A moment in time is the movement of light, a retracting, ever-changing illumination photographers chase to expose the world. Israeli photographer Yoav Friedlander’s world is still life, miniature, and landscape photography, which is an exploration of his personal diaspora, and a meditation on constant war. Yoav creates intricate miniatures and introspective landscapes that trigger his imagination and memories from childhood to being a soldier in the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces).
“We measure the greatest distance with light, and it is light that eventually defines the dimension of time that differentiates the day from the night, and today from tomorrow and yesterday. The past and present are defined by light, and photography was invented by recording light with the intent of recording time. The precise moment in time always manages to escape, leaving us with its burn marks as pictures. We don’t fix time, we hold its traces,” Friedlander says.
His miniatures are representative of his Israeli identity, and some of his miniatures have recreated everything from the “Terror Tunnels”—Hamas- built underground passages to traffic weapons after the siege of Gaza, to exploring his faith with Moses’ Burning Bush.
Yoav, along with his wife Dana Stirling, explore their identities with large format film cameras with a certain sense of deep introspection. Like any photographer who challenges themselves to create work with meaning, both Dana and Yoav are partners in exploring the juxtaposition of the Israel and American experience.
“A struggle between the temporal unfinished rough appearance inspired by my Israeli origins and my messy character and the fixed permanent eternal stability of straight and clean compositions and geometric lines, lustful colors a kind of ‘Large-Formatness’ perfection – I want both even though they contradict and collide, at times I manage to bring both to play together,” he says.
For Yoav, photography is not creating something new, instead he looks for the subjects that have influenced our present that will influence our future.
“Usually photographs are used to record and document or as a tool of making mechanical art in form of abstraction or in a descriptive manner,” he says. “I want to make photographs about photography. The medium is a mirror and I want to put a mirror to the medium. I want people to be awakened and to look straight into the photograph’s illusion of space. An accomplishment for me is to share my work with one person at a time.”
Friedlander’s photograph “The Burning Bush, 2013” represents a key intersection between religion and historical fact—a subject which gave him the feeling of doubt about seemingly irreconcilable subjects. Yet the more he thought about Moses and the Burning Bush as both historical fact and miracle, the more he found that this project helped him tie his identity together.
“I decided to recreate the burning bush, because I conceived it as a very photographic miracle, almost a photograph that had never been taken yet been passed on as a fact. There was something about how visually incomprehensible the story of bush was, of being burning and maintaining its green color that gotten me inspired. Being Jewish also means that we were command not to make an image, a sculpture or a mask, as all of the above are profane and ending up worshiping false gods and ourselves. Therefore remaking the burning bush would be the worst thing I could have possibly done in that regards. And that was my starting point, what I didn’t realize was what coming next,” he says.
Of course, he couldn’t have known what was going to happen next. He set up his camera, plate and a green bonsai tree that he doused in fuel and lit on fire. Friedlander captured his image of a burning bush but when he extinguished the fire, the tree still remained green. He says it was one of the most profound spiritual experiences of his life—leaving him conflicted yet also “open-minded about the contradictions we find in everyday life.”
“The moment of capture for me is a moment of a struggle with time. I always feel like I am running out of the time I’ve been given, and that everything is changing. Even buildings and mountains seem to be rushing, almost escaping the moment I am wishing to capture. I feel a lot of tension in regard to the ‘precise moment,’ and it is part of the reason why I don’t photograph people (usually),” he says.
The impatience of chasing light, and even waiting for it, is what we as photographers constantly struggle with. We hurry up and wait for the decisive moment of a moving subject, or how the light falls through the clouds on the side of a mountain, etc. Whatever that precise moment is, his moment of capture is defined by an uncertainty which he says supersedes his own idea of the ‘decisive moment.’
“The actual moment of pressing the shutter almost feels as if something is going to change in the frame, the cable release feels like it has the power to designate an explosion. You are not looking through the camera, but instead at what you are photographing. There is a feeling going on saying, ‘this is it,’ ‘this is the moment,’ ‘no regrets,’ and then you release the shutter and if the speed is slow enough you can at least hear the shutter suspension mechanism… With the view camera, because it is so slow, it almost feels as if it ignores the idea of the decisive moment, as if the camera doesn’t care that it is urgent for you to take the shot, and it wouldn’t care if you had released the shutter a moment later,” he says.
The Visual Voice
Friendlander’s landscape work primarily focuses on the margins of the road, which he soon realized became a pattern in his body of work. By shooting from the periphery across the road from a border crossing or restricted military areas, his images seem drawn to the margins, even in his miniature and American landscape work.
Yoav first started in the digital space, but upon meeting Dana, he evolved into a large format film photographer when he found the soul within her photographs. He found something romantic and poetic about the slow process of film, and for him, it was a culmination of these things that gave him a propensity to strictly shoot film. He also loved the tangible nature of a piece of film that is the representation of time.
“From the time the sun rises and until it sets light is changing and time is progressing, the landscape is deceptively still but slowly moving, and so does the perfect image, which is the moment I’ve realized the image I am about to capture is starting to escape. With the awareness of the intent to photograph, and working with the slow Large Format camera I have always captured the runner up for the precise moment, and I love that about photography,” he says.
Every photographer has thoughts on what art is, and what photography is; this contemplation has helped photographers evolve, learn new genres of photography, and to really look inside themselves to try and create work with significance.
“The problem with photography is that it is more than art. I am not saying more important, but just more in general. Almost everyone from the average person, the scientist, the graphic designer, fashion, commercial users, and artists use the medium in a similar way but for different applications. The line between secular and sacred are so thin and blurred that it is frightening to confidently determine what part, or use of the medium, is art and what part isn’t. Photography is a medium, a vehicle for art. Art is not sacred, it is not absolute, it is not owned by people with money nor by the artist who make it. Photography is not that young anymore, and as it grows older it seems to me that this debate will lose its power. For myself, I am not sure that I am making art, but if what I am making is under the same category with the people who’s work I admire, and what they are making is art, then I am going the right direction,” he says.
What’s in Yoav’s Kit?
Toyo 45AII Field Camera
Toyo Binocular finder
Cambo C1 8×10 Camera
Self made 8×10 binocular finder
Bronco 6×6 camera with 80mm lens
4×5 & 8×10 Lenses:
Rodenstock Grandagon N 75mm f/4.5
Schneider makro symmar HM 120mm f/5.6
Rodenstock Sironar N 135mm f/5.6
Rodenstock Sironar S 150mm f/5.6
Rodenstock Sironar S 210mm f/5.6
Sheet film Holders (4×5 & 8×10)
Fuji PA-145 Polaroid Holder
Ektar 100 120 films
Kodak Ektar 100 4×5 Film
Fuji Provia 4×5 film
Fuji FP-100C Polaroid film
Black Electric Tape (for fixing pinholes in the bellow)
PhotoFlex Changing Room
Manfrotto Super Clamp
Manfrotto Carbon Fiber Tripod
Manfrotto 405 Pro Digital Gear Head