Twenty young photographers from the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design gathered last week to watch their final projects being hung on the bright white walls of a gallery at Jerusalem’s Teddy Stadium, after recently completing their final semester online.
“It shows the power of this medium, that even when we were all under lockdown, we were able to continue working with our students, who were able to continue with their projects,” said curator Ilanit Konopny.
The works of the 20 students, presented in 19 projects at the New Gallery Artists’ Studios, are highly personal, many of them created since the start of the pandemic. They depict the students and their families, members of their extended clans, their partners, and, sometimes, strangers.
“Those are always popular topics, but this period made it even more intensive,” said Konopny.
When the coronavirus closure began in March, the Bezalel photography students, completing their fourth and final year of study, took home their cameras — and sometimes smartphones — as well as chemicals for developing their own photos, and were told to continue photographing from their windows or from any angle that made sense to them.
“That’s their power,” said Konopny. “You can respond immediately to what you see with a camera and they all took their cameras and started working.”
Zoom was another useful tool for the group, providing a place for them to meet as a class or one-on-one with their instructors.
Planning the exhibition was a further stage of the process, offering an opportunity to learn about how to present themselves and relate to their audience through their work.
Orina Zada, who took photographs of herself and her mother, as well as images relating to weddings — to present her mother’s wishes for her to marry — said she’s critical of her mother’s pressure but also wants what her mother wants, and sought to depict that in her mostly black-and-white photos.
“My mom hasn’t seen it yet,” said Zada. “I feel like a boy who’s coming out of the closet. She hasn’t seen anything I’ve done for the last four years.”
A fellow student, Rona Lubman, also focused on wedding imagery, but with a clear wish for her own, represented in wedding frippery and objects, all developed in a blue-and-white wash that symbolizes her Zionism and move from the US to Israel.
Oleg Alon Murevitch used video imagery to create an obelisk of himself, and former architectural student Alumah Meishar married her knowledge of blueprints and building plans with a project about her grandparents’ former homes in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv.
“Their storytelling is broken and cracked,” said Konopny. “They want to show and tell their stories, but their photos are often about the cracks in their families, or their inability to tell the story.”
Two of the photographers, Yael Zalman and Rebecca Karsena, used forms of video to tell their tales.
Zalman created a 1970s-era slideshow from photos she took, while Karsena took photos of her baby with a thermal camera, creating a video that only shows the reddish outline of her toddler.
Yael Eshel, a student who was diagnosed with breast cancer, immediately used her camera in order to document the experience, taking it with her to screenings and treatments.
She peered at her couplehood with her camera during the ordeal, and ultimately “showed so much strength,” said Konopny.