Israel, With a Knowing Wink

Gan HaShlosha National Park(Israel) -Photo by Alex Levac

There is no shortage of news photographers in Israel nor news for them to cover. There are so many, indeed, that they often have to work to keep other photographers out of their frames.

But Alex Levac, 67, is no longer among them. Instead, he wanders the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem looking for the little moments — humorous, offbeat or ribald — that are his trademark.

“I really see myself as anthropologist of the street or a paparazzi of the anonymous,” he said. “I do not want to call myself a historian, but I want people to look at the pictures in 50 years and see something about Israeli society.”

In 1981, Mr. Levac became a staff photographer for the daily newspaper Hadashot. When it folded in 1993, he moved over to Ha’aretz. But he found news photography too predictable and covered it less and less over the years. Now he only does personal street photography for a weekly column in Ha’aretz in which he presents a single image reflecting the eccentricities and contradictions of Israeli life.

So what is an Alex Levac photo?

“Not just informative,” he said. “There has to be a little wink in it. It’s not very clear. You can decipher it in your own way. You can play with your imagination while you figure it out.”

Mr. Levac was born in Tel Aviv in 1944. He lived and worked as a photographer in Brazil, England and the United States before returning to Israel. He feels he is able to make better photographs in his native country. “I understand every nuance of the slightest gesture,” he said. “In other countries, you miss things because you are a foreigner.”

In 2005, he won the prestigious Israel Prize. “No other photographer is as involved as Alex Levac in the Israeli experience,” the judges said. “He has commitment and discipline and an original and penetrating, sometimes ironic, view of Israeli reality.”

As for his working style, Mr. Levac tries to blend in while photographing. That’s not always possible.

“You know what Israelis are like,” he said. “They’ll ask what you’re doing, what’s so special about this. They’ll say, ‘I think you should take pictures of flowers’ or something else. And, of course, sometimes they’re right.”

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2 thoughts on “Israel, With a Knowing Wink

  1. These are just wonderful! Absolutely delightful. ‘He shoots, he scores!’ These photos will endure. He has nailed a slice of life that I haven’t seen from any other Israeli photographer. This is street photography at its most lovely. Not every photo that comes out of Israel should be grim or depressing. These are a breath of fresh air. Good work.

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