In the era of virtual this and virtual that, it is good to see a bunch of dedicated artists determined to push the boundaries of aesthetic expression, while doing their best to eschew the manipulative possibilities offered by hi-tech.“I don’t change anything in my photographs with Photoshop,” Pini Hamou declares. “All these things are really there, and really suspended in the air.”Hamou made his heartfelt comments while we viewed one of his works in the Zavit Ishit (Personal Angle) exhibition, up and running at the Jaffa Port Gallery, which features a young woman suspended in mid-air, surrounded by a bunch of colored orbs in a similar gravity-defying position.All told, the show comprises offerings from eight photographers, including Alex Apt, Gabi Ben-Avraham, Sagi Kortler, Michal Fattal and Gai Cohen.The latter made a name for himself a couple of years or so ago, when he published a book with highly illuminating pictures he captured after spending time with hassidic communities in Mea She’arim. Religious groups are very much the theme of his section of Zavit Ishit too.The 40-something Hamou happily admits to adhering to something of a fantasy world.“I have loved Alice in Wonderland, and all sorts of fairy tales, since I was a kid, and I get some of my inspiration from that. I have a whole series of photographs based on the book.” The Jaffa show includes a picture of a young woman wearing a white dress, in a definitively autumnal European setting, with a unicorn head.
Hamou may have one foot in the world of dreams, but he certainly takes a down-to-earth hands on approach to putting his creations together. It helps that he is an ace at several spheres in the plastic arts.“I sculpted that egg over a period of four months, and then we built the nest and I took a model and I took the picture,” he notes.The resulting work, like all his photographs, is untitled.“My photographs could be taken anywhere and at any point in history,” he explains. “I have taken pictures in the Czech Republic, in Israel and other places, but the location is unimportant.“My work is site unspecific. I like to challenge the observer and raise questions. You can bring to what I do whatever you want.”The “egg” shot had a somewhat a staccato gestation period, but he eventually got the desired end result. “When I got home and saw the photographs of the first shoot I wasn’t happy with the nest, so a few weeks later we went back and rebuilt it. The photograph was a year-and-a-half in the making.”He straddles a wide range of sentiments, citing Romantic-era English painter John William Waterhouse and 20th-century American realist Edward Hopper as influences, while admitting they come from very different spots along the emotion spectrum.“In my work there is a dialogue between alienation and aesthetics. Waterhouse feeds off romance and aesthetics, while Hopper feeds off alienation and his paintings generally feature a single isolated figure in an urban environment in America in the early 20th century. I strive to fuse the two approaches.”Hamou’s shots generally feature a single character, but there is a richness to the composition and color palette that suggest his other main font of creative impetus.“I take pointers from sources like Waterhouse, but I take it into my own direction,” he says. “You could say I offer my personal angle on it.”That certainly suits the exhibition moniker.
Apt’s work also has elements of fantasy to it, although the emphasis is placed very firmly on textural play. In one intriguing frame we see a young woman curled, fetus-style, against the remains of a similarly contoured charred tree trunk. The woman’s body has been daubed with a black substance that makes her blend in with the dark wood, and only her light brown hair really sets her apart from the natural backdrop. In another Apt shot we see a besuited man perched quizzically in an unlikely setting of contorted rusted and molten metal sheeting.The same character appears in another stirring frame, surrounded by lush waterlogged verdancy. Apt likes to challenge our sense of reality and cultural milieu.“He is a Japanese dancer, and I dressed him up like a rabbi,” he says. “I wanted to see if he could feel some sense of belonging, to religion or some culture, only by dressing him up in a certain way, and taking him to Jerusalem.”In fact the pictures were taken at Even Sapir, a moshav just outside the capital.Apt says he likes his subjects to contribute to the creative process.“The pictures are not directed. I didn’t tell him what position to take up, or how to move. That is part of the way I like to work, and arrive at some result or other.”That, of course, means taking risks, and taking a light hold on the tiller.“It is part of the process, and I never know which way things will go. But I really enjoy that. And if I get some really good shots at the end of the process, that is a bonus. It is the process, the voyage, that is the crux.”The process can also be challenging, by choice.“Once I went with a model to the Ramon Crater, in the summer, and we walked down to the crater from Mitzpe Ramon in the middle of the day, with a bottle of water and a bottle of whisky. We finished the whisky,” he laughs.“The walking and the drinking were an important part of the creative process, of connecting with nature.”He manages to coax fascinating textural strata out of his chosen settings, and delights in mixing and matching disciplinary mind-sets.“That could be part of a painting,” he says indicating a bank of earth covered with autumnal leaves of many hues.“You can take it any way you want.”Gabi Ben-Avraham also plays with our senses. Most of his prints at the Jaffa exhibition are saturated with color, but there is a crispness about them that seems to infer a monochromic ethos.“I love working in black and white,” he admits, “and I always keep a least one eye on that part of the art of photography.”The principal monochromic element in his pictures is provided by silhouettes that come at the observer from all sorts of unexpected angles and dimensions.One, for example, features a young boy walking near a wall somewhere in Cuba, as the dying sun casts his shadow on the nearby ocher wall, together with that of a passing donkey that is out of camera shot.And, in a particularly fetching piece, we see two women dressed in black, from the back, with one standing and the other one walking. The stationary woman seems to be peeping through a crack in a pink-colored pair of doors, while the walking figure is echoed by her identically shaded shadow that falls on the green side of another structure, thereby providing a different viewpoint on her movement.
Like Hamou, Ben-Avraham goes for the detachment approach.“I have pictures here from Los Angeles and Cuba and elsewhere, but I don’t attach much importance to the geographic location,” he notes.That sounds very much like what Hamou had to say about his own work, but there is one very basic difference between the two artists’ schools of thought.“Pini’s works are all directed, mine aren’t.”Zavit Ishit also takes in a handful of monochrome works by a couple of venerated guests – Felix Lupa and Israel Prize laureate for photography Alex Levac. The artist roster of the exhibition also includes theatrical works by Ofir Abe.Zavit Ishit closes March 26. For more information: www.jaffaportgallery.com.