Up Close and Impersonal

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"The Old Central Bus Station, Tel Aviv," 1980, from Uri Gershuni's photographer-curator exhibition.Credit: Roni Shani

In the pavilion at a Rishon Letzion winery, I listen to Uri Gershuni. He’s talking, in his pleasant, interesting voice, about the small, tender exhibition he’s curated as part of the city’s current International Photography Festival. He points to the photographs he has assembled: small, black and white. Each of them flawed, burnt, sliced incorrectly, shot against the sun, showing well-dressed children, in some cases resting on the grass. The kind of photographs that used to be taken.

Then he directs the attention of the people around him to a series by photographer Ronit Shani. He points out that in her work, too, the frame is sliced. Someone asks whether it’s deliberate or whether it came out like that by chance. Gershuni cites seriality and repetitiveness; in other words, this is her language.

I look at the caption stating “Givat Shmuel Day Camp” – even though it’s in Tel Aviv – and recall that there was a pretty good basketball team there once, and I knew one of its professional players. That this is how kids once dressed. Us. Shani’s photographs are like that: amazingly close and stunningly remote. The boy’s blue eyes are so beautiful. The subject is the boys’ clasped hands.

I am pleased that we’re in the pavilion first, not straight into the winery. More than 200 photographers. I remember the last time this annual event took place, in Jaffa Port. Even though this time it’s farther for me to go, the winery is a winery and there’s a smell of soil, I think it is more laid back, restrained. Good. It’s the Passover holiday, and across the way personal family shots of the marvelous family photographer Noa Sadka are being projected. I asked my little one to look at them. I wanted to listen.

Gershuni, whose mini-exhibition also has photographs by Sadka (based on experiments she did in the darkroom), explains how important mistakes are. His voice is soothing, instructive. His understanding is riveting, his attitude toward photography self-driven – the disparity between showing yourself and looking at yourself. His attitude toward frame slicing.

I look at the dark, fairly thick hair on the forearms of the younger one in Shani’s photograph (called “The Old Central Bus Station, Tel Aviv”). At the sign behind them. At the relations between them. The closeness. He watches over him. Is strengthened by their contact.

Someone asks what “professional” is. Gershuni explains about the French boy who, at the beginning of the 20th century, received a camera from his affluent parents and took pictures without fear, without letup, without borders, and left a quarter of a million photographs when he died. It was not until he was 69 that he was discovered by the photography curator of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and belatedly entered the canon.

This photograph grips me: So close to the brothers that you can count the eyelashes of the one on the right, the details of their maturing young bodies standing out. She wants to be their mother. Be their photographer. Gershuni tells me Shani published a book, “Hamsin,” in 2007. I will get myself a copy.

Inside the winery itself, images by promising photographers are being screened on the walls. Vardi Kahana has curated a basic, fine exhibition in the hall opposite, where I saw a photograph by Micha Bar-Am, of a soldier returning from the Entebbe Airport in Uganda. The palms of the hands of his wife and mother are on his back. The little one has gone to play in front of a video installation by Ran Slavin. Together, we pretended to be scared of what he is showing there. Of the red eyes. I look.

This young fellow has been posed by Galit Sarid, a Hadassah College of Technology graduate of 2013, as Yitzhak Danziger’s sculpture “Nimrod.” I know it’s not a falcon, but a jaw – maybe of a donkey, a row of teeth that only looks like a falcon from afar. This is the complete opposite to Shani’s photograph – theoretically, practically, emotionally, intellectually. Both in maturity and depth. But still, vulnerability. Vulnerability is always direct. Visible. Exposed.

On the way back, we drove a lot. A taxi with blue lights on the ceiling. I asked Gershuni to tell me the Frenchman’s name. And he revealed it: Jacques-Henri Lartigue. And he also took my photograph and hers, the little one. A diptych on the top part of which we are wearing 3-D glasses from Kahana’s exhibition. And summer began.

The Third International Photography Festival is at Carmel Wineries, Rishon Letzion, until April 19

"Untitled," 2013, from the series "Promising Photographers."Credit: Galit Sarid