Interview: In Light and Shadows

An Interview with Gabi Ben Avraham by Hon Hoang.

Monotony and repetition can be a hindrance to creativity. Lack of inspiration due to every day familiarity and repetition does not need to be a constant, as places where we call home are always changing. The layers of busy streets or lack thereof have to be peeled and observed with patient eyes, waiting for the past and future to converge into a moment to be captured by the photographer.

In this interview, Gabi Ben Avraham speaks about his work, his life in Tel Aviv and about capturing the beautiful chaos of a busy city.

What were some of your early experiences with photography?

It all started long ago, but I did not know it was "it". During the 1980’s I photographed using film cameras. Even then, I used to wander in the streets of Tel Aviv in search of the extraordinary. I then stopped and did not touch a camera for 20 years. That was until I received a digital camera as a gift for my birthday from my wife 6 years ago. The rest is history….

How do you find balance between your day job and your photography?

During the week I work as an IT manager in a software company and I shoot mainly on weekends or special occasions, such as religious ceremonies or travels around the world.

You’ve lived in Tel Aviv your entire life, how do you stay interested in what the city has to offer? What keeps you inspired and keeps you photographing the city?

I am familiar with the streets and alleys in Tel Aviv, many of the corners carry nostalgic memories for me.

I like the beach and what happens there especially during the afternoons. The people, the markets and playing with the light and shadows. The city is full of immigrants, mainly from Africa, who live downtown. It allows for a glance into other cultures.

There is a huge difference between the Northern and Southern part of Tel Aviv. It’s as if there are 2 cities. I prefer shooting in the South. I try to show that Tel Aviv is a modern city, like New York, London, Paris and Berlin, with great beaches, restaurants, clubs, festivals and markets.

Do you have plans to travel for your photography? If you can go anywhere, where would it be and why?

Wow, I do not know where to start. I want to travel to so many exotic places such as the far east, especially India, Africa, South America etc. The light is more interesting there and the people and cultures are different.

What draws you to the subjects in your photographs?

The street is not a studio. Sometimes I stand and wait for things to converge – a cyclist, a dancer, a child – moving along. They are not aware that they are moving towards a certain object, but I am. Via the camera lens I am constantly looking around me, searching for that ‘decisive’ moment that will never return, unless I catch it.

When pushing the button, I try to make some sense, restore order to the chaotic scheme of things in the composition. The components 'speak' with each other in a special dialogue, either by color, shape, or light. Capturing the elusive, special moment, after which things will never be the same and making it eternal – that is my goal.

Forgotten, transparent people in urban surroundings are being granted their moment of grace. The shadows, fragile outlines, reflections within daily lives that are not noticed in the busy and thick urban landscape and sometimes are even crushed by it – these are precious to me.

Are there any long-term personal projects you’re hoping to explore?

I shoot in various religious ceremonies and cults as a long-term project. Also, I am very much attracted to markets.

How do you blend in so your subjects don’t react to you and your camera?

When I shoot I try to be "a fly on the wall" so people will act naturally and will not pose for me. This is why I find it very difficult when people pay too much attention to me while shooting and change the scene as a result. Another risk is that people would not like it and I might get into trouble because of my shooting. Therefore, I am using a small mirrorless Fuji camera and try to look like a tourist.

What was the most tense moment you have experienced? What did you do in this situation?

Maybe the word "surprising" is better to express what I felt. When I visited Cuba, I was invited to a home and after a moment found myself surrounded by pigs. At first I was alarmed, but eventually the whole situation was amusing.

Would you have any advice for aspiring photographers? If you had to start all over again, what advice would you give yourself?

I would advise a new photographer to look at other photographers' works on the Web and try to build his own style, exercise a lot with the camera, find his own master and be open to critics.

I would advise myself not to shoot so much in the first years, to shoot less and think more although I believe it is a natural process every photographer has to go through.

Photos courtesy of Gabi Ben Avraham