Changing the picture

Two seasoned photographers leave behind established careers in the West to set up a new life in the Middle East.

Tel Aviv sky 521 (photo credit: Stephane Zerbib)
Tel Aviv sky 521
(photo credit: Stephane Zerbib)
Packing up and reinventing yourself professionally in a new country is never easy, especially when it involves cultural differences and a change in direction. However, two experienced photographers, both with established careers in Europe, recently decided to leave it all behind and came to discover the fast-growing and vibrant arts scene that makes Israel the place to be.
One grew up in Israel, developed his career abroad and then decided to return in order to rediscover his roots and his country. The other never even knew where Israel was on the map until recently, but was excited by the challenges that this charming little country has to offer. Coming from very different backgrounds, Stephane Zerbib and Tom Langford have both found their professional niche in Israel and are enjoying the more relaxed way of life.
ZERBIB WAS born in Paris but moved to Israel with his family and did military service just like any other 18-year-old.
His parents left, but he stayed and was taken in by a kibbutz while he was in the army. He very rarely experienced the delights of Tel Aviv.
As an artist Zerbib found his Middle Eastern home in the ’70s quite restrictive, and like many Israelis he packed up and left in search of a freer, more artistically diverse world where he could express himself as he pleased.
He found himself in Denmark, working in art museums for over 28 years.
Even though he was exposed to so much fine art and traveled the world as part of his job, Zerbib realized that photography was his passion. He came into contact with some of the greats in the photography world, including Arnold Newman, and was able to develop his skills as a conceptual photographer.
Although he found that artistic freedom he was looking for while in Europe, he decided to return to Israel three years ago. He describes the move as “a discovery, a chance to redefine myself and come back to my roots.”
“At the age of 50 I needed something new in my life,” he adds.
The thought of returning to the kibbutz, which he describes as a time when he was “the happiest man on earth” did not appeal to him now, as he feels that “kibbutz society can be very limiting.” There was only was place that he was going to call home. That place was Tel Aviv.
For Zerbib Tel Aviv had been merely a place where he would catch the train back up to the kibbutz on the weekends when he was out of the army. At the time he knew only that old train station, but now he realizes that “Tel Aviv is the only place in Israel that can offer the opportunities that an artist needs.”
Tel Aviv – now an international city and the cultural center of a thriving country – is a main focus of his work, and he has enjoyed discovering the city and everything it has to offer.
“Tel Aviv is a city that is full of levels, full of secrets. You can jump from 2010 to 1948 in one step, and you always notice a huge difference from area to area.”
Zerbib takes a very personal approach to his work. “I am who I am photographing, I am my work,” he explains. “I am photographing the inside of me.”
As part of his work he is always trying to explore new things. His collection “No Ordinary Eyes” is a series of photographs that were taken at special moments or in unusual situations where he uses his imagination and artistic vision to project his interpretation of reality.
He will go to any length to get the perfect shot. He can be found at all hours of the day and night armed with his camera and tripod, looking for the things that most of us would simply pass by.
IN COMPLETE contrast to Zerbib, Tom Langford confesses that until recently he didn’t even know where Israel was on the map. It is only thanks to his Israeli wife that he was introduced to all that this crazy country, with its bemusing parking laws, has to offer.
He grew up in a poor family in the northeast of England, and once he was old enough he moved to London and enrolled in art college.
As a self-taught photographer he became a professional just because of his interest in the art form. He spent 35 years taking photos of the best-looking models London could throw at him and enjoyed every minute. Then an Israeli entered his life and everything changed.
Langford moved to Pardess Hanna, along with his wife, just over two years ago and has not looked back since. “I prefer living in Pardess Hanna than in London,” he affirms. “I feel at home here. When an Israeli comes to visit for the first time, it seems like they have been friends for years. I like the warmth of the people.”
However it was not such an easy adjustment. “There are a lot of cultural differences to overcome,” he admits.
Even though he has still not acclimatized himself to the Israeli parking and driving etiquette, he enjoys the challenges that living in the Middle East entails. “Every day is an adventure here in Israel. It is never boring.”
Not only was Langford faced with the challenges of moving to a different country, he also had to reinvent himself professionally. Since he has been in Israel, he has focused on teaching photography to various people with differing levels of ability.
“I now teach what I would have liked to be taught,” he explains.
He holds interactive field courses using classic Israeli backdrops, such as historic Tel Aviv and Zichron Ya’acov.
“Most people are not visually aware. I don’t necessarily teach people about photography techniques, I teach people how to use their heads.”
“Since I have moved to Israel I have enjoyed the challenge of looking for new things to do,” he says. “I love teaching, but I have also explored my passion for designing websites and retouching pictures.”
Langford is a prime example of someone who has created a whole new life for himself in Israel and is using the opportunity to rediscover his talents and interests.
“Although I do sometimes miss a good English café, I am happy here, I do not miss home.”
Stephane Zerbib has exhibits showcased around Tel Aviv. His entire portfolio can be viewed at Tom holds photography courses for beginners and “improvers.” For more details about the next available courses visit
For any budding photographers out there, Tom Langford and Stephane Zerbib share some of their expert tips that should be considered when trying to take the perfect shot:
• It isn’t thought, it’s instinct.
• Let yourself enter a different world.
• Try to explore things until you find your direction – because we all have a direction.
• Make sure you are expressing something.
• Sad, ugly and depressing things can also be beautiful.
• The camera is just a tool. It is not going to take the picture. The photographer takes the picture.
• Learn to listen with your eyes.
• Believe in yourself.
Some questions to be asked before and after taking a picture:
• Why do you want to take the picture?
• Are you willing to begin to fall in love?
• Are you willing to stop time and life for a second?
• If you are going to delete the bad pictures, make sure you ask why they were bad?
• What are you feeling at the time?