YOAV HORESH. AFTERMATH
Still of the book 'Aftermath' by Yoav Horesh, published by SPQR Editions, 2016
Yoav Horesh has exhibited his photographs and interactive work in galleries and museums in Europe, the United States, Asia and in Israel. Since 2001, Horesh’s work has been concerned with history, conflict, memory, ethnicity and multiculturalism. His projects took place in the American South-west, Germany, Laos, Israel, the Gaza Strip, Bolivia, Vietnam, Mongolia and Cambodia, where history still shapes and influences current events and daily life.
How growing up in Israel, being exposed to the tense political atmosphere, shaped you as an artist and influenced your decision to photograph the 'Aftermath' series?
Yoav Horesh (YH): It's a good question that comes often recently and I will try to answer it a little bit differently. A year after I completed this work in 2005 as my thesis work to receive an MFA from Columbia University, photographer and scholar Dr. Dana Arieli contacted me as she heard about this project. We spoke lengthily about the series, and she asked to include it in the catalog and an exhibition she curated about Israeli art in relation to national traumas in Milan, Italy. Since then we worked on several photography and education projects, but this was our first point of contact. When I launched the book in Israel (Oct 2016), I invited her to speak at the exhibition opening. She talked about the mechanisms of memory and the multiple ways people deal with traumas. She claimed that one way to possibly deal with trauma is by repeating a particular action, over and over again.
For two and a half years I photographed over 100 different sites of the suicide bombings in Israel while I lived in New York. I would go to photograph at least twice a year while doing my research for official and non-official information I needed in the United States. The bombings were happening on a daily basis; I would turn on the computer or read the newspapers and obviously I was very worried about my family and friends. The thought that they could be taking a bus or walking down the streets and disappear from life within a blink of a second horrified me. Perhaps it was also the feeling of guilt that pushed me to start this project, to be in far New York while this was happening in Israel so frequently. Maybe this is my mechanism of dealing with trauma; Repeating the action, the visitation, photographing, like going back to "a crime scene" and trying to understand what has happened there psychologically and visually.
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Aftermath', March 27, 2002, Park Hotel, Netanya. Photographed January 2004
I think that with this project, I also try to raise awareness about how life is made a series of random events that affects all of us tremendously. These places I photographed were mundane. They were dictated to me (to be photographed) because of their traumatic history. There was nothing unique about these sites until history scarred them. They turned into significant sites of trauma that I reduced into pictures of the landscape, the city, trees, cafes or street corners.
Another relevant example is the work of photographer and friend Kris Grave’s "Bleak Reality
” from 2016, Kris photographed the sites where the killings of eight African-Americans by the police happened. These sites are again very mundane. The locations/pictures become significant as soon as we are aware and think about their history or the events that took place there and how these events influenced other people and also our perception.
© Kris graves fromthe series 'A Bleak Reality', Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri, 2016
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Aftermath', March 5, 2002, Central bus station Afula. Photographed: January 2004
Personally, I see this work and every single image as a little memorial of every traumatic event itself. Because as you mentioned previously if every site of the suicide bombing in Israel would have a memorial, it would be impossible to peacefully navigate through the city, there would be memorials on every corner.
YH: Yes, and I think that this is part of the reason why it's not happening in Israel. Maybe it would be too much of a psychological burden to see so many monuments on a daily basis. I know people, who avoid actual streets because it's a painful reminder to them.
If we to go back to your previous question: I do think that there is a connection between my upbringing in Israel and the fact I have a particular interest in trauma and memory for many years. Themes that repeat again and again in my work. My father, whom I admire for many things, has gone through some rough things in his life who made him who he is and the father he has been. "Random" events from where and when he was born (during WWII in Slovakia) to the wars he participated (and was injured in) as an adult, significantly affected his life and consequently mine.
I often wonder how much do we choose our lives, how much do we actually select what and how to do in life versus how much is chosen for us by chance or by a sequence of events. I think it happens to everyone, even to people who believe that they have a strong grip on life. Just think about the daily routine, getting on the train, or missing the bus and life could take an entirely different turn, just because of this little unexpected “detour".
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Aftermath', January 27, 2002, Jaffa Street, Jerusalem. Photographed: February 2003
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Aftermath', December 24, 2004, Liberty Bell Park bus stop, Jerusalem. Photographed: July 2004
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Aftermath', August 9, 2001, Sbarro pizzeria, Jerusalem. Photographed August 2003.
I think it's called the "butterfly effect," when subtle changes in the starting position of a chaotic system can make a big difference after a while. Could you please tell us about your approach to photography and how did you start photographing seriously?
YH: I was about twelve years old when I first experimented with photography. I had a friend who had a Chinon camera, a Chinese counterfeit of Canon. It was a 35mm reflex camera, from the early 80s. We used to spend a lot of time together, walking in the woods and conducting geeky science experiments. One day I asked him to borrow the camera, I bought one or two rolls of color film, and shot some flowers in my mother's garden. I still remember those pictures. I had them developed and printed at the local photo store, and I brought them home to show my mother. I think it impressed her. My experience was that these were not too hard to make, it felt pretty easy, and natural: Set up the focus, adjust to the right exposure and click. I thought that it was kind of magic, I have never had an experience of creating something just by looking at objects (flowers) and making them into something else. Something new.
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Intransition', Rosh Hashana Dinner (45 minutes), Zofar, Israel
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Intransition', Cockpit. Liege-TLV 30 minutes over Europe
© Yoav Horesh, from the series 'Intransition', Sunset over Africa
I wanted to take some photography workshops then, and my older brother brought me my first Minolta camera from Germany in 1988. During high school, I was photographing my friends, for the yearbook, and some street photography pretty much until I was 18, but I never saw it as something that could turn to be my profession.
Three years after high school, when I finished my military service, I decided to get back to photography in full force. I bought a new camera, started photographing in Israel and in 1997 I moved to New York and kept photographing there. The decision to take it more seriously came because from the realization that this was something I was doing pretty much consistently for almost ten years, something that I also enjoy greatly. So I went to study art and photography in 1998, and the rest is history...
Since 1997 you lived in USA, Germany, Hong Kong, Israel, now you are back in the United States. Where in this world do you feel at "home" the most?
YH: I think that I feel most comfortable in New York City. Stranger/foreign/foreigner were concepts and topics that keep coming back in my work and personal experience. NY brings strangers together like no other place could. It's incredibly diverse, interesting and exciting. I have a strong personal connection with this city, partially because this is where I got back into photography and re-discovered this world of art and image making. New York is a place where I still have lots of friends; it is the city where I went to grad school and this is where the recent book was launched. Even when I was teaching in Boston for five years, I kept living in New York regardless the commute.
© Yoav Horesh, from the series '(my) American Life', Harlem, NY
You have been an art educator for a long time now, how did your teaching method evolve in the past years? Whether the shift to digital affected the way, you teach photography?
YH: I have been teaching for 12 years, this year I'm counting 100 courses that I've taught in 10 different institutions, in the United States, Israel, and in Hong Kong. I don't think that my teaching has changed dramatically since I started. I use the same methods and value the same topics for exploration and discussion. I usually require students to show their work in print form; I don't accept assignments presented as projections or digital files, I'm very interested in a physical print and the way we are making and handling them.
Even though my experience ranges from teaching 4x5, color, black and white, darkroom printing techniques to digital photography, I haven't changed my critique methods much. The subject matters for students and myself always remain the same: life, family, our history and primary emotional responses to the world. Ut’s about how we interpret the world using photography and how we analyze and understand photographs in various contexts. I don't think these things changed since the first camera was manufactured, only the tools changed. It used to be large format box camera and now you have your phone camera.
© Yoav Horesh, from the series '(my) American Life', John Szarkowski's House- East Chatham, New York
Three books of photography that you recommend?
YH: I have an old fascination and deep interest in photo books. I have been teaching courses and seminars on the history of photography books and photo-book making for years. I published two myself, and I am looking forward to publish many more in the future. To answer your question, I will name three books that highly influenced me and changed the way I look at photography, photo books, and the world. They are three fabulous books I keep going back to. I think that a good photobook isn't defined only by great pictures; It has to be also an object of great promise and ideas.
- 'American Photographs' by Walker Evans
- 'A Way of Seeing' by James Agee and Helen Levitt
- 'House Calls' with William Carlos Williams, MD.' by Robert Coles and Thomas Roma.
Book 'Aftermath', published by SPQR Editions, 2016 (Available on Amazon )