The Arty Semite

Jewish Photos Laced With Gold

By Ethan Pack

  • Print
  • Share Share
‘Tallit Steps’ by Bill Aron and Victor Raphael

In the world of Jewish museums and art collections, there is no more iconic landscape than Jerusalem. But how many ways can one see the Dome of the Rock, the Old City gates or the shuk at Mahane Yehuda before they become static tropes? With such a heavily charged backdrop, photography of Jerusalem often devolves into bland suggestions about what people struggle with and share in the sacred city.

The most welcome achievement of “Illuminated Reflections: A Bill Aron and Victor Raphael Collaboration,” showing until May 8 at the Skirball Cultural Center in Los Angeles, is how directly it takes on these familiar scenes and creates something new with the material. Aron is a photographer who focuses on Jewish communities, while Raphael works with an eclectic range of media, from traditional gold leafing to digital art, both of which he uses here to alter pictures taken over the course of Aron’s career.

The collaboration yields compelling results. By applying gold and metal leaf over certain aspects of the photographs, and pumping up the color saturation of selected elements, Raphael brings out entirely new dimensions of Aron’s pictures. The artists deserve credit for resisting the tempting but facile gesture that accompanies many efforts to “enhance” art photography through heavy-handed use of collage and the juxtaposition of subjects, contexts and themes. Instead, Raphael’s contributions put a great deal of trust in the original images themselves.

‘18th St Subway’ by Bill Aron and Victor Raphael

“Hasid and His Shadow,” for instance, begins with a characteristic Jerusalem scene. A skinny ultra-Orthodox young man walks down the sidewalk, his shadow thrown up against a bright wall of Jerusalem stone glowing softly in the sunlight. With his hands held behind his waist, one foot on the ground and the other sweeping behind him mid-step, his walk resembles the pose of an ice skater. His straight back and slightly tilted head is a line of black; the Hasid himself evokes the silhouette climbing up the wall. Taking things further, Raphael covers the Hasid’s shadow with a sparkling mix of red, orange and gold. These earth tones glimmer, making explicit the subtle magic of the otherwise everyday scene.

With “Watermelon,” by contrast, Raphael creates an entirely new sensation from Aron’s photograph. Resting in rows on a market table, the tops of halved watermelons are cranked up to an intense vermilion shade. The fruits’ green exteriors are blanketed with an oxidized metal leaf: As a result, the bright red surfaces gleam and float in a disembodied plane. This takes the typical “succulent Israeli fruit” shot to an unexpected but somehow logical extreme.

‘Watermelon’ by Bill Aron and Victor Raphael

The same method is used in “Rabbi Eisenbach, Scribe.” In a depth-less field of gold leaf, an elderly, long-bearded and picturesque scribe pours over a Hebrew scroll. What remains of the black and white photograph seems to hover over the flat surface, with no sense of the original setting. We see only the seated rabbi and the scroll’s enormous rolls, larger than his head, unfurling in a long stretch of sacred parchment over his desk and off into metallic space.

Some of the most striking pieces owe their quality to the manipulation of color and other forms of digital editing, and not the superimposition of metal leaf. Pink, violet, blood orange and turquoise burst out from “Panorama of the Damascus Gate.” It takes the viewer a moment to trace these colors to their sources: the headscarves of Palestinian women. And by inversion and mirroring, a painted stretch of Israel’s separation wall endlessly duplicates other forms of separation: cloud and light, sky and earth, metal and paint. The leafing runs along the wall like graffiti. This piece, “Sacred and Profane,” is among the best of the exhibit. Raphael’s addition of original material distills the photograph’s pre-existing qualities to extend its emphasis.

When the leafing technique misfires, as it does more than once, it weighs down what are otherwise consistently impressive compositions with an unattractive glitter. But for most of this exhibition, the artists select images that refocus customary views of Jewish subjects in Israel and the U.S. with a clever dose of novelty.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Victor Raphael, Skirball, Photography, Jerusalem, Exhibits, Ethan Pack, Bill Aron

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.