What's in a frame?

This year’s International Photography Festival places the accent on the person behind the camera.

The International Photography Festival in Rishon Lezion is not only about the volume of exhibits. (photo credit: CHINO OTSUKA)
The International Photography Festival in Rishon Lezion is not only about the volume of exhibits.
(photo credit: CHINO OTSUKA)
If your idea of a photography-based arts event is confined to making sure the prints are big enough, good enough and appropriately positioned, the forthcoming third annual International Photography Festival in Rishon Lezion should make you think again.
The statistics alone should make the public sit up and take note. From April 5 to 19, the Carmel Wineries in Rishon Lezion will house 1,000 works created by 265 photographers from Israel and abroad, divided among 25 individual exhibitions in 15 display halls. Judging by the initial two editions of the festival, which attracted around 30,000 visitors, the wineries bash should be well-attended.
In truth, though, it is a bit surprising that there is a successful annual event based on what might be considered to be a dying art. Surely, today, anyone who has a halfdecent cellphone is a “photographer,” so why should we consider an exhibition of hundreds of enlarged prints a good enough reason to get out of the house over the Passover vacation? EYAL LANDESMAN, co-artistic director of the festival, along with fellow photographer Eldad Rafaeli, says that his line of work is very much on its way up. “Photography is experiencing amazing growth,” notes Landesman.
“Photography, as a language, has become much more popular, because of cellphones. People use Instagram, and the visual language is very much developing, possibly at the expense of actual talking.”
The International Photography Festival is not only about the volume of exhibits. Landesman and Rafaeli have covered a very large number of photographic bases, and the event addresses the art form from a wide range of angles. For starters, Landesman says he was keen to place the accent very much on the person behind the camera.
“The photographer is in the middle, and much of what is on show in the festival was dictated by photographers,” he explains, adding that the choice of the event’s titular concept says much about the organizers’ approach.
“Calling a photography event a ‘festival’ might surprise some people, but that’s exactly what we want it to be – a celebration of photography.”
The practitioner-central ethos is clearly indicated by the photographercurator section of the program, in which a dozen photographers – including Landesman, Rafaeli, Hannah Sahar, Michal Chelbin and Adi Nes – each take on the responsibility for compiling a show. All told the 12 slots feature works by 43 photographers, and convey a sense of interconnecting ideas between the artists.
Each year’s festival has a thematic central strand to it, and this year’s event goes by the catchy name of “Photographic Memory.” The exhibition of that name, curated by Vardi Kahana, incorporates works by 16 photographers including David Adika, Hagar Cygler, Maya Zack and Pavel Wolberg, and addresses the issue of – to borrow from the title of a famous Milan Kundera tome – whether the unbearable lightness of cellphone-facilitated photography is detrimentally affecting the work of the trained professional.
The festival program blurb describes the quandary in succinct fashion: “In the 21st century, photography is devoid of any grandeur of expertise.
The medium has been blown wide open, and professional know-how is available to one and all. The age of ‘agents of truth’ has ended. The private and public domains are awash with the noise of fake and processed images, which make any attempt to achieve some kind of hierarchical order of quality and importance superfluous.”
That is an idea with which, naturallyenough, Landesman concurs entirely. “Today, it is difficult to differentiate between professionalism and amateurism, the presentation of reality and the presentation of a simulated situation, or between fantasy and memory.”
THEN AGAIN, Landesman believes there is great added value to be had from following the tangible, nonvirtual route. “Today I think people set great store by actual prints of photographs, rather than the images they see on their cellphone screen or their computer screen,” he notes. “People increasingly search for the unique. You know, there was a long era of pop art, when everyone bought the same thing. But today we all have the ability to obtain the unique. You can see that by the fact that there are more and more collectors of art, and of photography. Any lawyer with a large firm becomes an art collector. Don’t forget, the art market is very profitable, and that includes photography.”
Of course, that is a reference to the well-heeled, but Landesman and Rafaeli have taken pains to ensure that the ordinary Avi and Sara on the Rishon Lezion street also have their say in the goings-on at the Carmel Wineries during the festival. “The Face of the City” is, according to the festival blurb, “the largest photography exhibition in Israel.” The streetlevel venture calls on the city’s residents to take out their cellphone or camera and take portrait shots, or rummage through their old photos, and send them in online or convey them to festival representatives at any of several collection points dotted around the city.
“We promised, from the outset, that every picture people send in will be exhibited at the festival,” says Landesman. “That gives local people a part to play in the event. I think it is important to make the festival, and the whole field of photography, accessible to all and sundry.”
That is a topic which will also feature in one of the highlights of the four-day program, the Preserving The Intellectual Memory through Photography conference, in conjunction with Harvard University.
The event, which will be held on April 9, is designed to facilitate discussion about the state of Israeli photography, in relation to collecting and preserving work, and making it accessible to public and private collectors alike. The conference participants will include curators, artists and researchers as well as technology professionals, and the findings of the panel session will be subsequently published, then further explored at a conference to be arranged by Harvard’s Judaica Department. Members of the public wishing to attend the conference should register in advance.
Elsewhere in the festival’s bulging program, one can find some offerings from abroad, in the shape of the “Imagine Finding Me” show by Japanese photographer Chino Otsuka, “Memories from the Future” by Jean- François Lepage from France, and the “Americana” exhibition, which includes works by Niko J. Kallianiotis of Greece and American photographers Perry Manuk, Naaman Rosen and Zacharia Szabo.
The all-embracing orientation of the festival is also front and center in the “Unfinished Odyssey” exhibition, which features works taken by members of the JDOCU photographer troupe, of Israel’s Ethiopian community. The show, which is curated by group member Eli Atias, documents the challenging social and cultural rite of passage experienced by Ethiopian olim, en route to taking on a new identity and finding their place in Israeli society.
And there is a tribute to the Educational Television channel, which opened for business in 1966. The exhibition includes still shots of programs screened over the last almost-half century, including Zehu Zeh, Keshet Ve’anan, Neighbors, Zombit and A Moment with Dodli.
And if you find the abundance of visuals a bit much after a while, you can always avail yourself of some of the red or white alcoholic beverages produced on the premises.
For tickets and more information: *9066, www.eventim.co.il and www.photographyfestival.co.il.