Photographing the Future / Researching the Past

On 13 Nov., 2019

This is a story of more then 30 years of loveing photography as artist, a lecturer and a commercial photographer

Photographing the Future / Researching the Past

Photographing the Future / Researching the Past

Yoram Reshef / Professional Biography

Commercial Career

Throughout a photography career that has lasted about 30 years, I have constantly endeavored to create a dialogue between the past and the future.  This dialogue is expressed through the duality between my commercial work, dealing with futuristic technology, and the artistic facets of my work, which is displayed in exhibits and deals with investigating and searching for the meaning of time and of the past.  In this document, I present my encounters with the future and past through the commercial aspects, the artistic aspects, and through my world view as a lecturer who advocates understanding the past in order to create a future with a rich historical, cultural, and procedural backdrop.

My primary distinction as a commercial photographer working with Israeli and international technology companies is often expressed through integrating the very early stages of the product or its visual concept development.  In some cases, this is accomplished by photographing a model of the product rather than the final consumer product.  Additionally, some of my work today involves combining 3D rendering with photography so that in certain cases the physical product doesn’t actually exist or is presented as the integration of a photo with a simulation.  In consumer terms, my goal is not the retail level, but rather, I operate within the B2B world of businesses selling to other businesses.

The field in which I work is a form of integration between the fields of B2B and the field of B2P which deals with the client’s individualism.  Most of my clients are technology companies with a professional audience not easily influenced by advertising and marketing tactics aimed at the general public; instead, this audience demands product and marketing reliability along with an emphasis on applied characteristics of technology and innovative visual concepts.

One of the primary difficulties in my work is making the product accessible to the client even in situations where the product is an innovative, futuristic concept, meaning the viewer has very little awareness of what the product does.  My job as a photographer and creator is to get the message across, to introduce the viewer to the concept or the product and in most cases, to turn a blank undersigned box without any formal meaning into an esthetic, visual element with a clear functional significance.  A single picture is indeed worth a thousand words, but bridging dry text to wordless visual imagination is one of the greatest challenges that exists in the field of commercial and marketing photography.

In this article, I will present examples of two commercial photography projects from early in my career and more recently, two artistic projects, along with another project which was carried out with my students as part of the courses which I teach.

Displayed here is an ADSL modem, among the first modems in the world, during the period when the Internet was still in its infancy and surfing was done using painfully slow dial-up modems.  We all remember the squealing tones of the modem, and the need to connect to the Internet because there was no such thing as a fast permanent connection.  Only in the year 2000 did the fast Internet age truly arrive in Israel.  In England, the first experiments started rolling out in the year 1999, and in the Far East in 2001, there were only 8 million users.  The device shown in the photograph is actually just a plastic model of the modem and not the actual modem itself.  This photograph belongs to the word of analog photography in which I have a great deal of experience, and incorporates elements such as movement of lighting, topic and background through about 100 various stages of exposure through 4”x5” slides in a Sinar technical camera.  The challenge here was turning the familiar copper wires into a conceptual element.  The vision and concept behind the photograph was to create a sense of movement and rapid flow of energy, representing data being transmitted on copper wires, combined with technical drawings of the ADSL chip itself.  Here, too, we can see the connection between analog technology, represented by copper wires (the past) and futuristic technology and advanced communication represented by the chip (the future).  The dominant color here are the copper tones, and the coolest shades in the image are of the modem itself, with the Orckit logo as a central element.  This image was the first in a series of photographs of the system, printed on 2,000 50x70cm posters which were snatched up by visitors at the end of the first day of the exhibition.  I still remember the phone call from Rebecca Steinberg Harson, marketing manager for Orckit, telling me that

they didn’t have any more posters to give out at the exhibition.  To this day, I have a warm spot in my heart for Rebecca for having the courage to give such an important job to a young photographer (I had only begun working commercially in 1990).

Vespers by NERI OXMAN

What is the meaning of a photograph’s place, and the role of a photograph in capturing the conceptual work of another artist?  Is the role of the photographer to serve the vision of a creative and futuristic artist or is it perhaps to reveal new layers and thus to become an image unto itself?  The creative tool of the photographer is lighting, which allows the photo to reveal hidden glimpses which don’t immediately catch the eye in natural daylight or even the bright light of a museum display.

These questions were front and center during this project, which I have photographed over the last few years for Professor Neri Oxman from MIT.

This ongoing project documents the work of artist Neri Oxman and has been one of the most challenging tasks I have undertaken in my entire career as a photographer.  As a graduate of art studies photographing the creations of another artist who uses a totally different creative medium, this process forces me to continually test the boundaries of objectivity of photograph as a medium.

This project raises questions of the extent to which “documenting” creates a brand-new experience and combines with the creation being documented to form a new dimension; whether my photographs are different and broaden the scope of the project itself.  What photographs are able to expose is significantly more than the possible powers of observation taking in the masks themselves in physical reality (her masks are found in the most important collections and the most important museums in the world).  Certainly, standing face to face with the masks in reality creates a completely different and more powerful experience than that of observing photographs of the masks as images.  However, it’s also hard to argue with the power of photographs of the masks to expose them, making them, in a way, even more accessible than the originals.  This is therefore an exciting symbiosis, in which each form nourishes the other and allows a thrilling dual existence in the meeting of two artists using different media, the three-dimensional media and the two-dimensional media which maintains the three-dimensional world in the space of the masks around us.  The connection to the past as a photographer is created through creating a photographic iconography and infinite space in which the mask is displayed, eternal symbols which have always been tools of every type of power for cultures throughout history, as opposed to a photographing the mask on the body in the image of death, which creates another type of historical perspective entirely with the world of classical illustration in the type of shaded lighting and the image of the body.

Academic and Artistic Career:

In this section, I will present three projects according to the decades of the State of Israel’s existence:  the fifth, sixth, and seventh.  Two personal projects of mine were presented in the Israel Jubilee Exhibition and in the Ramat Gan Museum of Israeli Art, and a student project which I led was presented as part of Quality Week with the Standards Institute of Israel.  Each of these projects observes and connects with the past and with procedural observation.

Fifth Decade – “Local Index” Project

Panim (“Faces”) Magazine invited Amir Cohen and I to create an artistic series in honor of the Jubilee year of the State of Israel.  We choose to contrast the State of Israel with the most significant foundational document to that point—the Scroll of Independence.  Our work dealt with observation of the historical processes which the country had been through since the day it was established, what happened since then, and where we had come after the 50-year jubilee.  Our research quoted the Scroll of Independence as well as famous passages spoken by historical figures which had become social and cultural touchstones.  The series quotes defining historical events along with social and economic processes, for instance, the influence of American culture and the desire to be like Americans is expressed in a green ketchup poster and the Statue of Liberty, along with the sentence “The Temple Mount is in our hands.”  The complex relations between us and the neighboring nations, as well as the Arabs of Israel, is debated with the red poster of a pomegranate, the IDF logo on a diaper, and replacing the familiar JAFFA logo on an orange with the word JORDAN.  Because during this period, photography was still an analog process, all photographs were created without computerized processing, using lighting alone, including all text which appears as part of the images themselves.

Sixth Decade – “Following the Posters”

With the Standards Institute of Israel

As part of the courses I teach at the college and as a continuation of the global perception of the significance of the connection between the world of academia and the applied world beyond it, I have initiated joint projects over the years between students and institutions and companies, through which students are exposed to actual working conditions for a real client.  Projects have been carried out with the following companies: Aroma Café, Castro, Nestle, Intel, and HP, in cooperation with the IDEP design school in Barcelona (some of those projects are attached to this document as separate PDF documents).

For this project, students were requested to quote famous posters which defined the culture of the State of Israel during its early years.  Here, too, I was dealing with the past, observing it through a contemporary lens to create a series of images which are humorous, cynical, about the meaning of commercial icons, various advertising techniques, and the graphical visualization of times gone by.  Most likely, if the series had been created today, the means of display and character of the exhibit would be very different.  Specifically for the purpose of preserving the subject of the poster as an “old” medium of representation (which has now been repurposed in a project of “declarations” in honor of the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel), created a meaningful impact which was displayed in the Quality Week exhibit of the Standards Institute of Israel in 2008.  With the Standards Institute, I created another 4 exhibits and projects over the years.

Seventh Decade – “Swan Song” Exhibit

With Rafi Peled

In 2014, the "Swan Song" exhibit was held at the Museum of Israeli Art in Ramat Gan.  This exhibit was a summary of a 5-year journey, a journey in the footsteps of time, destruction, and rust.  This journey was also an interesting and creative collaborative combination between the sculptor Rafi Peled and myself as photographer.  The concept of photographing rust, in fact, originally stemmed from the simple fact that it’s impossible to sculpt in rust.  Using the medium of photography let us create an in-depth research work in cooperation with various academics and spiritual individuals who all contributed articles to the catalogue.  One of the most exciting participants in this endeavor was Dr. Alec Groysman of the Technion, a world specialist in the chemical field of rust.  The project was photographed in familiar places such as the Jaffa pier, where we photographed a torch from the Turkish period, Reading Station in Tel Aviv, where we photographed giant ovens burning fuel oil, where the recollection of the Holocaust was truly chilling, along with other less well-known places, such as the Dead Sea Works, which aren’t open to the public.  Photographing an abandoned bus in Ashdod also created a connection, with its recollection of railroad cars during the Second World War.  This project creates a substantive connection between the past and the world of technology.  Most images in the exhibition are panoramas in various sizes, connected together by a panoramic robot in order to obtain a high resolution from zero viewing distance from the print.  The combination of the size of the print and the high resolution created a three-dimensional feeling as well as a sensation of smallness in the viewer facing the prints themselves.

The Desire to Photograph:

I was first exposed to the world of photography at the age of 17, about 37 years ago.  Since then, and to this day, I get up every morning with the desire to create a new world, to test the boundaries of the medium, to research and invent myself anew.  I’ve been an active commercial photographer for 28 years and the same electricity that flows through my veins and gets me bounding out of bed every morning, often at some not-quite-sane hours, has also inspired me over the years to become a photographer who photographs the future… I know that sentence might sound a little bizarre, because of course, you must be asking, “How is it actually possible to photograph the future?”  Fortunately, I’ve been able to photograph the future in a very involved, active way as a photographer supporting some of the futuristic development processes of my clients from the initial concept stage to the final product.  I have countless examples from the fields of wireless communications, 3D printing, digital printing, cardiac catheterization, and 360-degree cameras.  I’ve followed the global and Israeli technology industry from their very beginnings—even before it was called “high-tech.”  As a photographer and creator, with each new assignment I’m asked to create a new and creative world, sometimes one which seems impossible to create.  Yet every single day I rise to the new challenge grateful for the fact that I am creating and dealing with a brand-new world.  You’re invited to look through my site and see a small distillation of my visual, cerebral, and creative worlds.

My clients include the following companies:  HP, J&J, Land-Rover, Neri Oxman, along with an almost infinite number of other Israeli and international industry and technology companies.


The Desire to Teach

I’ve taught for many years, long before I began teaching at Hadassah Academic College.  In fact, I’ve been teaching since age 21, when I ended my army service as a photographer with the military police.  During my years in the reserves, I joined the Education Corps where I offered enrichment lectures for soldiers, particularly in the most neglected parts of the country.  I taught in private art and photography schools and joined the College and the department in 1997.  The desire to teach stems from the understanding that education and sharing knowledge are a supreme value, on the level of a mission, and they are absolutely necessary for the future of our children.  My daughters are growing up in a home where education is paramount and my wife, too, works in the field.  This mission is what led me to establish a technical internship program as well as to develop the concept of business as part of the academic program of studies, recognizing the fact that the world of academia must be as connected as possible with the world beyond itself.  I recall when I myself was leaving college in 1989 and asking myself, “What do I do now?”  Today, students receive, as part of the courses I teach, an extraordinary opportunity to familiarize themselves with the external world through an internship in which they “work” one day a week with volunteer mentors,

learning to understand how the commercial world works, meeting new people and weaving the beginnings of their personal social and business network which will accompany them throughout their professional lives.  It’s important to note that the program is currently operating in its fourth year and about 25 percent of students continue working in paid positions at the end of their internship with these mentors.  This week, I was informed by a student who is doing her internship with a high-level production company in Israel, Mulla Productions, that they’re hoping to hire her—for pay—at the end of her internship, even before she finishes her degree.  As an instructor, educator, and art professional, there’s nothing more satisfying than hearing something like this.