Tel Aviv’s winter fest has something for everyone

Musical attractions galore will be enhanced by Moshe Shai’s classic photo display.

Late singer Arik Einstein is among those visitors to the photography exhibition could see in the show. (photo credit: MOSHE SHAI)
Late singer Arik Einstein is among those visitors to the photography exhibition could see in the show.
(photo credit: MOSHE SHAI)
This country abounds with arts festivals of every kind. There never seems to be a week without some three- or four-dayer popping up somewhere in Israel. But many of us identify musical programs with outdoor performances, especially here where the sun usually shines.
So the idea of an indoor festival may appear somewhat incongruous here. But, as we have seen in recent weeks, winter makes an appearance in these parts too, and precipitation has been abundant. Hence, convening at Hechal Hatarbut in Tel Aviv for the third annual Winter Festival, on January 30-February 1, may not been such a bad idea after all.
And it’s not just finding a haven from inclement weather that should draw arts consumers indoors. The organizers have laid on a pretty impressive lineup for the end of the month, with heavyweight bands and A-lister artists on the roster, both from here and abroad, with some added intriguing artistic slots.
Fans of the late David Bowie should enjoy the curtain raiser, as A Bowie Celebration-The David Bowie Alumni Tour rolls into town headed by guitarist-producer Gerry Leonard who worked with the Bowie for many years, as did bassist Carmien Rojas and drummer Alan Childs, while guitarist Charlie Sexist opened for him on more than one occasion.
The local bill ain’t too bad either, with the likes of old Kaveret pals Gidi Gov and Danny Sanderson, Nikmat Hatraktor, Amir Benayoun along with frontline guests Beri Sacharoff and Arkadi Duchin, and Dikla all in the musical mix.
While the members of the rock-loving public are milling around between shows, supping some beer and a tasty tidbit or two, they can feast their eyes on some nostalgia-inducing visuals courtesy of Moshe Shai. The feted 64-year-old photographer will unfurl his Omrim Shehaya Poh Sameach (The Good Old Times) exhibition in Hechal Hatarbut’s Sella Hall, with 38 monochrome prints mostly from the ‘80s, with a handful from the early ‘90s, providing striking testimony of some of the major players in the Israeli entertainment fraternity of yesteryear. Happily, some are still around and doing their thing.
If you happened to pass through the foyer of the Jerusalem Theater in the past year or so, some of the images may seem familiar. Quite a few of the photos from that showing will pop up in Tel Aviv, although there will be some surprises too.
“I have changed quite a few of the pictures,” says Shai, adding that visitors to the Winter Festival stand to benefit from some accrued street-level wisdom. “Hechal Hatarbut wanted their own exhibition and during the Jerusalem exhibition I learned which pictures work well and which work less well. So I took some out and added others.”
I saw the Jerusalem Theater layout on several occasions, but I don’t recall any that didn’t “work well.” One that stands out in particular is an engaging shot of late nonpareil songstress Naomi Shemer sharing a quiet moment with stellar singer songwriter Mati Caspi. Shai, in fact, has plenty of such unguarded junctures dotted through the exhibition, including a delightfully insouciant scene with the lads of now defunct seminal pop-rock Kaveret group from the ‘80s, and revered actor-troubadour Yossi Banai and rock star Yuval Banai in a loving father-son encounter. All the prints on show come from the Omrim Shehaya Poh Sameach book which Shai published last year.
Besides the alluring aesthetics, you get a sense of a bygone era, and more innocent times. “Many of the photographs were taken ‘at the wrong moment,’” Shai chuckles. “I took them when no one was really interested in taking pictures or having their picture taken. Naomi Shemer, for example, would certainly not have wanted to be photographed like that.”
The frame in question shows one of the country’s most renowned songwriters in a decidedly non-showy posture, dressed in a raincoat and deep in earnest conversation with Caspi. “The pictures show stolen moments.”
NATURALLY, SHAI made every effort to sustain a fly-on-the-way angle documentary attack. The prints were captured long before the digital camera was invented and without the aid of artificial light which, of course, would have alerted the subjects to Shai’s encroaching presence.
“I don’t [do] flash photography. I like to take pictures in natural light,” he notes, adding that he was always up to the challenges that entails. Taking photographs with a film-based camera, which does not offer the photographer the luxury of seeing the frame before it is printed, or of taking umpteen shots in order to ensure they get something that conveys the required message, could be a risky business.
“Yes, that can make life difficult,” Shai concurs, “but I have never been afraid of hardships. What interests me is the end result.”
Shai has been in the game a long time. He hails from a time when people, and especially the more publicly celebrated members of society, were less geared to striking up the requisite PR-tailored pose in the blink of an eye, before some predator documenter manages to get their ever-hovering finger to the camera or cellphone button. I wondered whether, in this day and age of digital photography, when almost everyone has a smartphone, it is more difficult to catch celebrities unawares.
“It is easier with artists, and even easier with politicians,” Shai declares, adding that the better-known the subject, the clearer it is to him how to go about his business. “With artists you are familiar with their public pose, so I look for real pose. I look for genuine, natural situations and moments. I eschew the orderly PR stuff.”
Then again, artists’ modern-day awareness of the possibility that at any given moment someone may whip out a cellphone and commit their image to their personal or social media consciousness does present Shai with challenges. “You have to be alert,” he says.
Mind you, Shai got his training in a tough arena and was fully primed to produce shots of the quality of the prints that will be on display at Hechal Hatarbut next week. “I was a culture photographer to begin with,” he explains. “I was a sports photographer. I took all the pictures in the book, by the by. I even took some at soccer grounds, for example the one of Arik Einstein was taken at a sports event.”
That, more or less, goes without saying. Einstein was an avid fan of Hapoel Tel Aviv’s soccer and basketball teams, particularly the latter. “Arik was fine. He never objected to having his picture taken, but he didn’t like to be bothered. I never went up to him and asked if I could snap him. He had a very different approach to life.”
Shai says he was looking to convey the contemporary zeitgeist. “The title of the book (and of the exhibition) incorporates the spirit of the times, when the photographs were taken.”
Those “times” come from a far more innocent and less complicated Israel. Back then there was but a single TV channel, and most people watched the Mabat evening news, from 9:30 pm. to 10 p.m., and then hit the sack. The country as a whole, including its celebs, were a far more forgiving and less savvy bunch. Shai notes that it would be far more challenging to get such revealing snaps today.
“Everything is so regulated these days. I like to improvise. I don’t like it when things are too organized. I don’t take pictures, for example, in the United States, because everything is so orderly there. There’s no room for spontaneity there.”
Shai misses the old Israel. I like it when things are cobbled together. I liked it when there was only one television station and all the breakdowns they had in the middle of a broadcast. I’m not into all the reality stuff – The Big Brother, The Little Brother, A Chef is Born,” he laughs, intentionally distorting some of the TV shows of the increasingly popular genre. “I like the innocence of the past.”
That is clear from Omrim Shehaya Poh Sameach.
For tickets and more information about the Winter Festival, call *2207 or visit online at or