Every now and then, one is pleasantly surprised. It happens out of the blue and it’s the last thing in the world you expect. This particular surprise happened just over three months ago.
Professor Shlomit Paz, a climatologist with interests in climate change, environment, and environmental health and recently elected Head of the Department of Geography and Environmental Studies at the University of Haifa, where I have been employed in one capacity or another for the past 45 years, sent me an email. It wasn’t the receipt of an email from Shlomit that astonished me but its contents.
In it, she wrote “I have been thinking of how to improve the dull appearance of the department’s seminar room with its blank and depressing walls …”. She then wrote: “I had the idea of asking you to present a permanent exhibition of your photographic work. … We’re talking of about 8-10 pictures of your choice in different sizes. I suggest that [they] represent your conception of the term “geography” or, of course, any other idea you might have (these are only preliminary thoughts …).”
I thought she might be joking and that someone might have put her up to this to wind me up — but Shlomit’s a serious person and she wouldn’t do anything as frivolous as that, would she? So I checked with one of my colleagues who acts as my informant on the odd occasion I still want to know what’s happening there and he confirmed that there had been a discussion in the department, that nobody had objected, and that there was apparently a small budget for printing and framing, so …
… a few minutes later, I responded with:
“Well, well, well — recognition at last! That really would be nice! All your own idea — or have you talked about this with others? OK. Let me think about which of the 40,000+ pictures on file might work. Probably the best way to go about it would be for me to select maybe 30-50 pictures from which we could choose the 8-10 that might work and then we can talk about it. Thanks for thinking of me.”
I was bowled over. I was astounded. I was nonplussed. In actual fact, I was very pleased. The department had bought one of my pictures a few years ago, which hangs in the departmental office and I’d offloaded a few surplus pictures after she-who-must-be-obeyed informed me that after our flat had been redecorated a couple of years back that although I could hang some of my pictures around the place, I mustn’t cover the walls with them. However, the last thing I had expected was an invitation like this.
Now, in gross understatement, Shlomit is no slowcoach. Her turnaround time to each of my suggestions or queries over the next few weeks was generally under 24 hours, more often within the hour. Moreover, I soon learned that she expected me to behave accordingly, which has never quite been my style. Somehow, I sent her over 80 images and she culled them so that just about half remained, which she then sent to the current faculty members, administrative staff and graduate students, asking each to select the 10 images they preferred. The result of the poll formed the basis on which the images were selected. In the event, 12 pictures were selected, four of which measured 60 x 40 cm and two 60 x 45, one 80 x 60 and five 90 x 60. Eleven of these were selected democratically and there was one in which I exercised artist’s privilege and imposed on my colleagues.
I received estimates for the printing and framing after the images had been selected and we then had one meeting at which we discussed the sizes of the pictures, on which of the three available walls each would hang and where. It was then up to me to see to the printing and framing and to transport them to Haifa for hanging. I did this a week ago, approximately three months after the idea was initially raised and I have to admit that it was exciting to see a dozen of my pictures displayed together in one space because I never thought anything like this would ever happen. Actually, I was exhilarated that so many of my images were being displayed together. Prior to this, I was disseminating by pictures via this blog and I will continue to do this anyway.
The most fascinating part of the whole process was to take in how 12 pictures could transform a room, hyper-euphemistically described as sterile, into a space that seemed to come alive.
Interestingly, I voted for the pictures I preferred post facto without looking to see what others had reckoned to be in the Top Ten (when the poll had closed, Shlomit had distributed the results among those who had voted) and found that only four of my own selection had made the final ten. But who cares? As Danny Kaye’s Ugly Duckling said on discovering it had become a swan: “Not I”.
Some of the images have appeared in this blog before but I include them here again with the descriptive notes attached to each one (here in English) and in the order in which they hang on the walls. (For the eagle-eyed among you, there is one slight change in the hanging/displaying order, agreed after the pics were hung last week. So please don’t say I didn’t warn you!)
Light rays — Primrose Hill, London. (October 2012)
Primrose Hill is a protected viewpoint to the north of Regent’s Park and is one of North London’s open-air assets. It has a character of its own and from the top are some fabulous views across London. I occasionally stray from my regular route on the paths and walk along the grass on the eastern perimeter of the park to observe the spire of St. Mark’s Church opposite the entrance to Regent’s Park between the trees. On one such morning, I caught the early morning sunrays breaking through the trees.
The Yarqon River from Namir Bridge (November 2016)
The Yarqon is a small river — a stream actually — in which the water barely moves. It flows from east to west bisecting the Yarqon Park in Tel Aviv. This view is westward from the bridge under Namir Road, with a single angler and a couple of boats providing an image that is almost idyllic and which somewhat belies reality.
Man and Child, Hampstead Heath (July 2011)
While exiting Hampstead Heath towards East Heath Road one day in July 2011, I saw these two figures. They might have been father and daughter. The scooter suggests that she may have fallen and was being comforted. The truth is I just don’t know. What I did know was that although I saw the scene in colour, it just had to be in black & white. When I put it up on the computer screen, the colour photograph was nothing special. However, once desaturated and given more contrast, it was converted into a powerful image.
The Grand Canal, Venice from the Rialto Bridge (October 2008)
Taken in October 2008, this photo is pure kitsch — oh, but what beautiful kitsch! The weather was cloudy and it looked as if it might rain. Then, on reaching the Rialto Bridge, the sun appeared, resulting in this image of buildings along The Grand Canal in bright sunlight against a grey background.
Tel Aviv Port (February 2008)
It was a dark morning in February 2008 and I was walking along the promenade at Tel Aviv Port. The sea was wild; waves lashed the breakwater; the promenade was covered in debris spewed up by the sea. Suddenly, the sun appeared for all of two or three minutes, highlighting the spray. The gulls, which I hadn’t actually noticed at the time, were wheeling about thus adding further action to the photograph.
Where’s the line? (February 2009)
While walking in the Yarqon Park early one morning, I was fascinated by the six gulls sitting atop a wooden crossbar with their reflection in the water. I had forgotten to adjust the white balance from the previous time I had used the camera, thus giving a bluish tinge to the picture, which only adds to the mystery — and the mystery when looking at this image is in determining exactly where in the “frame” the line dividing the structure and the birds from their reflection really lies.
Early morning at Elgol, Isle of Skye (August 2016)
Each year, my son and family rent a house at Elgol, a village with a population of about 150 at the end of the Strathaird peninsula in the Isle of Skye in the Scottish Highlands and in 2016 we spent a few days there. The view from the house to the Cuillin Hills is spectacular, the vista changing from minute to minute with the vagaries of the weather and the time of day. This image, taken early in the morning, is the last one of several that I took over a 24-hour period.
Río Ara, near Boltaña, Spain. (May 2015)
There’s a bizarre hotel near the town of Boltaña on the Spanish side of the Pyrenees, which had been a monastery, expressed in its grey exterior and interior and general lack of light inside the building. Early in the morning before I left, I took a stroll in the area round about and came across a fast flowing river, the Río Ara. Looking east-southeast along the river as I crossed a small bridge, I caught the rapid flow of the river as well as the early morning sun behind the mist.
The Guggenheim Museum, Bilbao (May 2015)
Designed by Frank Gehry, extremely thin sheets of titanium comprise the outer skin of this magnificent building causing the colour to change with the light conditions. The two other main building materials are limestone and glass, creating a harmonious whole. The result is an architectural design with great visual impact — a veritable icon for Bilbao.
The building is usually seen from the street on its south side overlooking the entrance but a building like this needs to be viewed from all angles. The outdoor installations on the north side by artists such as Louise Bourgeois, Anish Kapoor, Yves Klein and Jeff Koons are best seen together from the north bank of the river.
Described by one architecture critic as “a fantastic dream ship of undulating form”, while crossing the bridge to the north bank, I noticed that this “ship” also had a funnel in the form of the office tower to the west, thus completing the picture.
Reading Power Station on an autumn morning (November 2015)
The chimney of the Reading Power Station is one of the most prominent structures in North Tel Aviv and I have photographed it from many angles and different light conditions. Because this image has been heavily edited, it is hardly a true image of anything real. But then no picture is really a true representation of anything. This one emphasizes the fact that what really matters in photography is the final image, the end product.
Gordes, Vaucluse, France. (October 2013)
I photographed this perched village in the Luberon region of Provence in October 2013. Gordes appears as if out of nowhere as you come around a bend in the road. Some years earlier, we had stayed a few times in the neighbouring village of Roussillon, Gordes being a little too upmarket—but it is more spectacular. These perched villages are sited high on rocky crags and all have very impressive views across the surrounding countryside; historically, they were important defensive positions. The structure of the village is clear from the image and the transportation difficulties inside it are equally apparent. At the summit of the village is the church tower, capped by the bell within an open lattice to prevent damage when the mistral blows.
Reflections — The promenade at Tel Aviv Port (February 2014)
I seldom use Photoshop to enrich an image and when I do, it’s usually to give a special effect to a photograph. Here, I used Photoshop’s watercolour embellishment to enhance a photo of reflections on the wet planks that make up the promenade at Tel Aviv Port.
Do the pictures really represent ‘my conception of the term “geography”‘, as Shlomit suggested they might at the outset? Perhaps not — but it’s not all that important. My own preference was for more images with people and with human activity. But then, I don’t visit this particular room very often any more. Nevertheless, after this exercise, I might just up the frequency of my visits and kvell (for the uninitiated, ‘kvell’ is Yiddish for “to feel happy and proud”) a bit.