Pictures through the silver screen

Malka Inbal’s photos are based on a technique that uses a reflective material that offers a dual point of visual reference.

inbal 521 (photo credit: Malka Inbal)
inbal 521
(photo credit: Malka Inbal)
Technique is, of course, an important part of any creative process, but Malka Inbal would prefer that we concentrate on the aesthetic product of her unique method of shooting photographs. Then again, the items, which will be on display at Kibbutz Magen, in the Gaza perimeter, between January 25 and February 10, were achieved by means of a unique process.
The one-of-a-kind element in 57-yearold Inbal’s method is a silver-coated material that offers the photographer a dual point of visual reference. “This is a kind of silver paper that is both transparent and reflective,” she explains.
“That means that, for example, if there was a sheet of this silver paper between us right now, you would see me and you in the photograph.”
Naturally, it is not quite as simple as that. “The images I would get depend on various factors, like focus and the angle of the light,” she continues. “I don’t always use the paper in my work but, in general, that is the basis for all the series I shoot.”
The “Pieces of Illusions” show at the Kitor Gallery on Kibbutz Magen comprises two of the said series – “Cloth Illusions” and “Spike.”
Inbal does not make any pretenses over the inspiration for “invention,” and notes that the physical medium in question is in fact a definitively lowtech everyday item. “Like most great ideas, I came across this by chance,” she admits. “One day, my husband and I drove home and, after he stopped the car, he pulled the silver sheet across the windshield, to keep the sun out,” she recalls. “Then I said: ‘Hey! I can see myself and the street.’ I took the shading material out of the car to the house and I starting experimenting with it, with my photography.”
While her husband had to find a new means of keeping the sun out of his car, Inbal began to investigate the artistic possibilities offered by the sheeting. “I checked out how it worked with light, and I tried it out in all sorts of situations, until I eventually understood how I can use it and get interesting results,” she recalls. “I went looking for more of the material, in different sizes.”
But, as they say, it’s not about what you’ve got but about what you do with it. “Whatever you discover, as a technical means – however interesting it may seem to begin with – must not be the center of attention, otherwise it becomes just a gimmick,” she observes.
“To begin with, the reflective-transparent silver paper was a gimmick for me.
I’d go out into the street and everything was so interesting. I’d place the paper in all sorts of positions, and I’d take pictures and it was fascinating.”
Inbal’s peers, at the time, were somewhat less enamored with her exciting discovery. “I was still a student at Camera Obscura [School of Photography in Tel Aviv], and the others there agreed that it was very interesting, but said they thought it was a gimmick. That was a knock to my ego, because I was so excited about it, but I eventually realized that it was just that – a gimmick. If you have something to say in your art, then you have to go ahead and say it, regardless of the technical means.”
That epiphany gave her a push away from the street and into what she considers a genuine creative domain. “I went into the studio,” she declares.
“The studio is four black walls where I can create anything I want. I can create something from nothing with my crazy box [camera].”
Inbal did not become serious about her current exploratory course at an early age. When she entered the cloistered ambiance of Camera Obscura, she was already well settled into mainstream life. “I had a good job at the Israel Electric Corporation and I was married with a child,” she recalls, noting that none of that caused her many logistical difficulties and that the members of her immediately family have always been very accommodating, tenderness of age notwithstanding. “I have a very supportive husband and I actually gave birth to my son while I was a student. I crammed all my classes into one day a week – I had a regular job to hold down, as well as a young daughter – and my son was born the day after my class day so, in fact, I only missed one class because of the birth. My son has always been highly considerate,” she adds with a laugh.
She first set finger to shutter release button when she was only slightly higher than the proverbial grasshopper’s knee. “My father taught me to use a camera when I was 12, so I always took pictures,” she says, “and I have always been involved in some creative pursuit or other.” But, for Inbal, camerawork is really where it’s at. “When I started with photography it was totally addictive for me,” she says. Many years later, it evolved into more than just a beloved pastime. “One day, I said to myself, ‘OK, it’s wonderful to have a family life and work, but what about something for me? Just for me?’” she recalls.
Inbal has made great strides since first entering the portals of Camera Obscura and subsequently happening upon the silver shading material. She has exhibited all over the country and also has a regular berth at the Noho Gallery in New York. Her oeuvre varies from posed human subjects to carefully crafted stilllife works, including items that she created by painstakingly stapling together press cuttings and others comprising bits of material that take in an expansive color and textural spectrum.
Through her work, Inbal examines a wide range of personal and social issues, including motherhood, femininity and loss, through the prism of everyday situations and potential flashpoints.
True to her envelope-pushing nature, she also takes a surprising approach to the subject of lighting. “You know, you are generally taught to have the sun, or some other source of light, behind you when you take a photo, but I like having a strong source of light in front of me,” she says. “That, for me, opens up a whole area of possibilities.”
This is evident in her forthcoming “Pieces of Illusions” show, which offers the public plenty to see and mull over.
For more information: 054-791-5930.