Archetypical images

Before turning to art, photographer Yossi Breger worked in the Finance Ministry’s budget department.

Yossi Breger’s ‘Portrait of Keren Mor 521 (photo credit: Yossi Breger)
Yossi Breger’s ‘Portrait of Keren Mor 521
(photo credit: Yossi Breger)
In his solo exhibition of recent work at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, photographer Yossi Breger seems to focus his camera on plain, everyday objects. But behind their deceptive simplicity is a consideration for the deepest foundations of civilized culture – as well as a masterful technical ability – that reaches toward the realm of aesthetic ideal.
“Every object [in the photographs] is archetypal,” says Breger, 51, about the subjects of his photographs. “An archetype is the oldest and ideal form. The statement is a statement of the sublime.”
Breger’s sublime – which he finds not only in nature but also in human activity – is actually quite grounded. It can be found in the forms of windows, faces, animals, roads, plates, tables, chairs, trains, railways, streets, paintings, sculptures, interiors, exteriors, still lifes, landscapes, buildings, monuments, beaches, fields – even mannequins. He describes his artistic practice as “the desire to make a circle around what is basic.”
Such an aim is pursued in the elemental state of objects in their natural state – without any preparatory staging or lighting.
“I try to capture images that are perfect before they enter my camera,” he says.
Though he uses a digital camera, he never digitally alters his images – neither cropping the frame nor changing any pixels. “If the light isn’t good, I don’t take the picture,” he says.
This is why, while he is never without a camera, he is not always photographing. To become a photograph, Breger says, the image has to appear and convince him to be taken.
Beyond the light and frame, he also looks for the thing to describe itself: “The object has to appear in its highest state of being. When it is beautiful, it goes beyond itself, describes not only the category, but also everything that’s around it.” An image of a chair, then, should suggest the place of the chair within a larger existential context.
BREGER BREAKS this context down into two spheres – one public and the other private – each of which is treated on a separate level in the exhibition space. In all, the two levels, which he further breaks down into seven smaller spaces, represent a “model” of civilization.
The categories, broadly speaking, that interest Breger in this exhibition are people, architecture, government and habitat. In a sense, he says, the whole exhibition can be seen as a single, site-specific installation.
“I’m interested in systems,” says Breger, who before becoming an artist in the early 1990s studied economics and worked in the Finance Ministry’s budget department. “I didn’t want to be a participant in that world. Still, I’m interested in it, though I do art.”
His work is thus informed by social and cultural concerns that make up the unseen background to his focus on ideal objects.
“The Internet-technology revolution has made us into surrealists again,” he says, suggesting that the early 20th century movement grew out of a similar fascination with extreme change that came with living in an industrial world. He suggests that people today are equally unprepared for the current state of affairs and are still learning how to live in the present world.
“People are still learning how to be moral online,” he says, referring to prominent cases of online bullying that have led to beatings, murders and suicides. “The Internet is not regulated – not by the self and not the the state – but anything with so much influence should be. New problematics arise that have to be solved.”
STILL, BREGER is an artist, and his foremost concerns are those of his art.
He entered the field nearly 20 years ago, at the relatively late age of 32, and began by working with large-format cameras that required tripods and long exposure times.
Later he worked with texts that he painted with oil on canvas. In the late 1990s, he returned to photography, this time with a lightweight medium format camera, and took pictures within a one-kilometer radius of his Tel Aviv apartment.
“I wanted to get rid of the tripod, and started taking pictures without planning,” he recalls. “I realized that I was taking the same pictures everywhere.”
Through this repetition – and out of the practice itself – appeared his interest in the elementary aspects of objects.
In 2000, Breger started playing with digital cameras, and since 2004 he has used a digital version of a single-lens-reflex 35-mm. camera with a 50-mm.
lens, which is the same focal distance of the eye.
“The illusion of reality,” he points out, “is much more precise with digital technology.”
He never uses a zoom, so that if there is a closeup it means he physically had to come up to the subject in order to take its picture.
“When the distance of a subject changes, you feel the movement of the person who takes the picture,” he explains. This is his subtle way of introducing himself into the photographs – letting the viewer feel the moving agent behind the frame.
The other way that Breger makes himself part of the images is through the effects of time.
“Time is what makes them alive. Because these [pictures] are all taken from real life,” he says, “you have a sense of a time frame – of repetition, of a routine, of night and day. It’s still photography, but there is a quality of time and movement.”
In this sense, Breger’s images acquire a cinematic quality while hovering between documentary and academic (formalist) photography, a borderline on which Breger purposefully remains without choosing one or the other. His photographic series sometimes start out analytically – for example, as a study of the forms of silhouetted windows – but just as the viewer’s attention has been focused on a particular category, it is diverted through the flow of images onto other subjects, such as people who may be looking through these windows. In this way, the inside punctures the outside, the objective turns into the subjective, the specific points at the general.
“I’m interested in the there,” he says, “not in the my.”
And yet the “there” he presents is an ideal one: “If we were perfect, it would be like this.”
Beyond his technical, formal, and conceptual artistic concerns, Breger nonetheless attempts to treat the ineffable human element of basic relations – both familial and personal. He does this by trying to capture “where and how” they happen.
He observes that objects have an aura, and that their meaning is created by our thinking of them.
“The formal aspect is just the beginning,” he says. “Its beauty invites you to explore the genius of simple things.”