05.06 Lighting Photography Assignment Loving

As Israel celebrates its 66th Independence Day, two projects, both shepherded by French photographers, evocatively capture many of the multitude of ways to look at the land and its residents.

The more prominent of the two is This Place, a global project that includes books, a traveling exhibit and live events. It was created by photographer Frédéric Brenner, who worked with 11 acclaimed colleagues to look at the complexity of Israel and the West Bank.

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Brenner, a French Jew, is known for a previous 25-year-odyssey of a project, Diaspora, documenting Jewish life around the world. He embarked on This Place back in 2006, gathering $4 million in funds from well-known American foundations and choosing photographers from the world over, initially with the help of Jeff Rosenheim, the curator in charge of the photo department at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Those involved with This Place have compared it to the Mission Heliographique (1851), which featured French photographers carefully studying France and its architectural patrimony, and the Farm Security Administration’s photographic survey of America during the Great Depression (1930s).

Snir Stream Laguna 2010, by Frederic Brenner (Photo credit: Frederic Brenner/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery)

Each photographer spent approximately six months in residence in Israel, pursuing his or her artistic interests and experiencing Israel. That included meals and sessions with a wide range of local experts and thinkers, from philosopher Moshe Halbertal to Clinton Bailey, an expert in Bedouin culture.

“I thought of the most influential photographers who are really authors, artists who are photographers to ask questions,” said Brenner. “The idea was to bring some of the great ‘poets’ of our time, so that maybe we can be bold enough to question what really happens here.”

Frederic Brenner by Josef Koudelka (Courtesy Frederic Brenner)

Each artist was provided with a “fixer,” a local Hebrew-speaking photography student from Jerusalem’s Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, and nearly all of the artists stayed at Mishkenot Sha’ananim, a cultural and conference center in Jerusalem.

The project stretched over four years (2009 to 2012), and it was, said Brenner, a massive project for which he acted as director, fundraiser and all-around organizer.

Snir Stream Laguna 2010, by Frederic Brenner (Photo credit: Frederic Brenner/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery)

He laughed when recalling that he initially thought about inviting closer to 30 or 50 photographers, given the complicated logistics of the project. In fact, the organizational aspects were so complex that it took until 2009 for Brenner to begin his own project, “An Archeology of Fear and Desire,” which became the flagship book and the first published (MACK) in the series.

Brenner’s photographs range from portraits to group shots, but home in on the complex dichotomies of Israel most often delineated in its people. And so, there are Palestinians and Israelis, religious settlers and secular Israelis, immigrants and old-timers, including his own daughter, now a soldier, said Brenner.

Elior Brenner, by Frederic Brenner (Photo credit: Frederic Brenner/Courtesy Howard Greenberg Gallery)

“There are many layers, many readings,” said Brenner. “The book is about longing, belonging and exclusion.”

Now the project is completed, and besides the 12 books featuring the photographers’ work, there will be a traveling exhibition of the more than 500 images, launched in Prague’s DOX Centre for Contemporary Art in October 2014. The exhibition will then travel to Israel (Tel Aviv Museum of Art) and the United States, completing its run in June 2015.

Taken in Lod, from ‘Israelis,’ by Axel Saxe (Courtesy Axel Saxe)

Offering a more individual lens, Axel Saxe, who is also a French photographer, and not Jewish, first visited Israel in 2005. His book, “Israelis” (Steimatzky) shows his understanding of the land, gathered from regular trips made to Israel for more than eight years.

His thoughts about Israel, however, began well before then, when Saxe, now 53, first heard about the country as a boy after the 1967 Six Day War.

Axel Saxe, a French photographer who’s been coming to Israel for nearly a decade (Courtesy Axel Saxe)

“I always felt something very strong about the country, and I knew I wanted to do something, but slowly,” said Saxe. “I had to clean my photographic filter, metaphorically.”

He remembers feeling somewhat disjointed during his first trip to Israel. The country’s natural light was too strong, and he thought he would never be able to photograph anything given its intensity.

Cows, shipping containers and a shikun neighborhood in Haifa (photo credit: Axel Saxe)

But familiarity bred comfort, and Saxe acclimated to Israel’s light, eventually falling in love with it, particularly in the early mornings and in the late afternoons.

What he looked for were places at risk of disappearing from the Israeli horizon, particularly the shikunim neighborhoods of massive apartment blocks that were usually built quickly and cheaply to accommodate incoming immigrants and lower-income families.

“It’s the old places,” he said, “like the bus station in Beersheba, where I spent one week. It’s an amazing place.”

The Israelis are softened by thousands of buses/
Like wild she-wolves they prey on time/
Speaking loudly to muffle the greed/
Listening to their loved ones by the roadside/

— from the book “Israelis,” with poetry by Serge Ouaknine

On the train with soldiers (photo credit: Axel Saxe)

The poetry in the book, written in English and Hebrew by Ouaknine, came after the two met in the southern town of Mizpe Ramon, at Chez Eugene, a boutique hotel owned by a fellow French speaker.

What Ouaknine wrote echoed what Saxe saw in the country, he said, whether it was about immigrants, army service, or bus stations.

Saxe, a press photographer who has worked in Lebanon and Jordan, ended up coming to Israel about four times each year after 2005, for about three weeks each time.

“It’s my job,” he said. “When you’re a photographer, you spend a long time where people don’t think about spending time. You want to find strong images in that place, so I would spend morning until evening working and speaking to people.”

Finding a beach in the shade of the ‘shikun’ (photo credit: Axel Saxe)

Now that “Israelis” has been published, Saxe will be returning to Israel again to work on his next book, about army reservists.

He expects it will take about five years to complete, but doesn’t mind the length of time.

“It’s okay,” he said. “It keeps me coming back.”


Recently did a studio based Speedlight project, emphasizing the new controls and eloquence of light available now with the NikonSB-5000. The notion was to take a completely unadorned model, who walks into the studio sans makeup, or hair styling, or any of the model magic stuff that makes them pop in pictures–and make a photo. Then they would be besieged by the talented hands and eyes of our creative crew. And they would emerge, about 5-6 hours later, transformed. My job was perhaps the simplest–light them well, once on camera.

All of the lighting is SB-5000 radio TTL units, running through a whole gamut of Lastolite shapers. Uplite, Skylite panels,Ezybox hotshoe softbox and the new Speedlite Box 2 all were used on this. The aim of course was to make the Speedlights sing and dance and jump like their big brother studio strobes. As you can see below, the set was populated with simple light shapers, diffusing the main lights, pushing light up for fill and beauty, and accenting here and there.

And they did well. Here’s the thing. With the tech we have now, between the amazingly responsive cameras, sophisticated metering, fancy pants flashes, excruciatingly sharp optics–what’s not to like? What’s not possible? The camera gear we have at our fingertips now constitutes a one way ticket to Imagination City. There were times, way back in the day, with the hammer and tong tools that were available, that you had to fight so hard you felt like a galley slave on a Roman ship. “Row faster! The Emperor wants to go water skiing!” (As the old joke went.) Also makes me respect all the more, the ladies and gentleman of those early photographic eras, who produced masterful work despite the lack of computers, Photoshop, coated glass and built in histograms.

The transformation was a team effort. The brilliant Anastasia Durasova, assisted by Magdalena Mikulcakova, Madison Personette and Laurissa Lala Romain, did the body paint. The elegant Sam Brown did the styling, assisted by Monia Taylor. Linh Nguyen coiffed the hair into a surreal state, assisted by Wendy Miyake, and Ben Martin. We had three themes: Lauren Graves became flowers, Candice Lam was lace, and Marsha Larose evolved into crystals. It was fun. We could have kept going. I mentioned to Lynn DelMastro, who put all this together in her usual amazing fashion, as we were brainstorming, “Why don’t we just work our way through the Periodic Table?” She looked at me over her glasses in that oh so familiar, “Have you lost your marbles?” kind of way. In the aftermath of the shoot, Annie Cahill orchestrated all the postings and social media info on the shoot. Everybody in the studio goes all in on big productions like this.

Michael Cali shot a lovely video over on our channel. Please take a look. The body painting, done with finesse and in exacting detail, is fun to watch evolve. Andrew Tomasino, a wonderful photog from Pa., ran the set, assisted by Alex Ryerson We worked at Splashlight Studios. And as always, thanks go to the Obi-Wan of flash, Nikon’s Lindsay Silverman, and the fearless leader of the Ambassadors, Mike Corrado.

For reference, here’s our a comparison grid for the models, from when they walked into the studio, and when they walked on camera.

More tk….

Filed Under: Fashion, LightingTagged With: Anastasia Durasova, Body Art, Body Paint, Gitzo, joe mcnally, Lastolite, Laurissa Lala Romain, Monia Taylor, Nikon, Sam Brown, SB-5000


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