Israeli Iconography, Through the Lens of Alex Levac

Political photos by Haaretz's inimitable photographer Alex Levac are now on show alongside images documenting everyday stories

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"Untitled," Sachne/Gan Hashlosha (2000), one of the photographs by Alex Levac appearing in the "Yesh Matzav" ("A Situation") exhibition at Herzliya's Basis Gallery, July 2020
"Untitled," Sachne/Gan Hashlosha (2000) by Alex Levac, now on show at Herzliya's Basis Gallery.
Naama Riba
Naama Riba

Twenty-four photos – some controversial, some more mundane – are being showcased in a new exhibition of works by the veteran Israeli photographer Alex Levac. "Yesh Matzav" ("A Situation") opened over the weekend at Herzliya's Basis Gallery and features a number of images published in the Hadashot and Haaretz dailies beginning in the 1980s.

"Untitled," Dir al-Balah (1984). One of the most iconic Israeli press photos, showing one of two detained hijackers of Bus 300 alive, contrary to Shin Bet claims.

On display is one of the most iconic press photos in the history of the state, in which one of the two detained hijackers of Bus 300 (which was attacked while traveling to Ashkelon from Tel Aviv on April 12, 1984) is seen alive, after being captured and handcuffed, in contradiction to the version of the Shin Bet security service, which claimed that he had been killed before being apprehended. Publication of this photo by Levac led to creation of a commission of inquiry and ultimately to the resignation of the head of the Shin Bet and other senior officials in the organization.

"Untitled," Tel Aviv (1988). "One of Levac’s friends, a Holocaust survivor, told him to contact [then-future PM] Netanyahu and apologize, and he did," says curator Tal-Tenne.
"Untitled," Arava (2017-19), one of a series of photos by Levac of military firing ranges in southern Israel appearing in the "Yesh Matzav" ("A Situation") exhibition.

The exhibition of photos by 76-year-old Levac, on through August 31, also includes images taken in military firing zones in the southern Negev between 2017 and 2019, which are being shown for the first time.

Along with the political images identified with Levac's works – which appear regularly in Haaretz's news pages and weekend magazine – are also others that document Israeli society. For example, a 1988 photo of a Tel Aviv beach in which women in bathing suits are lying on the sand with two men staring at them.

"Untitled," Jerusalem (2000), showing an ultra-Orthodox man leaning up against a Jean Paul Gaultier fashion billboard.

“This is a photo that today, in the #MeToo era, wouldn’t be published. It’s being displayed as an act of defiance,” explains curator Nurit Tal-Tenne.

Other works show a Georgian funeral in Ramle in 1991, and an ultra-Orthodox man leaning against a billboard in Jerusalem, featuring a model wearing a Jean Paul Gaultier outfit, in 2000.

The controversial 1988 picture of Israel's future prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, raising his arm in the air in a gesture resembling a Nazi salute, was published in Hadashot but has never been displayed since then.

"Untitled," Ramle (1991). Says Tal-Tenne, curator of the Herzliya exhibition, "Levac's language focuses mainly on people, whom he has 'captured' at random."

“After the photo appeared in the newspaper, one of Levac’s friends who is a Holocaust survivor, told him to contact Netanyahu and apologize, and he did so. Now, 32 years later, this photo is being displayed for the first time,” Tal-Tenne says.

In the curator's opinion, Levac – winner of the Israel Prize for Photography in 2005 – “has made a significant contribution to consolidating Israeli social iconography. His language focuses mainly on people, whom he has ‘captured’ at random while watching the event taking place before his eyes.”

"Untitled," Sachne/Gan Hashlosha (2000) by Alex Levac, now on show at Herzliya's Basis Gallery.
"Untitled," Anabta, the West Bank (1998), showing wounded Palestinians who have been loaded onto the back of a truck.

As she notes on the gallery's website, "his photographs present an apocalyptic wilderness, left abandoned and ruined: a rusty shipping container, a broken wall, a deserted firing range, and a battleship forgotten in the heart of the desert sea. The urban characters are replaced by the vestiges of buildings and nature, a dying ghostly space that points to the existence of another reality, striving to tell a story."

Levac's show is the last to be displayed in the gallery space above the Basis Art School before it closes.

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