Walk down Sha’ar Palmer Street in Haifa, looking out toward the cruise ships and the sea beyond, and you’ll see an unexpected sight. Along the traffic divider in the quiet street are billboard-size photos of people from all walks of life, from yeshiva boys in undershirts to male and female hookers to young religious couples to innocent schoolgirls, all staring somewhat wistfully, with more than a touch of vulnerability, at the camera that captured them.
The photographs and their adjoining descriptions are part of Photoanalysis — an exhibit devoted to the works of photographer Lea Golda Holterman, a Bezalel Academy-trained artist who was raised in Haifa but now spends much of her time in Berlin. Curated by television presenter Guy Pines, the portraits are a selection from her ongoing work on different subjects, which range from young ultra-Orthodox men to Neo-Nazis in Berlin, which she’s combined into one giant outdoor exhibition in her home city.
“Haifa is supposedly a quiet city, and it’s not Tel Aviv, it’s not New York or LA,” said Holterman. “It’s a beach city, it’s very quiet and calm and I love it because it’s a city of modesty and modernism. I really thought nobody would show up, but about 500 people came [to the opening] and they took their time to look at the pictures.”
Last week’s launch was held in the city’s Turkish Market, where the collection can be seen through January 1, as well as on the billboards along Sha’ar Palmer, Jaffa and Natanzon streets in lower Haifa.
Many of the photographs offer unexpected images of their subjects, showing them in intimate poses and places and putting the viewer in the position of voyeur. The photo of curator Pines, a celebrity watcher who generally favors T-shirts with sports jackets, puts him in an unbuttoned shirt and tuxedo cummerbund, alongside a statement in which he declares that he likes to think of himself as a Renaissance man who doesn’t have to prove his own abilities to himself. Holterman knows Pines from her work as a newspaper photographer and thought it would be intriguing to work with him rather than with a standard art curator.
“He deals with celebrities and his work, his livelihood, comes from gossip about celebrities,” said Holterman, referring to Pines’s nightly television show, “Good Evening with Guy Pines,” which focuses on local and foreign celebrities in Israel. “I thought it would be interesting to have him choose the photographs for the exhibit, to have him choose the people and have to get behind their stories. It’s interesting the way he categorizes things, he lives in such a closed society.”
Pines, interviewed at the opening party, commented that he’s not a professional curator but is someone who is interested in art and in Holterman’s work, specifically.
“Lea had many pieces, and we had to choose which ones would work, which could be hung,” he told haifahaifa.co.il. “I have three kids, and I don’t want a naked anorexic woman on the street. On the other hand, you have to know how to filter Lea’s work, how to show it properly.”
Pines isn’t the only person who sometimes finds it difficult to look at her subjects, said Holterman, as she forces viewers to take a close look at people on the fringes of society.
“I love photographing people because for me it’s discovering a world in each person, and more than a world, it’s discovering a society, seeing what society is today, where do I belong, what is the spectrum of people out there,” said Holterman. She has had her work exhibited in Europe, but says she often feels shunned by the Israeli art scene which, she believes, is too closed to accept her artistic concepts. “Here in Israel, I wanted to approach the viewer with a range of personalities and backgrounds, because it’s very common here to categorize people; I wanted to avoid that and I think it worked.”
It was the Haifa Municipality that approached Holterman about the exhibit, an idea that surprised her — “I didn’t think this city would want such photos,” she said — but that appealed to the city, said Zahi Terano, a Haifa spokesperson.
“We wanted it because it’s a little different, and because Lea Golda is Haifa-born,” he said. “It’s not an issue of identifying with each portrait. It’s art, and you don’t always have to identify with each person. That’s not the measuring stick.”
The show is also part of the city’s ongoing efforts to gentrify the port and lower city area, now known as the Port Campus. Photoanalysis can be found on the streets just outside Soho Banamal — Soho at the Harbor — a soon-to-be opened 6,000-square-meter commercial and arts center that will house bars, restaurants, shops and art studios.
“It’s a great space,” said Holterman. “It’s an area that’s been developing for the last few years and it’s attracting young artists and a revival of the place. There’s not enough exposure down here; if it were a billboard in LA it would be amazing. But it’s good for me to have a retrospective in the middle of my work. I think it’s beautiful.”