Finding Tel Aviv’s Heart.

Well, after the hassle of industrial action at Ben Gurion airport meant that I was delayed arriving in the UK by six hours, subsequently missing the last train home and thus flying out on my all-expenses-paid weekend trip to Barcelona, I have begun the process of recharging my batteries and adjusting to normal life.

The trip saw me first spend a week in Tel Aviv, then off to Jerusalem for a week. I also spent some time in Palestine. Whenever I could I was out with my camera. The weather was unyieldingly hot which, whilst many people’s ideal, was far from mine. It may be my Scottish blood but I much prefer the cold. I found myself struggling to concentrate on my creative side – a process difficult at the best of times.

In Tel Aviv I had the added restriction that I was there on a company funded training course and so, as eager as I was to be out and about, that had to take priority. As my old boss once said to a friend and colleague of mine: “Work life pays for home life”. Yes, with the course finishing at 6-6:30PM and sunset at approximately 8PM, photography in Tel Aviv was a fast and furious affair. Whilst nothing focusses the mind like the tick-tock of a clock, there was still the practicalities of getting from A to B to consider.

As a city, and this is in no way a criticism, Tel Aviv is pretty much the same as many other coastal Mediterranean cities, which makes photography both easy and complex. Easy in that the same type of shots that work in one city will work in another – cookie-cutter photographs; complex in that it is difficult to take a photograph that is different. As my photography has matured, I have long since stopped taking photographs that (1) are the standard tourist fare and (2) similar to photographs that someone else has taken, unless I believe I can do it better.

I’m fascinated by street art (or graffiti if you prefer) and Israel has a thriving street art scene. I’m going to write a separate piece on street art in Israel, but as I arrived in Tel Aviv, my primary objective was to shoot the street art. The other objectives were more vague – having just returned from Iceland and work consuming my evenings and weekends meant little time for researching the trip to Israel. But, in the end I became fascinated by two locations in Tel Aviv.

The first was the Azrieli Centre; a complex of three skyscrapers whose geometric simplicity is quite striking. More on this is a separate post.

The second was the beach. The last time I was on a beach (a few weeks ago) it was in Iceland at the top of the North Atlantic with ice cold water and a biting wind. This was an altogether different experience with a warm, yet cooling breeze and the much more temperature waters of the Mediterranean. My immediate feeling when I saw the beach was the it felt like everyone was there; the young, the old, the in between. joggers, volleyball players, surfers, people lounging in bars, people sitting on the golden sands, people still dressed in office clothes. Name a demographic and it was probably on the beach somewhere. To me the beach was the heart of Tel Aviv, right on the edge where land had run out.

As the beach is generally west facing, the sun set over the sea, making for the classic tourist shot of the sun hitting the horizon. As this kind of shot is a bit of a tourist cliché, it was not one that I was interested in and, to be perfectly honest, I don’t think I could take a very good one anyway. But a west-facing beach did mean one thing – a chance to do something creative with silhouettes. I like silhouette photography. A silhouette in a photograph can hide the fine detail that humans automatically look for upon seeing another human such as eyes, mouth, skin colour and symmetry. A silhouette becomes everyone. It becomes you.


Taking photographs of people can be a great way to break the ice. 1/750 sec, f/11 ISO 100

Taking photographs of people can be a great way to break the ice.
1/750 sec, f/11 ISO 100

So I found a suitable spot, set up camera and waited. The problem was, as mentioned, the beach is so popular and finding an uncluttered shot was an exercise in patience. In the end it took about an hour and 40 or shot shots to get one I liked, but when it happened I immediately knew that it represented how I saw Tel Aviv; young, healthy and enjoying life.

Of course, people become curious when  you set up a camera and, unlike a regular tourist, don’t move on after a couple of minutes. Over the course of the hour I got talking to a number of people, including a wonderful older guy and the couple above.

So, yes Tel Aviv in many ways is no different from other coastal Mediterranean cities I have been to, but the relationship that the inhabitants of Tel Aviv have with their beach does appear more intimate, perhaps even symbiotic. After all, what good is a beach without footprints in the sand?


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