Cover Feature:

Tel Aviv

By Payal Khandelwal • Issue 5, December 2017

Tel Aviv is the second largest city in Israel and one of the most modern, vibrant and secular cities in the world. To take a plunge into this highly fascinating city, the name of which means ‘Hill of Spring’ in Hebrew, we turned to three creatives who call Tel Aviv their home.

Ido Biran is a photographer who extensively documents the daily life of the city through his Instagram project Tel-Avivi. In fact, he also conducts tours to help people unearth some hidden treasures of the city, like street art in completely unexpected places. Photographer Dudy Dayan feels that he has a love-hate relationship with the city but its character makes him feel alive. Both Ido and Dudy have made the city their playground – most of their work is either derived from or deeply inspired by their observations and experiences in Tel Aviv. For illustrator Ofra Amit, the city’s chaos provides a good contrast to her isolation at work. We spoke to all of them about their unique relationships with the city, their favorite districts, and their recommendations for those who are curious to explore the contemporary visual culture of Tel Aviv. Read on:

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Ido Biran, photographer and founder, Tel-Avivi

Tell us about your association with Tel Aviv?

I grew up in a city next to Tel Aviv called Herzelia. As a kid and an adolescent, Tel Aviv was like this “big city” for us. While growing up, we used to often take the bus to come here to play video games. Also, my father and grandfather were working here when I was a kid, and I used to join them during the summers. It was a really nice experience.

Then I moved here when I was 21. I studied cinema at the Tel Aviv University, and in 2004, I had my first solo exhibition here which kicked off my city exploration. The exhibition was about the stencil street art in Tel Aviv and was called ‘Shablona’, the Hebrew word for stencil.

Shablona exhibition

How did Tel-Avivi project start?

So in between, I also moved to the US for a few years to study architecture, and then came back to Tel Aviv in 2012. I then worked at an architecture firm for two years. After a while, I realized that I didn’t want to continue doing that and I decided to quit my job. This was when I started roaming around the streets of Tel Aviv with my camera.

I was just observing the city, and being a tourist in my own town. Being an actual tourist in the US while I was studying there made me look at my city and surroundings in a new way. And with my camera, I was capturing things that attracted me – interesting people, street art, architecture, etc.

Tel-Avivi kind of evolved on its own while I was making it. It started as an artistic exploration/documentary project – looking for some meaning for myself in the city. I loved walking around a lot, and I was doing something that enjoy the most – photography. Photography is something I left for a long time because I was studying cinema and then architecture, but it has always remained my main passion. Tel-Avivi, therefore, is a combination of my love for photography, architecture, and Tel Aviv.

Is there any interesting experience during the initial days of Tel-Avivi that you can share with us?

I guess the interesting thing was that I found several abandoned places in the city which had some really amazing street art. Not many people were aware of this. Another thing I enjoyed was viewing the city from high above. I used to sneak into these construction sites of huge buildings and take the staircase (climbing 30-40 floors sometimes) just to get a view of the city from above. I wanted to have a unique perspective and I loved the adrenaline rush.

Photographs from Tel-Avivi project

The project Tel-Avivi kind of evolved on its own while I was making it. It started as an artistic exploration/documentary project – looking for some meaning for myself in the city.

How do you see the project panning out in the future?

I am currently working on a book based on Tel-Avivi explorations. From 13000-14000 pictures in the project, I shortlisted about 1000 and printed them in 8X10 cm frames. I am currently editing the book, and have cut the final number of these photos to just 250 now. I will probably do a fundraising campaign for the book soon. I am still figuring it all out, but my main goal is to make this book to conclude my work of documenting the city for the last 3-4 years and to then move on to a new project.

For my next project, I want to focus on Jaffa. Tel Aviv and Jaffa are combined into one municipality but basically Jaffa is an ancient city and Tel Aviv is just over 100 years old. For Tel-Avivi, I mostly documented Tel Aviv, so now I want to document Jaffa through a new project.

What are your recommendations for someone who wants to explore the contemporary visual culture in Tel Aviv?

There are several interesting districts that recently went through a gentrification phase. So there is the Florentine neighborhood which has a really rich street art scene. I recommend visiting this area as soon as possible since many of the buildings with some beautiful street art are being demolished to build new and higher buildings. I also conduct tours in this evolving area.

Another nice area is the Levinsky neighborhood which has a great food scene and some nice street art. I recommend visiting Kiryat Hamelacha area as well. It’s got a lot of small galleries, artist studios, and some beautiful and huge street art too.

 

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Dudy Dayan, photographer

Tell us a bit about your association with Tel Aviv. 

After my military service, I moved to Tel Aviv when I was 21 and have lived here ever since (except for a short period of time when I moved out of the city). I studied photography in Tel Aviv, and have experienced the city by shooting its daily life and people. The city of Tel Aviv, its culture, night life and unique personas – along with my religious beliefs – have helped my spirit come alive through the photos.

How has your relationship with the city evolved over the years? How does it inspire you/your work? 

I have always had a love-hate relationship with Tel Aviv. The non-stop life and the never ending temptations have made me feel so alive. And looking at this kind of living through my camera gave me the opportunity to be an outside observer.

One of my main inspirations is the streets of this city. Wandering the streets, mostly in the south part of the city where I live and have my studio in, gave me a whole new world of references to deal and get involved with. The south part has a mixture of people and religions that are different from any other part of the city, which made me look for the unique combination of high and low parts of the society in my photo shoots. Also, the society and the street fashion here are quite different. People wear their personalities, and show it from the inside out.

Photographs by Dudy Dayan

What are some of your favorite places/districts in Tel Aviv, and why?

My favorite places in Tel Aviv include the beach, which is an integral part of Tel Avivians’ lives, and I use it as a place to find some quietness and peace of mind. Another quiet place I like going to is the library of Tel Aviv Museum of Arts. I like spending my time there looking for inspiration and reading art books and magazines. I also find the Great Synagogue a very inspiring place. I like its atmosphere, and watching people pray there makes me feel connected to my roots. As a little kid, I used to see my grandfather going to the Synagogue and sitting there for hours, and I never understood why he went there. But now I do. Watching all the people there feels like a closure to me.

The people in Tel Aviv are very colorful and unique, and I see a lot of beauty in the unusual. Whenever I find interesting people, I ask them to come to my studio for a shoot. And these photographs will be a part of my new exhibition about people and life, and about the gap between a person and a place. This exhibition will also include a new photography book that will be out soon.

I always had a love-hate relationship with Tel Aviv. The non-stop life and the never ending temptations have made me feel so alive.

Tel Aviv’s photographs by Dudy Dayan

What are your recommendations for someone who wants to explore the contemporary visual culture in Tel Aviv?

Usually, Thursday nights in Tel Aviv are filled with open nights at galleries. The art scene here is very diverse, but what I like the most is the underground scene, such as Milk and Honey magazine by MOO&AR studio which combines good taste with some provocative and new perspective, featuring works of Israeli artists.

 

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Ofra Amit, illustrator

Tell us a bit about your association with Tel Aviv.

I was born and grew up in a town in central Israel. Tel Aviv was not a part of my childhood. I only remember one summer during which my friend and I (then about 10 years old) used to take the bus to Tel Aviv daily, get off the main street, and walk for about 1 km through the boulevard towards the beach where the open-air Gordon swimming pool was, a pool which was famous for its cool salty sea water. My friend’s father was the pool’s manager, so we had a free entrance, and that’s how we spent that whole summer.

Many years later, I moved to Tel Aviv and have now lived here for about nine years. And co-incidentally, I live very close to my childhood memory of Tel Aviv – 500 meters away from that pool which I have been swimming in almost every single day for several years now.

Of course, everything has changed. The sand of the boulevard has been covered with paved paths and bike trails; its kiosks have been turned into cafes; the pool has been rebuilt and redesigned; and there is more traffic, more people, more noise, more everything. The only thing that has remained the same is the cool salty sea water.

How has your relationship with the city evolved over the years? How does it inspire you? 

Throughout my adult life I have lived in several places, but Tel Aviv is the place I have stayed in for the longest time. This city can be harsh sometimes and it’s got its drawbacks, but it’s also got charm, and above all, Tel Aviv is a symbol of secularism, tolerance and acceptance of others. I feel most comfortable living and working here.

I am not sure about how this city inspires me. I guess in some ways it does. However, the very basic human issues like Love, Fear, Sadness etc. are location-independent, and I think my artistic attitude echoes this universality.
My swimming routine is sometimes a good tool for thinking and coming up with creative ideas. Also, Tel Aviv in general – with its noisy, crowded streets and its extreme diversity – mostly serves as a good contrast to balance my quiet, lonesome hours of work. I like the motion between these two poles.

Artworks by Ofra Amit

This city can be harsh sometimes and it’s got its drawbacks, but it’s also got charm, and above all, Tel Aviv is a symbol of secularism, tolerance and acceptance of others.

What are some of your personal favorite places/districts in Tel Aviv, and why?

The beach is beautiful, especially in the autumn when the water is warm and peaceful. The boulevards of Tel Aviv are great because you can walk or bike through them from the north-west to the south of the city, and they are relatively “informal” compared to the city boulevards in many other places in the world. You can just sit there all day and watch all kinds of people pass by with their bikes, dogs, etc. That can be inspiring.

I also like the Levontin street area with its cafes and the most beautiful bookshop, Hamigdalor. My favorite bar is The Nilus in Allenby street which used to be a hotel’s lobby in the past. It’s got a 50’s chic vibe, warm atmosphere, and cool simplicity.

What are your recommendations for someone who wants to explore the contemporary visual culture in Tel Aviv?

I recommend Hachalalit Gallery in Hayarkon 70. It’s hidden in an old, neglected-looking apartment building, and is a part of a social cultural center that’s spread across two floors and a rooftop.

The Florentin neighborhood in southern Tel Aviv is known, among many other things, for its intense street art. I also recommend Levinsky Market in Florentin which is a great cultural experience in itself.

Ben Gurion BLVD

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