first, I was going out quite a lot, but I wasn’t taking the camera with me. Then a few publications asked me to take pictures for them, and naturally, I photographed mainly people I knew and anyone who was outstanding.
What does the time period of the ’80s represent to you? It was the first time that the look, the way people were thinking and presenting themselves, was individual and not influenced by national things like the army or settlements or kibbutzim. It was the first time that young Israelis were against national things. They were cutting their hair, listening to music and dancing in an individual way. I think that there hasn’t been any other time that was equivalent to the ’80s in that sense. It was almost in real time, paralleling what was going on in England. Some of the pictures were taken during a Doll House concert, and some during a Suzie and the Banshees show. This was the peak of their careers and they were playing in Tel Aviv to a big audience.
How do you explain this connection between Tel Aviv and England at that time?
Tel Aviv was very influenced by London. I’m sure London wasn’t influenced by Tel Aviv! The connection was mostly seen through music. The first album I bought was Jimi Hendrix, and then the Doors, so I was listening to a big variety that also included American artists.
But my favorites were David Bowie and The Clash. There was definitely a wave of American music, but it was nothing compared to the English. There was one very influential record shop in the center of Tel Aviv that started importing a big variety of music, but the majority was British. American music, at that time, came from folk. It also took from rock and blues, which were very popular in Israel, but Israelis find it harder to relate to folk. Israelis feel very much at home in London, probably because we can travel there more easily. I spent a year in London, which was very influential. When I started photographing, my inspiration was from magazines like ID, which still exists, and The Face, which unfortunately doesn’t exist anymore. They were very street-style, cool, avant-garde, and very punk/new-wave.
Can you describe the process of putting this show together?
I worked with a team from the museum, who are very nice and cooperative. Basically, I showed them at the beginning a big variety.
I had thousands of negatives. I pointed out the ones that I thought were more interesting and more significant in terms of describing the period and the scene. Of course they were also the best in the sense of photographic composition and lighting. Out of these, we chose the final ones together. The designer of the exhibition chose the sizes for all the photos. It’s quite a big show – 70 photos. She suggested a few techniques of printing that we decided to use. Some are going to be printed on vinyl, but most will be printed traditionally and framed.
There will also be two projections and a short clip from a television program. My main concern was to keep it in the form of a museum exhibit. It’s very tempting to paint the walls different colors and put music to make a spectacle out of it, but I was very keen to keep it oldschool; framed well and presented properly. The main idea was for people to be able to come and look at the photographs. That’s the most important thing.
Given that you still live in Tel Aviv, how does it compare to what it was in the ’80s?
You might be surprised, but it was much dirtier then. I think it was the same process in New York, in terms of cleaning up over time.
People are much friendlier now, and the streets and buildings are cleaner. People were more alienated back then. The phrase is always, “Once upon a time when people were nicer,” but it’s not true. Tel Aviv wasn’t scary like New York, but the feeling was unpleasant. I think it’s a general phenomenon in most of the world that the cities get a lot of emphasis and a lot of money. So more people move there, including families with kids, and the municipalities start investing and cleaning and putting in trees.
It’s a cycle. Tel Aviv is just the Israeli example. I have two daughters and when the first one was born, we were thinking of moving out of Tel Aviv because there weren’t many children here, the pavement was all crooked, and there weren’t a lot of kindergartens. Now, it’s the opposite.
I’m happy we didn’t move. I would say the change took place about 10 years ago and now it’s very evident, but it took me awhile to see it because I live here. Tel Aviv has become very sought-after, everyone wants to live here now.
What is it about photography that keeps you coming back for more?
First of all, I like the actual action of photography. It’s a very deep pleasure for me. When I work on creating a photograph, I’m very concentrated and alive. Then, when I have the photo ready, I see that I have succeeded in conveying my ideas and there are also things that I didn’t plan that are apparent there. The photograph eventually has a life of its own and it’s very exciting. After creating it, it’s out in the world and everyone can look at it and feel about it whatever they like. It’s very exciting to get all these different opinions and thoughts about my work. It’s amazing.
For more information on the “Rock in Black” exhibit, go to www.eretzmuseum.org.il.
For more information on Miri Davidovitz, please visit her website at www.miridavidovitz.com.