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Monday, November 20, 2017

An Eye On The World: an Interview with Gilad Benari

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While traditional medias are busy covering topics as significant as whether Miss USA will have to give her title back, or the feud between Donald Trump and Rosie O'Donnell (her "you went bankrupt", him "you're fat and ugly"), talented individuals are quietly working in the shadow and influence the lives of millions. Gilad Benari is one of them.

Gilad is an Israeli photographer, highly respected on www.DeviantART.com, an online art community with over 3.5 million users and over 29 million submissions.
Not only does he regularly submit breathtaking pictures to this website, but he also uses his popularity to shed light on other artists that he believes deserve more exposure. His “Weekly spotlight” lists some of these forgotten pieces of artwork that get lost in our overwhelming world of information. As Gilad puts it himself to conclude his spotlights: “It's amazing to see how much beauty and quality passed unnoticed here in one week”.

This is an opinion I share with him and that's why I decided to cast some light on this very talented artist who influenced my photography as well as many others. Here's to you Gilad.

Hi Gilad, and thank you for granting us this interview. Could you start by telling us a little about you?

Well, I was born in Haifa, a beautiful seaport city in north of Israel. I had the usual course growing up as an Israeli, and that means I finished my high school diploma and joined the army for three years. After the army I started developing my interests and career. I was a D.J. for a while, what lead me to a local radio station where I presented a night show, and did some copywriting for the ads and promos. After a while that copywriting bit became handy for the station managers, and they started sending me with the sales representatives to the clients. I helped simplifying the sale process for them. After a while, I started selling on my own, and that lead to my current career in media marketing, a position I still hold 13 years later.
At a point of this process my creative side, and my business thinking was split between my career on one hand, and my hobby on the other. I started writing short stories and poems (in Hebrew) and dreamed of publishing my writing in a book one day. In 1999 I found the Internet and started submiting my writing to an Israeli web site dedicated to art (like a local DeviantART). In the meantime, I alsp needed to get my career in media marketing going and that's why I moved to the big metropolis - Tel Aviv.
The web site gave me huge satisfaction, and I loved the fact people liked my creative side and connected to it. In 2002 I discovered photography. I bought a small digital camera “Olympus c40” to help me document my newborn son, “Yotam”. That small camera changed my life.

So, that's when you started focusing on photography...

I started combining my writing and the shots I took. I tried to explore photography in a conceptual sense, to help me express and complement my writing. It wasn’t long until my photos got very popular. In late 2003 I got an offer to present an exhibition; I was very flattered.
I decided to make this exhibition a test for my “true talent”. I wanted to see if there was something genuine in my photography, or if it was just a phase I was going through.
I presented the photos with no writing nor titles (my copywriting that made the photos reflect what I wanted). I knew that if my pictures could stand on their own, there could be something real in my visual work. The exhibition was a huge success. I got media converage, lots of visitors and good reviews.
I decided to take myself seriously and made myself two promises. The first was that any money I made out of photography would be put right back into gear and photography. The second was that in 10 years I would be a full time photographer. I decided to take 10 years to make sure I didn't compromise my photography with doing wedding and such to survive, and I could build myself a reputation slowly while providing my family with steady income from my day job in media marketing.
It’s been 3 years now that I’ve been doing that, and it’s going great.

It's very impressive with only 3 years of experience. What gear do you shoot your pictures with?

I use a Nikon D70 as my primary camera.
I use mostly wide angle lenses like the Sigma 10-20 and the Nikon 18-70. I also use Nikon 50mm F1.8 and the sigma 70-200 F2.8.
I use ND filters, and Infra Red filters as well.

I have a small point&shoot camera with me at all times – Nikon 8800.
I use Photoshop CS2 for the basic editing and RAW conversion.

Do you still sometimes shoot with film cameras?

Yes. Film is still a different experience. The dynamic range of film and negatives is still driving me wild sometimes.
I find myself using it mainly when I travel and for B&W street photography. No digital camera can replace that, yet.

Are your shots mostly carefully prepared or spontaneous?

Definitely spontaneous. I never know what I’m going to find when I go shooting. I throw my gear on my back, and just take what ever comes my way. It’s such a wonderful feeling walking the streets, and traveling with a camera in hand. The world looks differently. Everything is potentially a story.

Can't agree more with that. What makes a good picture according to you?

A concept. You got to make a point; express an idea, to make the viewer feel the photo. Sometimes I use my writing to complete a concept in my photos, but I always make sure I have something to say. Without it photography is documentation. With it – it’s art.


Do you have a personal favorite?

My personal favorite is “fishing for stars”
http://www.deviantart.com/deviation/4028266

What is according to you the strength of photography over other types of art?

In most types of art you are making things up. You use your imagination to allow a viewer into your world.
Photography is about using the world around you to share your perspective. You can be standing in the street and simply looking differently at something, like no one around you – That’s my satisfaction as a photographer. Photography allows me to make people enter into my world; a world that is actually the same world they have around them. Nothing is made up.

Do you think Internet and websites like Deviantart can help artists get some exposure and improve their craft through the feedback they receive?

No doubt.
I got over a million people visit my DeviantART page so far. That is a huge number. Without the Internet, and communities like DevianART, getting 2000 people to visit your gallery would be a success, and you would have to be dedicated to being there, promoting it.
Nowadays, everybody has the potential to be an artist and a successful one. You need to be consistent, to be good, and you have to know the “rules” of engaging in a community to do it, but still that makes the art accessible to the non-professional.
I would have never got started in photography if it wasn’t for the community feedback I got at the beginning, and the way it built up is all because of my online galleries.

What do you think of the democratization of photography and the rapid growth of Flickr?

That’s a tricky question.
There is no doubt it helped photography by making it very common, and nowadays most people own digital cameras and upload their photos on-line. However, most of that photography is personal and not artistic.
Photography as an art form was damaged. I mean, if everybody can be a photographer, it becomes so common that galleries prefer not to present it. Photoshop also made photography “unreal” to many, and also damaged its credibility as an art form.
That’s the reason I prefer art communities and not image storage sites. Flickr is good to show an album of the trip you made, and share your family album; if you want your work to be treated as art, by viewers that seek to see art photography, you need an art community.

What made you decide to start your “Weekly Spotlight” on DeviantArt?

When I started submitting my work to DeviantART it was very hard getting noticed in a website based on a huge community of users; everyone wants to get noticed.
Quality photographers are afraid to start, knowing that little attention could damage their reputation and ego (Imagine U2 performing and nobody is coming to the concert…). As a photographer I knew I had to do what I could to keep the quality photographers in the community, and balance the share of page views with starting users, and not only with the already popular users.
When I got to the point I was popular enough, I used my access to my Deviantart friends (people that want to be notified on you new submissions and journals) to share my point of view on “hidden treasures” around DA: the little known artists that submitted wonderful work, but didn’t get the page views that I thought they deserved. I searched the back pages of the photography submissions and found lots of quality work. I started this weekly spotlight not just to show these pieces, but to write a few sentences about what I like in each piece. Maybe that could help others understand my point of view, and see a critique based on more then a simple opinion (like “I like it”), that I felt there was far too much of in DeviantArt.

On your website www.giladbenari.com you are providing Powerpoint presentations titled “A different look at Israel” and you are encouraging people to distribute the pictures around them. Do you feel traditional medias don't cover Israel the way they should?

I do.
My presentations are there for two major reasons. The first is really to tell the world Israel is not just war, conflicts, and political unbalance… Israel is a beautiful country with culture, people, and everyday life, a place like the one they would like to live in. The second reason is simply use the world around me to share my different approach to photography as an art.


You are living in Israel and therefore have a first hand experience of the middle east conflict. What is your vision of the situation, as an Israeli citizen?

I don’t want to get into this, but I do want to say that I do fear.
I am not only an Israeli resident, going through what every Israeli goes through; I also do my reserve duty and get a closer look at the conflict. There are new generations being born on both sides of that conflict. They are being born into hate, and into war. The chance for peace is in the next generations, but it seems like the gap is just getting bigger.
I feel Israel is really doing what it can to find a way out, and of course it doesn’t always look like that. Most Israelis want peace, me too.

What do you think of the new wave of citizen journalism?

I think that it's wonderful. The new Web 2.0 shows us that this is really what we want. We are interested in others' point of view, regardless of their status, professional journalists or not. This world is full of opinions, and if we can learn to listen to others' opinions, and not base ours on the reporter who writes in the newspaper we get every morning – there could be bigger tolerance to others. We all deserve to get heard.

Are you interested in photojournalism?

I don’t see myself as a man with an agenda on political issues. I have opinions, but I try to keep it out of my art and writing. I don’t think I should use my status as an artist to make an argument.

In my opinion, photography, not unlike reporting, is a lot about 'being at the right place, at the right time'. Do you agree?

That’s correct mostly in documentation photography, photojournalism.
Art photography, like most of my work is about thought and perspective.
Of course I still need to be “out there” and capture moments, but I believe that almost every moment is a special moment from a certain point of view. I believe it’s enough to use the time you have, and have good instincts for the world around you – to be at the right place and in the right time.

Anything else you want to add to conclude this interview?

As a closer I just want to say I feel very lucky to have photography in my life.
I feel more profiled and satisfied now that I found it than ever before. I hope good things will happen for me, and that my concept of mixing words and images will be accepted as I see it in my vision.

Toda raba Gilad

For more information about Gilad Benari, go check out his DeviantART gallery at http://gilad.deviantart.com or visit his official website at http://www.giladbenari.com



About the Writer

Ariel is an editor for BrooWaha. For more information, visit the writer's website.
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4 comments on An Eye On The World: an Interview with Gilad Benari

Log In To Vote   Score: 2
By Steven Lane on December 28, 2006 at 11:04 pm
Extremely interesting article for the "newbies", like myself, that are just now experiencing the "look" of photo journalism. I am smart enough to leave the picture taking to the ones that know it. Really top notch, Ariel
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Log In To Vote   Score: 2
By Michal Yehezkel on January 01, 2007 at 04:45 am
Hi Ariel, This was an excellent interview. Gilad truly deserves the "spotlight" since he has shed so much "light" and beauty in this world via his writings and his photography. I am well acquainted with Gilad's art and his "growing" process. I think that one of the reasons for Gilad's blossoming success, besides his obvious talent, sincerity , business sense and gusto, has to do with his positive ATTITUDE. It all starts and ends there. Gilad fishes for stars and also reaches for the stars. Michal Yehezkel
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Log In To Vote   Score: 1
By Annonymous on January 03, 2007 at 02:38 pm
Gilad is one of the best photographers at deviantART. his work is so... Amazing! thank you G for being here. http://www.inblinks.com/
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Log In To Vote   Score: 2
By Lindbergh Baby on February 23, 2007 at 07:36 pm
That was an excellent interview, thank you.
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