Fotografiska, a photography museum, is gaining a reputation for featuring some of the greatest photographers in the world and also discovering new international talent. Their mission is to establish photography as a unique art form. Its goal is to become a hub for exhibiting photography, creating a meeting space for artists and photography enthusiasts, while also becoming a source of education and culture on photography as art. They are based in Stockholm, Sweden, but have created spaces in Tallinn, Estonia, and most recently, here in New York City. The New York location is in a wonderful building that was once a Church Missions House built in the late 19th century. The landmarked space has an extravagant facade and a newly renovated modern interior. The intimate lighting, large inviting spaces with comfortable seating and available food and beverages make this venue a fun and stimulating night out. There are displays of various photographers’ work on each level including lounging areas. New artists’ and established artists’ works are rotated on a regular basis.
I was initially drawn to visit Fotografiska because they were featuring one of my favorite artists, photographer Adi Nes, from Kiryat-Gat, Israel. I was introduced to his work at my school, Ramaz, by my Hebrew teacher and wanted to see his original works.
Among Nes’ works is his “Biblical Stories,” where he relates ancient texts and stories to modern-day issues particularly sensitive in Israel, such as army demands and loss of sons by war. This prompted me to visit this exhibit at Fotografiska and witness his breathtaking photos in person.
As part of the museum’s inaugural exhibition, Adi Nes, among several other excellent photographers, displays an exhibit entitled “Testaments,” which is running through March 1. Here, many of his photos are staged in order to convey a specific message, thus shedding light on social justice, homosexuality and feeling like an outcast.
The exhibit draws from a selection of various photographic series, including Nes’s “Biblical Stories.” The Biblical figures and scenes that he utilizes have a contemporary twist, commonly portrayed by homeless Israelis, soldiers and other characters to help convey his message. Nes captures these figures in an intimate, private moment, allowing the viewer to feel empathy for the characters. For example, one of the photographs displayed at Fotografiska shows “Hagar” sitting down and pondering. She looks disheveled and alone, with an expression of despair and desperation on her face. Hagar and her son, Ishmael, are dying of thirst, she lost hope and sent her son away as she could not bear to see him suffer and die. It says in the Torah (Vayera, chapter 21 verse 16) that when they ran out of water, Hagar “went and sat down from afar.” Nes relates this to a present-day lonely desperate woman who feels lost with no hope for salvation in the future. She appears to display the despair of not knowing where her next meal is coming from.
It is not uncommon for artists to take inspiration from Biblical storylines, yet Nes manages to convey a message beyond religion. For example, one of my favorite photographs from Nes, although not on display at “Testaments,” shows a homeless man pushing a cart with his son sleeping inside atop layers of garbage. This scene is loosely based on the story of the sacrifice of Isaac. While the Biblical story depicts Isaac being literally sacrificed by Abraham, this photograph sheds light on the sacrifice this father is making for the well-being of his son, despite how little he has.
New Testament scenes are also portrayed through the lens of Adi Nes. He reinterprets “The Last Supper” by Leonardo Da Vinci, where Jesus was surrounded by disciples just prior to his crucifixion. Nes’s photograph, spanning the entire wall, depicts Israeli soldiers sitting along a table, eating and chatting casually with each other. In the center, a soldier sits alone with his thoughts. While this scene portrays a nonchalant dinner, the central soldier is thinking about the sacrifice he and his comrades make every day, and is contemplating his and perhaps their, mortality.
While I have seen Adi Nes’s work both online and in books, the viewing experience for me at Fotografiska, felt different. To see these pieces on a large scale, with specific lighting and placement on the wall, as the artist intended, was truly the most overwhelming and stunning way to admire his work.
Another photograph hanging in the exhibition portrays Israeli soldiers breaking the news to a mother that her child has died in combat. From her expression, one can tell that she is trying to process this information, as the officers and a neighbor try to comfort her. This is an issue and fear affecting Israeli parents, commonly termed “the knock on the door.” Similar to “The Last Supper” and the photograph inspired by the sacrifice of Isaac, the theme of sacrifice is depicted here, yet taken out of the religious realm and applied to modern-day issues. In addition, Nes’ military-related works display aspects of Israeli culture, while shedding light on the underlying horror and grotesqueness war. These are frozen scenes amongst the violence and bloodshed.
The entire exhibit at Fotografiska left long-lasting memories and I quickly became a loyal fan. In fact, I plan to see Adi Nes live for “In Conversation with Photographer Adi Nes—Lecture and Presentation” on Sunday, Jan. 19.
My emotional connection to the works of Adi Nes is palpable and seeing his works displayed so magnificently sold me on the need for such spaces as Fotografiska. As these works were first displayed during Chanukah, I was particularly inspired by the works of a single, Israeli artist who could miraculously shed so much light on his subjects.
Samantha Sinensky is a junior at The Ramaz School in Manhattan.