The Arty Semite

Israeli Photojournalism Goes From the Field to the Gallery

By Akin Ajayi

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Dan Balilty, Tel Aviv, 2008

It surrounds us, we can’t exist without it; but can the ineffable essence of air be captured in a photograph? The new Israeli photojournalism center DocuClub thinks it’s worth a try. A new exhibition titled simply “Air” features photographic interpretations of the theme from around the world. The imagery on view is striking, with photographs ranging from the abstract to the bleakly concrete. Some present themselves as documentation, others concentrate on aesthetics. Each photograph tells an individual story, but all remain true to the overarching theme.

“Air” is the second exhibition to be staged by DocuClub, which opened in Tel Aviv’s bohemian Florentine neighbourhood last summer. DocuClub was founded by Oded Balilty, Sebastian Scheiner and Dan Balilty. All three are experienced photojournalists with the Associated Press; Oded Balilty won a Pulitzer Prize for breaking news photography in 2007, for his photograph of a single woman resisting the evacuation of an illegal settlement in the West Bank.

While the gallery space is modest (albeit well appointed), it is just one aspect of an ambitious project on the part of its founders to encourage the growth of photojournalism in Israel. The first of its kind in Israel, the intent of DocuClub is to provide photographers with a space to present their work in exhibition, and to promote standards in the genre.

“Even though Israel produces endless news events in a year, at the end of the day we don’t have anywhere to present our work,” Oded Balilty explained in an interview with the Ynet website earlier this year. “We decided to open the center not only in order to sell pictures, but most of all to create a discourse on photojournalism, (something) which is something very lacking here.”

Aside from exhibitions – “Air” follows “Decade,” a summary of the last 10 years in Israeli photojournalism curated by Israel Prize-winner Alex Levac — DocuClub will convene workshops and courses in the basics of photography, photojournalism, multimedia production and Photoshop techniques. DocuClub hopes to become “a meeting point, a gallery, a training spot for photojournalists (of) all levels and expertise,” the center’s website explains.

“This is the home that we are missing, one that allows us to show our work, to be exposed to others’ work, to share and hear the professionals’ opinions,” co-founder Dan Balilty elaborates. “DocuClub will place an emphasis on the aesthetics of the photo while maintaining the ethics of documentary photography.”

In a small screening room at the rear of a gallery a short film runs, individuals talking about what comes to mind when they think about the word “air.” One says that she thinks of British Airways; another mentions freedom. A third mentions a friend who suffers from cystic fibrosis; “We take air for granted,” he opines matter-of-factly. Much like photojournalism, one might suggest.


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