"Ora," digital photography, inkjet on paper.
"Ora," digital photography, inkjet on paper. Graduates' catalog, 2012, photography department, Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, Jerusalem. Photo by Itamar Freed
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As one gazes upon this lovely, young, slightly puffy, elongated face, the question eventually arises: Is this really the face of a young woman? Because the more you gaze at the youthful beauty that radiates from this face − as yet uncreased by time − even the red lips and the thin, fair hair don’t seem to belong to the woman, “Ora,” who is photographed here. They seem to belong to all the Ora types who have such features.

“Ora” is one of seven giant enlargements of close-up photographs by Bezalel photography department graduate Itamar Freed, whose work is now being displayed in the graduate exhibition in Jerusalem. Freed photographed five women and two men, all very young, all light-eyed, all photographed with the same resolution that aims to emphasize the natural vitality of young skin. Every freckle and mole and tiny birthmark is photographed in the same manner that creates a distortion of perspective, and a certain enlargement of the nose. And, more importantly, in the eyes of each of them − including Ora’s − the same thing is reflected: Freed, the photographer.

What Freed aims to create here is the opposite of the smooth-complexioned “beauty shots” of the advertising industry, something that tends more toward art, particularly the type of close-ups done by the famous American artist Chuck Close. This is a photograph that underscores the vitality, the elasticity, the lack of uniformity of the skin. However, and maybe in contrast to Close − whose medium is really painting − Freed’s artistic impulses cause him to avoid the cruelty and severity required to apply the same type of framing to more mature faces.

But he has stability, and technical precision, and talent. And even when he positions himself, the viewer, in the pupils of the photographic subject who is gazing at us, this quite obvious trick doesn’t detract from the power of her gaze − which seems to magically emanate from her gray irises.

This is not a portrait in the social sense, aside from the general statement it makes about the young being an object of observation. It is not a portrait in a dramatic sense, since there is no clothing or backdrop with which to situate it. And it is not a portrait of a famous person that “reveals” him, the way that Benjamin Netanyahu was recently photographed in Vanity Fair, for example.

It is, though, an invitation to “invade” via Ora’s eye. Moreover, it is an invitation to intimacy beyond the tiny bump above her lips, beyond her strong fair eyebrows, closer and closer until it’s basically impossible to see all of her, until it’s basically impossible to identify her. It’s impossible to identify her for it’s as almost as if she’s upside down.

People with “face blindness” are unable to recognize others. In a simple experiment designed to explain their plight, a photograph of a familiar person is taken and turned upside down − chin on top, eyebrows below. People even have trouble identifying the faces of family members when observed upside down.

Is it any surprise to learn that Chuck Close, the artist whose influence is palpable here in Freed’s work, suffers from this disorder and is unable to identify people’s faces? What utterly perfect irony. Who ever heard of a face-blind portrait painter?

Close talked about it in an interview with Lesley Stahl that was aired in March on “60 Minutes,” and explained that he relies on other clues to help him recognize people.

What must it be like if you’re unable to recognize faces? Getting to know someone else’s face is a lofty, peculiar and vital experience. And within that face, the eyes and the mouth, the first experience of the infant whose vision is sharpening. This is the experience Close seeks to recreate in order to compensate for what he lacks, and what Freed is talking about in this photograph. And what anyone who ever stood close enough to another person’s face and loved it should be talking about.