Wavepool – Can you give me a brief introduction to your background in photography? Why is it an appealing medium for you to work with?
Yoav Friedlander – There are two parts to my background in photography – the passive phase and the active phase. Ever since I was a little boy I was obsessed with cameras, photographs as well but my obsession was cameras. As a child I adored professional made photographs that I found in postcards, magazines and posters, and my obsession was with the cameras. I imagined that the equipment, the tool, was magical and had the capabilities of creating this hyper reality that I saw in photographs. I remember directing my father (at the age of 8) to capture a staged photograph of me jumping over a small water stream. I had a certain idea of how the image should have looked, a fantasy based on other photographs that I saw, yet the attempt resulted with an image that was far from my expectations. The first camera I owned was digital, again I believed in a magic that transforms the reality into fantastical images. At the age of 18 I joined the Israeli Army for a mandatory service of 3 years. I started my service as a combat warrior in the paratroopers, and I sneaked in my camera and a phone capable of capturing images (that was very new at the time) hoping to capture images of places and situations I had no access to outside of the army. That was my passive phase, although I was taking pictures I could have not seen through the matrix of the medium. Immediately after my army service ended I started my studies for a BA at Hadassah Academic College Jerusalem and through my MFA from the School of Visual Arts in New York and until now I am in my active phase. I am making conscious photographs, by being aware to the influence photography has on our perception of reality.
Wavepool – What is your project Unquestioned about? What is important about the spaces that are photographed?
Yoav Friedlander – Unquestioned, as the name of the project implies, was my attempt to stop and put a question mark on certain aspects of Israel, the place I grew up and lived in for 26 years. Israel was built fast, a new country with an old history. There was a need to pour content into the empty desert landscapes. We came back from a diaspora around the world and in an act of copy and paste we’ve rapidly filled the missing. I was interested in human engagement with nature and urban environment. I photographed the landscape of Israel, which was hastily urbanized within a span of a century. I photographed in places or environments infused by collective dreams of an aspired reality, yet baring traces of a temporary or transitory reality, sense of deterioration and human signs of atrophy. I constructed and staged each frame, often applying technical processes in post-production as a means to accentuate a state where symbols replace what they represent.
The importance of the spaces I photographed was the surreal or mysterious question mark they create. In Israel question marks are dangerous; they might affect the legitimacy of having a Jewish state in the Middle East. If you doubt one aspect of the country you might as well doubt it all. My main interest wasn’t political, but cultural. I photographed places and spaces that seemed like someone is trying to recreate a reality in a new place by copying it from an existing realty in another. The tennis/basketball court in the desert, or the multiplicity of plants in pots, it seemed to me as if we are cloning the appearance but lacking the sensitivity to adjust to the place we are applying the process to.
As a photographer I suspected that the origin of many of these unfitted spaces and places are in photographs. It seemed to me that photographs carry partial instructions of how to recreate a reality, yet they carry mainly the facade with them, and the facade is what I found mismatching Israel as a place in the Middle East. Therefore I’ve used photographs to put a question mark.
Wavepool – In what ways did your move from Israel to the United States change your conceptual interests or aesthetic as an artist?
Yoav Friedlander – My move to the States has flipped my perception over. Israel is Americanized hence a big portion of my cultural structure is based on American media. I grew up with American concepts; I’ve studied photography learning mainly about the American history of photography and about American photographers. Moving over to the United States had me facing and comparing the actual place and the actual culture with the one that was mediated to me through television, cinema and photographs. It made me wonder what is Americanization? What actually is being transferred and imported through image based media? I’ve since taken a unique strategy – my photographs are a result of accumulation of all other photographs that came before. My experiences of places are a response to the comparison I make of how their predecessors (the images of the place itself and places similar to the one I am photographing) were perceived through their images. I am not sure I am capable of seeing a place in America without referencing images as the origin of their familiarity to me. For me, as an Americanized foreigner, The United States of America originated in photographs, and only second comes the place itself. That I understood only by moving from Israel to the United States.
Wavepool – Your project A Form of View includes constructed images, something that isn’t present in your previous work. Why was it important to introduce a new way of photographing? What do these constructed images add to the conversation?
Yoav Friedlander – I started making models only when I had no access to Israel. After I moved to the United States, I started being aware of how integral war is in Israel and how surreal it appears to be. I wanted to share my provisions with my American friends, but I couldn’t go at the time back to Israel. The idea of making a model based on memories and images that will represent Israel from a surreal point of view came to mind. Only after starting making these models and perfecting different methods and levels of construction I started figuring out how essential this process is to my practice. My models are made in reflection and in reaction to photography in itself. Using models I can access places I don’t have access to using every photograph ever taken as the instructions for constructing an inaccessible space and then photographing it, or by recreating a place I cannot visit by building a model of it according to photographs and photographing it after from my perspective so I can deliver my message. These models act much like photographs. They miniaturize a reality, space or an object; they share an indexical relation to the origin. Both enable external observation of a reality’s proxy.
My models range from the very simple and symbolic to ones that are detailed and seamless. They have different functions intended for them, from inviting the viewer to recognize the scene by using other images he or she has a vocabulary, or by deceiving the viewer where he or she is unable to tell if what they see is a straight photograph or a constructed image. What I want to achieve is the awareness of the viewer to the influence photography has on his or hers perception of reality.
Wavepool – Is a photograph ever a truthful document?
Yoav Friedlander – A photograph’s truth is based on belief. If it is a testimony to a moment we were absent from; if it is an evidence of a place we haven’t been to, and couldn’t have reached to, we need to believe in its truth. Our eyes can see clearly what appears in a photograph, and we must believe our eyes in order to survive, yet the question remains is what is the context?
I had this idea once to give a false caption to an image, to see what would be the reaction of a person to the false context the image is presented in. The result is quite obvious, the image visually reflects what seems to be real (as long as we can, in some way, compare it with a reality we’ve seen outside of photographs) and the argument is less of the visual integrity but the content it allegedly shares with us. Almost anything could have happened, and may have been photographs, it is the implications and the future reaction or belief as a result of us believing in the truth of a certain image that makes images a complicated form of document. When we send a photographer to a war front we are putting him on to missions at once, see for us what we cannot see where we cannot be, share with us your perspective, and may it be loyal to truth. Images are the best and worst vehicles for transporting reality, as they are the closest we have to the real visually therefore they are the most deceptive. Is a photograph ever a truthful document? Yes, if you believe in what it bears and the context it is presented with.
Wavepool – You’re a recent graduate of the School of Visual Art’s MFA program. What was the most significant thing you learned while in graduate school?
Yoav Friedlander – Not to be afraid of failure. The fear of failure makes us take less chances, prevents us from facing our demons, and stops us from asking questions about our own practice and our own work. Failure puts in bold what is successful, and explains why a thing was successful in the first place. The best lesson I’ve learned, from the School of Visual Arts, is that you may have failed in what you’ve wished to achieve but you’ve ended with a better result than you could had consciously imagined or hoped for.
I only started making miniatures by failing (and knowing that I am going to fail) in my first attempt at making them. My inability, and lack of skills, taught me more about photography than I could ever have dreamed of through the simplicity of the structures I could have made. They were so simple, that you could suddenly see the skeleton of the medium.
To see more, please visit Yoav’s website.