ROEI GREENBERG. ALONG THE BREAK
by Irith Gubi



© Roei Greenberg, Oasis_Kalya (the dead sea has come to life) 2016, from the series 'Along the Break'

Tell us about your approach to photography. How it all started? What are your memories of your first shots?

Roei Greenberg (RG): I grew up in a small Kibbutz in the north of Israel, far from the cultural and artistic center, I was being raised on values of collaboration and hard-working people, so I did not have any background in either photography or arts in general. My first experience with photography was at the age of 17 on a school trip to Poland to visit the holocaust sites. It was also the first time I went on a plane. I took my parents ‘point and shoot’ film camera as I felt the urge to document this journey and I liked it, I felt like the camera gave me some kind of power, a way to express myself and be creative. I remember that I got the developed images back and put them into an album and I was very proud.

I always had a strong attraction to landscape. I believe this is due to the fact that the Kibbutz is located right on the border with Lebanon and I grew up at time of an ongoing conflict over that border, which influenced my approach to landscape. Imagine that you live up on the mountains, surrounded with vast nature, but if you want to take a walk you can only go east or south as the border crosses the land on the west and north. These restrictions of movement in the local landscape later become a key element in my research.


© Roei Greenberg, Minefields Golan Heights 2013, from the series 'Along the Break'

Tell us about your educational path at Minshar Art College?

RG: After a mandatory 3 years army service and another couple of years traveling around the US, Europe and Africa with my camera always by my side, I felt I got to a dead end with photography, when taking pretty images in random places simply was not satisfying anymore. So I moved to Tel Aviv and started a 4 years photography course at Minshar Art College. It was not an easy decision considering my background. It was the first time I came across traditional processes and critical approaches to the medium. It was scary as I realized how much I did not know, but it was also liberating! I loved working in the dark room and to feel the photographic material and learned about many artists which influence my work today.

My relationship with photography at that time was complex, at a time that the medium is questioning its own place, I felt like an outsider insisting going out and practice straight photography of Israeli landscape. It was not “cool” and I had to find my own voice to justify my practice but always thought that I`ll invest in the long term rather than do something “cool”.

Any professor or teacher that has allowed you to better understand your work?

RG: I had a teacher that advised me to look under my nose rather than dream of far away exotic places to photograph. It was at my first year at art school and that way of thinking about photography and story telling, helped me realize the subjects I am interested to examine.

My first body of work 'Kibbutz Monuments' took me back to the Kibbutz I grew up at, a place that consisted of memories and nostalgia together with harsh reality of a change and privatizing what used to be a community where everyone is equal. The ideology of the social community just did not survive the present reality of a country which gradually moved towards capitalism. This series of photographs influenced by my encounter with the typology approach, was chosen in 2012 as one of the 10 best student works in a competition by Google.


© Roei Greenberg from the series 'Kibbutz Monuments'

On my final year at school, while working on my graduate exhibition I found myself going back to my childhood landscapes while dealing with the complexity of places I know so well growing up in the area. I was interested in the relations between places, narrative and identity and was searching for evidence of historical facts, while visiting familiar places, facts which were often not mentioned in the Zionist narrative regarding a place.
In 2014 this body of work called 'Conflict Landscape' won the Sony World Photography Awards, landscape category.

What do you think about photography in the era of digital and social networking?

RG: Well, it’s obvious that photography is exploited in the era we live in, it is almost harder to not take a photo of something than to take a photo, it`s also a great way to communicate and I think that social media created a new language using photos. It is also easier than ever to be a photographer if taking pretty photos is what defines you.. I believe that what defines an artist is the research and dedication. In an era where images are everywhere and changing so rapidly it is even more of a challenge to create images that will last more than a few minutes and will be able to interact on a deeper level, rather than superficial visual information. I think that it requires a more educated audience to read photography today. Everyone nowadays can read and write but can everyone enjoy poetry? Can anyone write a novel?

What do you think about Israeli photography? Is it distinct from photography produced in other countries? In what ways?

I don't know if it is distinct from photography produced elsewhere but I definitely recognize that, Israeli artists are moving more and more into the discussion about the medium of photography and representation, rather than making new images. It is a very small scene and there are not many opportunities and variety of styles on show. 

About your work now, how would you describe your personal research in general?

RG: The physical and metaphorical journey is a main theme in my work, so as part of my practice I am often on the roads. I aim to tell stories in a lyrical way rather than document a certain event or to point an absolute true. I am interested in the gap between a captivating image and the context of a place and its history. A second reading of my images reveals critical and sarcastic point of view, laced with a lot of empathy. The ability of photography to hide just as much as it can show lead to the emotional duality which runs through my works and sews them together into a complex exploration of narratives.


© Roei Greenberg, Scenic Route, Timna Park 2016, from the series 'Along the Break'


© Roei Greenberg, Break Route 90, 2016, from the series 'Along the Break'

Do you have any preferences in terms of cameras and format?

RG: I use a large format 4x5 film camera for my landscape works. Working with such heavy equipment and negatives slows down the process of making an image and can be frustrating at times. Working with films also creates a distance between the emotions I experience when shooting and the final print. The fact that you cannot get an immediate feedback after pressing the shutter button is forcing me to ask questions before taking a photo rather than after, and the special attention to details and nuances is what gives the selected images their strength.


© Roei Greenberg, Kayak, Hula Valley 2016, from the series 'Along the Break'

Tell us about your latest project 'Along the Break'

RG: My latest project titled 'Along the Break' is an ongoing project and is another step in my work toward the lyrical approach of telling a story. The name is taken from the Hebrew translation of geographic phenomena: “The Syrian-African Break” (The Great Rift Valley) which crosses Israel from its northernmost point to its southernmost tip. En route, it carves out the Golan Heights, the Sea of Galilee and the Jordan Valley, the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. This geographic phenomenon also plays a key role in the way physical borders have been placed. It shapes the borders with Lebanon and Syria in the north and the border with Jordan and Egypt in the south.

This journey is a poetic exploration along the topographic boundaries of this geographic phenomenon. It also confronts another layer of a “Break” that this local landscape represents which is a metaphor for the contemporary situation of the Israeli periphery along this route, which seems to share a common destiny. From the minefields of the Golan Heights and the watch towers along the borders, the empty communal kibbutz dining hall and an abandoned resort on the drying shores of the Dead Sea.

My formal approach often correspond with romantic painting and combined with straight photography and detailed prints, create surreal images and transform the everyday objects into sublime monuments which I collect!


© Roei Greenberg, Landscape (painting), Dinning Hall, Kibbutz Yiftach 2015, from the series 'Along the Break'

Is there any contemporary artist or photographer that influenced you in some way?

RG: In my last project, 'Along the Break', I was influenced by American photographers such as Robert Frank, Joel Sternfeld or Alec Soth, dealing with the open road and vast land and imported that notion into the small, restricted with borders, claustrophobic Israeli landscape.

I am also familiar with the work of Israeli artists dealing with the local complicated landscape such as Gilad Ophir, Gaston Zvi Ickowicz, Sharon Yaari and Yaakov Israel and I am sure each of them had influenced my work.

Three books of photography that you recommend?

RG: 'Broken Manual' by Alec Soth, 'American Prospects' by Joel Sternfeld and 'Border Cantos' by Richard Misrach.

Is there any show you’ve seen recently that you find inspiring?

RG: Pieter Hugo “1994” at Yossi Millo Gallery in NYC, large color photographs taken of children born in Rwanda and South Africa after the year 1994, the year of the Rwandan genocides and of the end of Apartheid in South Africa. I was deeply moved with the way the images are so beautiful and touching at the same time, which is the most influential way in which photography can provoke discussion as an art form in our times.


© Installation view, Pieter Hugo '1994', Yossi Milo Gallery, New York

Projects that you are working on now and plans for the future?

RG: I am currently working on developing my ongoing project Along The Break into what I hope will be published as a book in the future. Meanwhile, part of that body of work was exhibited in Fresh Paint 9 in Tel Aviv. A selection of works will be on show at Ildiko Butler Gallery in NYC for the summer of 2017 and I am in contact with the curators of the Athens Photo Festival, they selected my project and I hope to be able to take an active part.  Recently I was accepted to the Royal College in London, MA photography. I will try to raise funding in the next year and hope to be able to start in 2018. I believe that although my work deals with Israeli locality, my audience is not limited to Israel. I have big dreams. 

Do you make a living as a photographer?

RG: I do make a living as a photographer, in addition to selling my art works, I am commissioned for projects. I was invited to do a road trip in the south of the US in the summer of 2015 by an American oil company, photographing the refinery and the towns they are located in. In 2016 I finished a big project about Israeli Achievements in science - commissioned by the Israeli Science department - which was exhibited in the Ben Gurion Airport.

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