What inspired you to start taking photographs, and what is the primary inspiration for you to keep working in this field?
While I have always been drawn to photography, I saw it merely as a hobby until I stumbled upon an introductory photo class at the Yale art school. I came to the U.S. to study for my LL.M. and J.S.D. degrees (masters and doctoral degrees in law), after being trained as a lawyer in Israel. While writing my dissertation, I took a couple of photography classes that opened my eyes (literally and metaphorically) to the potential of photography as an expressive art form. I think it had a lot to do with my teacher, David Hilliard. I found myself spending hours in the darkroom and later at home - editing and sequencing my work. It felt very different from writing my dissertation, which was intellectually challenging, but didn’t engage me the way photography did.
As I was already quite invested in law, it took me a few years before making the switch, but when I finally did, it just felt as the right thing for me to do. And I guess that this is what keeps me going – the passion and curiosity, and the stories I still want to tell.
In your opinion and experience, how can emerging photographers evaluate themselves as ready to start promoting their works and seek broader exposure for their photographs? What is one vital action you would recommend photographers undertake to find their audience, be included in exhibitions, and gain professional representation?
I think that one is ready to start promoting his or her work when they feel that they have something to say and figured out how they want to say it. A project may not always feel complete, but there is a time when it feels mature and ready to go out to the world.
I don’t know if there is one vital action I can recommend in order to have work out there, other than trying to show it to people in the field who may support it and/or offer viable advice. It can be done in different ways depending on the work, as well as on the photographer’s personality. In my case, a couple of portfolio reviews led me in the right direction.
How did it come about that you achieved the status of successful, professional photographer? What steps were involved in reaching your level of success?
Circumventing the more propound question of defining “success” and the prerequisite combination of hard work and chance, I will refer to 5683 miles away, as this is the project that put me where I currently am. 5683 miles away is a long-term project that was photographed in Israel. When I finally set down to make sense of the work, I realized that due to the variety of images and the layered tale I wanted to tell, the proper presentation for it would be in a form of a book. I created a book dummy and met with Alexa Becker of Kehrer at the portfolio review in Arles, and this is how the book was born. While I was still working on the book, I contacted Bob Gilson of the 92nd Y who offered me a show in their art gallery. The book and the exhibition gained recognition for the work and hopefully will enable me to reach wider audiences down the road.
© copyright all images Yael Ben-Zion