Ohad Zwigenberg: “I Would Like to Destroy Stereotypes About Jewish People”

After serving in the army Ohad Zwigenberg was employed as a Duty Free shop assistant on a cruise liner. His first photographs were the sunsets in the Mediterranean Sea that impressed his friends. After he came ashore, Zwigenberg had many jobs not related to photography, but he always knew he would become a photographer. Eventually he got the first order for a photoshoot from the local newspaper Yedioth Modiin, and started working with Ynet.co.il, which is one of the biggest news websites in Israel. Today, Zwigenberg photographs mostly street meetings, protests, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and religious ceremonies.

Ohad Zwigenberg talked with Bird in Flight about when religion is dangerous, whether a photographer should be saving lives and why many people don’t want to live in Jerusalem.

Ohad Zwigenberg

An Israeli documentary photographer who lives in Jerusalem. For four years his works have been exhibited and have won the Israeli photography contest “Local Testimony” (a local version of World Press Photo). Ohad regularly exhibits his photographs in personal and group exhibitions in Israel. He shoots for a the Israeli newspaper Yedioth Ahronoth publishes in Time magazine, The New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Paris Match.

You have to sacrifice a lot to become a real news photographer. First, you have to agree to work for a low salary.

I don’t have a special education. I developed a photographer in myself. The turning point was my father’s illness. He had cancer. At that time I had to be a son, take care of him and help him, and I decided to make it into a photo-story. I decided that if I want to be a photographer — it’s time. For seven months I looked at him through the lense. I documented everything.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_01.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “June 20, 2012. One of the bodyguards of the president of the Republic of Cote d’Ivoire during the economic conference. “}

A good photograph for me means it makes you want to look at it for more than three minutes and think.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_06.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “The graves of Israeli army soldiers and the shadows of those who came to honor their memory.”}

I try to tell a story in one frame. I want spectators to feel they are inside the picture, to feel the atmosphere and the energy of what is going on.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_02.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_03.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “Christians in the Old City in Jerusalem.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_04.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “August 14, 2013. Protest of the Orthodox Jews against building residential homes on the lands where, according to them, Jews were buried.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_05.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “August 14, 2013. Protest of the Orthodox Jews against building residential homes on the lands where, according to them, Jews were buried.”}

I am scrupulous and I avoid unnecessary elements in the picture. An example of the unnecessary element would be a tourist with his i-Phone in the background of a religious ceremony.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_07.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “Ethiopian Christians during the Qasr al Yahud baptising ceremony in the Jordan river.”}

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_08.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “Purim holiday.”}

Many street photographers do a lot of post-production and it changes the meaning of the photographs. The result they get are pictures taken out of context, that do not convey any information.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_09.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “A street meeting at the Wailing Wall after kidnapping of the three Israeli soldiers. It says ‘shamor’ on the chairs, which means occupied, ‘reserved’.”}

I’ve been photographing Jerusalem for seven years. Almost always when I walk along the street I have a camera in my hand and I am ready to make a picture. You never know what is waiting for you around the corner.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_14.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

There is a law in Israel — you can photograph everything that is going on in the street. If someone asks you to stop — you have to stop. Whatever you shot before they asked is yours. But before every publication you need to think very well about what will happen if this photo gets in the newspapers.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_10.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “Children in carnival costumes during Purim holiday.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_11.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_12.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “The answer of ultra-orthodox Jews to the supporters of secular Israel who protest against the segregation of men and women in the districts where ultra-orthodoxes live.”}

Several years ago a terrorist came to a Jewish school in France and started shooting. A teacher and three kids died. Their bodies were brought to Israel. This is a closed place, I couldn’t be there, but I was allowed to take photographs. They didn’t say anything, but they gave me an allowing look. These photographs were printed in the French press.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_13.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

I am not religious, my family is not religious, but I live among believers and this topic is interesting to me. I often face ethical choices. If I saw a person praying in the middle of the road during Sabbath a couple years ago, I would photograph them without a second thought. Now I debate with myself whether this shot is worth breaking the Sabbath of a believer. And if it is — I take the picture.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_15.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

There are a lot of good and bad things about religion. Religion becomes dangerous when people let it govern their lives and don’t ask questions. The eyes of the believers are often blind.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_16.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

There was a big protest against conscription about a year ago. There are many ‘levels’ of religious Jews. People in this photograph think that a man should not serve, work or pay taxes — only read Torah. This is a big issues in our society. Public transportation still doesn’t run on Sabbath and almost all the shops are closed. This is why many people don’t want to live in Jerusalem.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_18.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

The whole country wears costumes on Purim, just like this little girl in a wedding dress. Everyone thinks that the woman in black is Muslim. But she is Jewish, and she is not wearing a costume. These women are called “Taliban.” This is a new cult that keeps gaining more female followers. They think that a woman has to be modest and cover themselves with black cloth completely. Someone told them that this is right, and these women ask no questions, and dress their daughters like this as well. And this is dangerous.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_20.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

Some time ago my friend and I went to the market to buy fruit. Suddenly I saw two Arab youngsters and a Jewish man. They started fighting. I froze for a second and then I pulled my camera out and made a shot. There were many people around, I understood that someone else will top them now, and my job is to make a picture.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_21.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “December 17, 2013. Demonstration of Sudanese and Eritreans who ask for refuge in Israel.”}

This is an important question for all documentary photographers: if you see that the person might die, will you help them or continue making pictures? I would like to think that I will continue making pictures. And then — yes, will help them. I don’t know what I would actually do.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_23.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

If I could travel in time, I would go to shoot WWII. I am not looking for catastrophes, but I know that they happen. And as a photographer I would like to have a camera on me in those moments. Not even for ‘beautiful’ pictures — these are the important events that need to be documented.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_22.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

A photographer has to be a fly on the wall. Observe, but not be present. There are ceremonies and meeting where the press is not allowed. Sometimes I sneak into the middle of events like a snake.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_24.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_25.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_26.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

The Jews can’t come to Palestinian territories that are controlled by Hamas. But we go there to work. We meet a guide at the arranged location, get in the car with Palestinian license plates, hide our documents, make sure there are no signs in Hebrew anywhere, change our phones into English. People at the nearby mosque are yelling, “Kill the Jews!” And we are among them. A split second, one mistake, and I am not a photographer anymore, but fear makes you focused.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_27.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

Once I was photographing a Hamas demonstration in Nablus. Someone asked the reporter who was standing next to me if he had a light. He reached into his pocket, but then remembered his lighter had an Israeli flag on it. If they saw, we probably would be gone in less than a minute.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_29.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_28.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

There are Palestinian photographers who know me, and know that I’m Jewish, and they cover my back on Arab territories. We are friends, recently had a barbeque together.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_28.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

The Jews also yell, “Let’s kill the Arabs!” And then I do everything possible to help my Arab friends, who photograph Israeli holidays or protests. I think it’s what real life is.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_30.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “The funeral of the three refugees from Kalandia refugee camp killed during clashes with the Israeli army.”}

What would I like to tell the world about Israel? We are not as bad as you may think when you read the news. The news are far from being objective. There are a lot of bad things going on, but there are even more wonderful, good things. All the photographers in England photograph another child of the princess. This is boring. You can’t blame Israel for being boring. There are a lot of misconceptions about Israel, a lot of stereotypes about the Jews. I would like to ruin them with my photographs.

{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_31.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “A boy in a costume, Purim.”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_32.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “Slut Walk — an annual events, where the participants demonstrate against violence and for the right of every person to look ‘however they want.’ The reason behind The Walk was the phrase a police officer shouted to female students at York University in 2011, ‘Women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimized.'”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_33.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”},
{“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/Ohad-Zwigenberg_34.jpg”, “alt”: “”, “text”: “”}

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