INTERVIEW WITH NIR ARIELI

NOVEMBER 2021

Nir Arieli

Nir Arieli began his career as a military photographer in Israel; from the very beginning it is possible to read his great ability to explore the sensitivity of the subjects in portraits.

In his current research he concentrates his artistic experimentation in working with dancers with whom he manages to create an incredible artistic exchange.

In front of the shots the observer is fascinated by the moment of intimacy that reveals the story of the dancers portrayed with their feelings and  emotions.  

All images © courtesy of Nir Arieli

Website: https://nirarieli.com

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 Your biography reads about your beginnings as a military photographer in Israel. How did the evolution of your new artistic phase happen? Are there elements that you find in common between the two phases?

 

 I felt lucky that I could do something creative like photography in my service, It indeed changed my life. I was sent to do both documentary and portrait work. It is then that I learned that I'm not a photojournalist but more of a director, I like to stage and interact directly with my subject.  Supposedly, my work now is completely different. It's about ideas that I'm interested in, people that I choose and themes like dance, which is a million miles away from the military landscape. However, back in the military I was photographing a lot of young men in uniforms who were busy with how their masculinity reflected and how well they can camouflage their volubility, which is considered unnecessary in such an environment. I always had an agenda to find that gentleness and sensitivity hidden in the soldiers I photographed, which is something I do in my current work.

 


 Do you have any work that you are particularly fond of? Some you'd like to take back for a new evolution, for example?

 

 I usually don't have that feeling of wanting to go back to old works. When I'm finalizing a project, it's a very exciting moment and I'm usually at peace with it. It's a "checkmark" for me and I am channeling my energies into making something that I've never done before. Every project is a little piece in a bigger visual essay I'm creating, telling the story of male dancers in particular and sometimes the world of dancers in general. I hope that one day, people could look at this body of work and see how one project evolved to another, how each one of them is a piece of a bigger puzzle, and they would both learn something and share my fascination in the subjects I'm working with.

I don't really have work that I'm fond of more than others.

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Inframen, Kyle Scheurich 

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Tension, Ryan Redmond

 In the Inframen series, the photographic lens reveals the intimate soul of the subjects portrayed, also revealing their fragility. I found amazing the shot dedicated to Kyle Scheurich, in particular, can you tell us something about this series? How do you choose the subjects for your works?

 

 The infrared/ultraviolet processing brings to the surface everything that is in a warm tone, so everything that is under our skin suddenly comes out. Scars, stretch marks and sun damage are turning dark and more visible. This is not a flattering "look", but with the dancers, who are in an excellent physical shape and in their early twenties, it creates a complex contrast and fighting forces. The body is the dancer's tool, it is beautiful but also abused and often injured. It's fascinating looking at it with this light. It also feels like creating a new kind of intimacy of the portrait, stripping someone from not only their clothes, but their skin too.

I invite to the process dancers that I think have the ability to perform a wide range of ideas and emotions. I love dancers that both look unique and are physically intelligent. Oftentimes I work with students from the Juilliard School who are always smart and talented.

 


 What inspires you the most? Which artists have particularly marked your growth?

 

 I like to think that my main inspiration comes from dance. To drop some names, I love contemporary powerful female choreographers such as Sharon Eyal, Crystal Pite and Aszure Barton. When looking at photography I love the work of Adi Ness, Michal Chelbin and Asaf Einy.

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Cedar Lake contemporary ballet

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Flocks, Pontus Lidberg dance

 In one of your interviews you mentioned your strong interest and appreciation in working with dancers, who are themselves artists. Do you think this interaction has offered you a source of inspiration?

 The reason I love working with dancers so much is that they are artists themselves, and are very much collaborators in the process. They just get it. I also think they live a very unusual life and therefore there are many complexities and layers in them, and maybe this is why I don't get bored and keep on creating projects that deal with them and with dance as a medium. Their work ethic is extremely high, they love challenges, and they treat the camera like an audience. So I feel like, in their head, they see all the people that are going to see the work, and they give the best performance, cause they know this moment is frozen in time now and they have only one chance. I think dancers are addicted to the act of performance, and sometimes to be observed. There is a certain catharsis they get that comes along with sweat and hard work, and it is beautiful to watch and an honor to be a part of.  That does inspire me but more than that, it fascinates me, and I have respect for it.


 Can you tell us about the inspiration behind the Flocks series?

 

 It all started with a conversation with my dancer cousin, Tal. He told me something one of his teachers said - "A dancer is always in the ING", I found it quite accurate and interesting, and I started thinking about a project that would investigate what happens after the movement is over, and when the dancer's body is at rest. But I also wanted to shift my focus from creating an intimate image in a one-on-one setting to observing the intimacy created between a large group of individuals, and the dance companies were the natural place to go to. The company is a very intimate and intense environment. The dancers create, practice, perform and travel together. Very close and complex relationships are formed in this social sphere and I found it fascinating. It is the first time I worked with such large groups of dancers and I was interested in what is a company and what kind of identity is formed by a group made out of many individual creatives. I had the image in my head of a "pile of bodies" for a while when a dancer friend from Batsheva dance company contacted me while I was visiting Israel and asked me if I would help them create a poster for an evening of the dancer's choreographies. I wasn't sure if it was physically possible to do it without crushing each other but the dancers didn't hesitate and went for it. I was so happy with the image that I knew that this is going to be my next project. I realized that each company will have a completely different way to approach this task, and I was interested in how that process and result would reflect the company's unique voice.


 Would you accompany the photos with music in an exhibition of your works? What would be the perfect soundtrack?

 I never showed my work with music and don't intend to. In fact, even when I'm making the images, there is no music in the background like many photographers like to use for atmosphere. For me, the silences, the moments of awkwardness, and the time to think are all necessary in order to be exposed and vaolnerable. It's not always the most comfortable but it's a part of my process for sure. 

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Portrait, Paul Zivkovich

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Tension, Ryan Redmond

How much do you think your photography has changed since the beginning of your career?

 When I started my career, I was interested in exploring different kinds of lights and techniques, both in photography and post-production. There is something I miss in that time, and that is the lightness in which I decided to photograph something. Everything was valid and easy. Today I think 7 times before I approach a project. I ask myself if I can say something new, if it's at least good as what I've done before, how is it a progression, and so forth... I make less work now, and my motivation is less about the technique and more about the people I want to work with.

 


 What are your plans for the future? Any exhibitions planned?

 

 There are no exhibitions planned at the moment, but I'm taking part in a dance anthology book that should be published next year; there is a little video collaboration I'm doing with a talented cinematographer and I also hope to give the crypto art and NFT a try this year. I just joined Twitter for it and learning new things every day. Aside from that, my commercial career is taking a significant part of my time and energy, and some of the clients and projects I have there are creative and fun as well.