Experience

Ohad Matalon: “I lie everywhere and about everything, just for fun”

One of Israel's most prominent contemporary photographers thinks that the language of photography has drastically changed throughout the last decade.

In the last decade Ohad Matalon became one of Israel’s most prominent photographers. In most of his works Matalon researches the changing role of the photography in culture and its influence on our perception of reality. In his quest for answers he combines photography with other mediums using digital techniques to create nuanced, layered and highly thought provoking images, poised between photography and film, between reality and the sublime. Ruth Borshevsky spoke to Ohad about what inspires him, why he showcases his pieces with a projector, and why he wishes that we spent less time looking at screens.

Ohad Matalon, age 42

Currently lives in Tel Aviv. He received an M.F.A. from the Bezalel Academy of Art where he also teaches. His work was exhibited at the Tel Aviv Museum of Art, the Herzeliya Museum of Art, as well as numerous galleries of London, New York, Hamburg, Rome.

You present your images in a rather unusual manner – you create these static projections by a video projector. Why?

It is related to the difference of experience. In a printed photo exhibition there is an object on the wall, which you can take, purchase etc. And when the space is occupied with projections, there is no physical object. As a viewer, you feel the liminal presence of the images, but the only physical object is the projector, so it’s a different mental and emotional experience.

For the first time I decided to try this out in 2010 (project North True, South Bright). I deliberately chose a video projector because it is meant to project moving images, so when you see a static image projected this way, you are subconsciously waiting for a change, and it kind of gives to still photography a timeline, a duration, which photography usually doesn’t have. When you see a projection, in a way it’s alive, there are some fluctuations, slight movements, so it creates the experience where you can forget about the outside world, same as if you were watching a movie or a play.

Is this technique your invention?

Yes, I developed it. A full photo exhibition presented by a video projector, as far as I know, is a new format. I know no artist who had made this before.

How did you come up with the idea?

This idea started from some technical manipulations with negative and positive films. Originally I took a positive image and converted some parts of it into negative. The final image was a mixture of positive and negative. The physical aspect of photography inspired me to think about the state or condition that brings together contradictions and dichotomies: starting from day and night, the real and the surreal, the sublime and the concrete.

I was also thinking about the change of photography from analogue to digital, so I was trying to find the way to reflect upon that change and I wanted to create something in between those two forms. For the North True project I was shooting with an old large format camera, and as I created the negatives I scanned them and then came up with the digital images that are shown through the video projector. The images I created by scanning the negative were crowded with details, each weighting around 1 gigabyte while the largest acceptable file size for the projector is only 2 megabytes.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/north_true_1.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series North True”,
“text”: “From the series North True”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/north_true_3.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series North True1”,
“text”: “From the series North True”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/north_true_5.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series North True2”,
“text”: “From the series North True”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/north_true_6.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series North True3”,
“text”: “From the series North True”
}

Do you expect viewers to react in a certain way when they see your work?

I don’t. What’s important is going through a different experience when you are standing in front of the image. If you step up closer to the projection to see more details, like you do with printed photos, you get confused, because in the case with projection it’s quite the opposite – as you get closer, you don’t see more, you only see more pixels within the image. You are subconsciously waiting for the change that doesn’t happen. As a viewer, you have to invent your own way to observe my work, and create your own experience.

Why do you choose to exhibit your photos at galleries instead of publishing them as a book?

My works were made for space and time, not for books. I care about the experience, not so much about the marketing or the history. The space, the time, the viewers and the physical aspect of art are very important for me. You know, during my future exhibition in Tel Aviv Museum of Art I am planning to create works on the spot, while the exhibition is running. There are so many questions and issues that I’m concerned with – related to the way in which art is being practiced, exhibited, experienced, therefore I do need the space. I might have a piece that I’ll create specifically for a book but I haven’t done it yet.

How do you make your living?

I teach three days a week at three different institutions; the rest of the week I devote to creating. I have some galleries that I work with, but it’s not organized in a contract. They work for a 50% commission. I also have a dealer in Israel. I started teaching at Bezalel Art Academy immediately after I finished my studies. Back then nobody collected my works, so to make a living I got involved into commercial photography. I was mostly documenting other artists’ exhibitions – in museums, in galleries. I don’t do that anymore.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/18-Homage-Indoor-installation-n.28-Ramle-2009.jpg”,
“alt”: “Охад Маталон 1”,
“text”: “Indoor installation. Ramla (Israel), 2009 год.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/7-Tree-top-Outdoor-installation-n.12-Tel-Aviv-2006.jpg”,
“alt”: “Охад Маталон 2”,
“text”: “Outdoor installation. Tel Aviv, 2009 год.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/21-Outdoor-installation-n.31-Paris-2010.jpg”,
“alt”: “Охад Маталон”,
“text”: “Outdoor installation. Paris, 2010 год.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/jordan-valley.jpg”,
“alt”: “Охад Маталон 3”,
“text”: “Jordan Valley.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/hazor.jpg”,
“alt”: “Охад Маталон 4”,
“text”: “Hazor.”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/golan-hights.jpg”,
“alt”: “Охад Маталон 6”,
“text”: “Golan Heights.”
}

How do you define what you are focused on as a photographer?

It would be very general, because my works are very different from each other. Lately I’ve been focusing on the condition of photography, the way it changes, its cultural role, on how it affects people and their perception of things. Needless to say, this definition is very general.

What changes is photography going through and how does it affect the reality?

Photography as well as video, is the crucial aspect of our culture, it educates us, shapes our morality, our mental and emotional structure and controls the way we see and feel the world. A few years ago it was fair to say that we see, feel and interpret the non-mediated (“real”) world in relation to the photographed world, and that we invest an enormous amount of effort to close the distance between these two worlds. Nowadays this notion is gradually losing strength as so many people are spending more time in front of all types of screens than actually in the “real” (the non-mediated) world. So, in many ways, the real world for them is the mediated one, and the distinction between these two worlds does not exist for them. They care more for the way their life is being reflected through their photographs than for their direct and unmediated experiences, which actually do not exist anymore. Looking at it from a Buddhist perspective, this excessive use of photography distracts us from being present in our existence, which leads to increased anxiety, fears and confusion.

I’m unable to predict how the world will change as a result, or even to predict how photography will be changing. But I would be happy to see groups that resist the use of any type of screens and make an effort to live without them. It might be strange to hear it from a photographer, but I truly hope to see that happening.

Looking at it from a Buddhist perspective, this excessive use of photography distracts us from being present in our existence, which leads to the increased anxiety, fears and confusion.

You use a lot of icons, symbols and even clichés in The Zone. What does that do?

In that project I adopted the language of straight photography. You call it straight photography: it attempts to depict things realistically. It can be documentary; it can be staged, but not digitally manipulated. It is what you see; there is nothing between the camera and the print. In The Zone I used the documentary photography, the staged and the digitally manipulated kind. For me the technique doesn’t matter. My approach was: if it’s there – I take it, if it’s not – I make it. So in that project I was reflecting upon the last fifty or seventy years in the history of photography but adding my view and my experience of the place I grew up in, the place I live in, just to understand it through the photographs. I was interested in Israel as a study case; I was focusing on the margins of Israel – geographical, political, social. Of course, the title “The Zone” was inspired by Tarkovsky’s “Stalker”.

In the process I found myself focusing on the icons and symbols, sometimes in a cynical way, sometimes ironically, sometimes overusing them. I did it in order to reflect upon the use of those specific symbols but also upon some realities and phenomena. Because we can’t perceive the whole phenomena, we need concepts, symbols and icons that would give us the answer, but these symbols are always used as a means of manipulation. So it’s about the twisted way in which people, cultures perceive phenomena, ideas, places. I wanted to expose the reality behind the photo, how it is being constructed; and I wanted the viewer to be a bit more alert when it comes to what he sees in the image, a little bit more critical towards my photos, towards images in general, towards this place and how it is being perceived.

So this is your evolution. You used to be closer to straight, realistic photography.

Yes, I am not very active in that kind of work anymore. Sometimes I can run into a situation or a landscape and collect another image. But I stopped being interested in that sort of photography. It’s not just my personal development as an artist; it’s more because the medium, the photography has drastically changed in the last ten years.

In a way this evolution is a logical continuation of what I started doing in The Zone. For that project, as I told you, I used digitally manipulated photos that looked like straight photography. I didn’t care for reality. For me there is a total freedom to tell a story. I am a big liar. I lie everywhere about everything, just for fun. But I don’t think that the truth has a stronger connection to reality than a lie, and the realistic images are not necessarily more real than my images. It depends on many things. I don’t perceive my technique as objecting the reality but as coexisting with it and reflecting upon it.


{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-zone.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series The Zone”,
“text”: “From the series The Zone”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-zone_2.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series The Zone 1”,
“text”: “From the series The Zone”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-zone_5.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series The Zone 2”,
“text”: “From the series The Zone”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-zone_6.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series The Zone 3”,
“text”: “From the series The Zone”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-zone_8.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series The Zone 4”,
“text”: “From the series The Zone”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-zone_10.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series The Zone 5”,
“text”: “From the series The Zone”
},
{
“img”: “/wp-content/uploads/2014/09/the-zone_11.jpg”,
“alt”: “From the series The Zone 6”,
“text”: “From the series The Zone”
}

And how do you develop a project?

I start from thinking about what kind of experience or feeling or thought a certain image constructs in the viewer of my art. But I don’t make a distinction between ideas and images. It’s not like I do actions to serve an idea. The idea is being born with the images.

Reading inspires me to work. My technical decisions are often born from reading. I read a lot about the philosophy of art. Another source of inspiration is traveling. I visit some areas close to the place where I grew up. I am from the South of Israel, from Arad, so I grew up in the desert. After I moved from Arad to Jerusalem and then to Tel Aviv I was frequently going back to the desert taking photos.

My research often begins from running into some things, but many of those I already know. It starts from a cave that I had when I was 10, just a hundred meters from the house into the desert. I used to read in that cave; it was my “house on a tree”. When I was 26, I had a birthday and my best friend took me on a trip to a place that was heavily bombed by air force. It’s a zone where they practiced. I was very inspired by that place. Everybody has his own research, and for me my life is my research. My background, my traumas, my interests, my family places, my fears.

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