Portrait of Humanity

Delighted to have my photo ‘Man with a leather jacket’ published in Portrait of Humanity. This is a hardcover book by the publisher of The British Journal of Photography, in partnership with Magnum Photos, containing 200 portraits taken by photographers from 65 countries. The book celebrates global citizenship at a time of great instability. It serves as a timely reminder that despite our many differences, we are able to unite as a global community through the power of photography and to create a collaborative photography exhibition. Portrait of Humanity is a celebration of our shared values: individuality, community and unity. The photos show us the world, documenting the universal expressions of life; laughter, courage, moments of reflection, journeys to work, first hellos, last goodbyes and everything in between. Funny, revealing and often moving, the faces and stories show that we are all wonderfully unique, yet at the same level, deeply the same… 

Portrait of Humanity

Issue 12 of DER GREIF magazine

Delighted to have one of my images inside issue 12 of DER GREIF magazine. As guest editors of issue 12 of DER GREIF, Broomberg and Chanarin sent out a call for images that are too private, too quiet, too violent, too political, too subversive or too explicit to share online. Only available in print, Issue 12 challenges our way of looking at and perceiving images. It asks if and how we may all be complicit to an ongoing commodification of imagery by using social media. Featuring the work of 85 photographers and artists.

PhotoWorld Interview

ILAN WITTENBERG

New Zealand

‘Real Men’ 

Introduction and interview by Alasdair Foster *

Published in PhotoWorld – May 2019 **

From the Seeds of Warriors’  from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2015

“Men act and women appear.”

John Berger – Ways of Seeing

Introduction

In Western culture, men are traditionally judged by their agency (what they can do to you or for you) and women by their appearance. Women are to be looked at; men do the looking. There are many more images of the female body in the history of Western art than there are male. And, where the male body does appear, it is strictly contextualised in one of three symbolic roles: hero, fool or martyr. The hero transcends the reality of the male body to become a symbol of dynamic triumph. The fool is mocked for his nakedness, removing him from serious consideration as a representative of his gender. The martyr – an especial favourite of the Christian religion – is naked and broken, but his defeat is temporary as the narrative promises he will later ascend to heaven to be eternally revered as a saint.

Real men are not like this. They are flesh and blood, diverse, and susceptible to the inevitabilities of illness and aging. Yet, as men, the way we feel about our bodies is often an uncomfortable contradiction between lived reality and the symbolic perfection reflected to us in advertising and in art.

The photographs of the New Zealand artist Ilan Wittenberg are very different from these impossibly idealised images of masculinity. His extensive catalogue of men living in and around Auckland captures each in all the complexity of frailty and forbearance, uniqueness and imperfection, anxiety and the courage to overcome it. In English, when we speak of ‘real me’ we often mean the opposite; we mean individuals who appear to live up to the impossible aspirations of masculinity. But Ilan Wittenberg’s photographs truly do present real men; the unadorned reality of male faces and bodies in all their great variety. As the title of the series declares, this is literally and figuratively the ‘Bare Truth’.

Ilan Wittenberg was born in Israel, emigrating to New Zealand in 2001. He has a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Engineering and a Master of Business Administration in Information Technology. Having worked in these areas for thirty years, he moved into photography in order to realise his passion for visual expression. He quickly established a reputation as a skilled and creative practitioner, winning dozens of accolades including both the portrait and the overall prizes at the 2018 Sony Alpha Awards. A Fellow of the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP), his work has featured in many gallery and festival exhibitions including Head On Photo Festival in Sydney, Australia, and the ‘Signature Program’ of the Auckland Festival of Photography in New Zealand. You can see more of his work at his website: www.ilanwittenberg.com

The Look’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2015

IntervIew

This series of articles is looking at the work of photo-artists who have a different ‘way of seeing’. How would you describe your ‘way of seeing’?

It’s been said that photography is the easiest artistic medium in which to be competent, but the hardest medium in which to have a truly personal vision. It’s very much like talking: everyone can talk but few have something original to say. I have developed a clear style that allows me to tell a story in an imaginative and thought-provoking way. My aim is to create work with a strong ‘stylistic signature’ and a clear narrative sense. I wish to inspire people with images that are crisp and sharp; to evoke emotions and to demonstrate a personal creative vision.

Photography is a way of communicating without words. Unlike videography, which has duration delivering a story through sound and motion, photography is still and present. It does not consume time, and consequently offers the viewer the possibility of interpreting an image differently each time it is viewed. As the famous American photographer Ansel Adams once said: “There are always two people in every picture: the photographer and the viewer.” In my work, there is a third, the subject, who is observed by each of the other two.

How did this series – ‘Bare Truth’ – begin?

I had been thinking about the idea of photographing men without the ‘protection’ of their clothes, but I was unsure how to go about achieving it. I had mentioned it a number of times to one of my close friends, but he would always laugh at the idea. Then, one day, he was very busy packing to move permanently overseas. I offered to dispose of his rubbish after he left if he would give me thirty minutes in front of my camera. Somewhat reluctantly, he agreed to take off his shirt. As I was photographing, he raised his hand across his chest and looked straight into the camera. I could see the sadness in his eyes, his stress. Set against the simple background, his personality shone through. It was for me a moment of profound insight.

The Look’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2014How did the project develop from there?

I asked my son to pose for me. He was just recovering from an operation, so the scar was showing fresh on his torso.

After that, I approached some of my close friends and tradesmen who were working on jobs around the house. Later, I invited men that I met at the local Sunday market. I began to realise that this had the potential to become a unique body of work; one that would become stronger the bigger and more diverse it became. I realised the power of these portraits and the potential they had to form a much larger series. The biggest challenge was finding men willing to pose shirtless in front of the camera.

Ofek’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2014

How did you go about that?

The initial portraits helped me gain valuable experience and formalise a consistent and distinctive visual style. I became more confident in making an approach. I uploaded those initial images onto my cell phone so that I could easily show them to prospective subjects, many of whom were total strangers. This helped to engage them and overcome any initial concerns. Even so, it is a time-consuming process. Out of every ten men that I approach, five say “no”, four say “maybe” and only one actually shows up.

How did you seek out or select men to pose for you?

Initially I would photograph anyone who would agree to pose. Now, I am more selective, looking for people with an interesting ‘story’, men with a personality who will add diversity to the collection. Most of the men are from the local neighbourhood, people I meet at the street or in shops. They live locally so it is easy enough to find a suitable time, but a few do travel from further afield. On rare occasions I receive a request from someone asking to be included in the series, usually via social media. In those cases, I never refuse. Only about ten per cent of the men in these photographs are people I knew before they posed for me.

Reiner’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2018

How many images are in the series now?

I began the project in mid-2015 and there are currently over 200 portraits in the series. I try to add one new photograph to the series every week. There is value in extending the scale and variety of this unique collection: every man is different, and the strength of the portfolio lies in that diversity.

There are quite a lot of men with tattoos. Are tattoos common in New Zealand?

I think that people who wear tattoos tend to be more extrovert than the average person and more inclined to show off their ‘body art’. A tattoo is a powerful personal statement about one’s life, traditional heritage and personal style.

Why did you call this series ‘Bare Truth’? What truth are you seeking to address or reveal?

When I looked at that first photo of my friend before he went overseas, I was moved, touched and inspired. I realised that we attach a deep meaning to a person’s facial expression. It takes us a fraction of a second to judge someone. It’s fascinating to think how quickly and subconsciously we form that opinion based solely on physical appearance: this person looks confident, that person looks depressed, or dangerous; calm, happy, sad… Photographed without the ‘shield’ of clothes, without those things that signify social standing or personal taste, these images provide an unexpected and enlightening opportunity to see the real people behind the ‘façade’. We are all flesh and blood; and we are here on this planet for a short period of time. This project simply reminds us of how fragile we are.

The title ‘Bare Truth’ implies that our face reveals the truth, we cannot hide it. It is also a play on words as the men are naked from the waist up. I think that the meaningful title helps people identify with its purpose. And for some of the more modest or shy subjects, it gave them the courage to expose themselves in front of the camera.

Shine’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2015

These images have a strong ‘aesthetic signature’. How did you achieve that sharpness of detail and clarity of texture?

I use a single source of illumination employing a ‘beauty dish’, which wraps the light around their body in a very distinctive way. [A beauty dish is a photographic lighting device that uses a parabolic reflector to distribute light towards a focal point, which adds a more dramatic contrast to the subject. The light created is gentler than that of a direct flash but more directional than with a softbox.] I bring the light as close as possible to the subject’s face. This creates a directional illumination with deep shadows under the eyes, nose and neck, emphasising every crease in their torso.

My aim is for the images to have the reassuring directness of a classic, in-camera capture. I want to emphasise the truth of the image in an era when people are losing faith in the ‘honesty’ of the medium. I simply process the digital photographs to enhance their skin texture. This is done using Photoshop with the Silver Efex Pro plugin by Nik. That heightening of contrast helps to create a sense of drama, lending to the series a unifying style that emulates analogue lithographic techniques.

It is very important to me that there is a ‘catchlight’ in their eyes, so I carefully set the ‘beauty dish’ according to their height and enhance the highlight manually if required.

Although these are images of the whole upper body and head, you have talked about the importance of the eyes.

As the proverb says: “eyes are windows to the soul”. The look in someone’s eyes is very meaningful and we immediately interpret it, often subconsciously and always subjectively. Much of our interpersonal communication is not verbal. When we shake someone’s hand we look them in the eye and, subconsciously, judge if we can trust them. The strength of this series lies with the directness of each man’s gaze. It affirms integrity and honesty – hence the title: ‘Bare Truth’.

Yusuke’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2015

We tend not to judge men by their bodies. There is a degree of vulnerability in posing without a shirt, especially if one is not young and athletic.

I admire the bravery and humility of the men who agree to participate in this project. Some are young or lean while others are fat or old. The strength of the portfolio lies in how similar the photographs are in terms of pose and lighting, while, at the same time, very different in terms of subject.

How did the men you photographed respond to seeing their photograph?

Most men appreciate the final image, but some find the dramatic way in which the skin texture is enhanced to create drama really confronting. One man who posed said he would never show his photograph to his wife as he did not want to frighten her. But then another man was so proud of his portrait that he posted it on social media! He told me that he had found the process of standing in front of the camera was liberating – a sort of catharsis. He said that he used to hate his body; being a part of ‘Bare Truth’ had helped him on his journey to accepting it.

For the most part, the men who pose really do seem to appreciate the experience. The shoot is an opportunity to spend time together and listen to their personal stories. I ask them about their scars, their tattoos, what they do for a living and so on, and in this way we become more acquainted.

You have said that one of the goals of this project is to raise awareness of the challenge men face when dealing with emotional vulnerability, and the problems of stress and depression they can feel as a result. Can you explain what you mean by this?

Pukana’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’ 2015

Many cultures portray men as strong, physically and emotionally. This stereotype sometimes leads to adverse outcomes, made worse by the way men typically fail to seek medical help for symptoms such as depression, stress and anxiety. One of the goals of this project is to raise awareness by showing men expressing complex emotions of strength and vulnerability, confidence and anxiety. Some carry on their bodies tattoos which help remind them of loved ones that passed away or scars that mark an accident or surgical operation. These are significant markers that give them strength on a daily basis. I think that we all look for a meaning in life and in our relationships one with another. Taking part in a project shared in common can make us feel part of the community.

Images can be valued on many different levels: artistically, as evidence, in terms of the questions they raise or challenges they provoke. What would you identify as the most important aspect of this work for you personally?

I think that this project helped me develop a distinctive artistic style, a personal visual language, which is very hard to do in the field of photography. In turn, it has helped me create a unique body of work of which I am very proud. The process of making the images in this series has made it possible  for me to meet people who are completely outside my social circle; people who I would never meet under other circumstances.

I keep looking for suitable people to photograph. This means that I remain more ‘present’ in the moment and in the place; observing people around me and seeking opportunities. It also helps me connect with people. In the process of approaching potential subjects for my photographs, I have been able to learn how to engage people, to read their body language and, in many cases, to face rejection.

What have you learned about yourself in the process of making these images?

If you have the confidence to try something, you may well succeed. If you do not, you will surely fail.

Gregory’ from the series ‘Bare Truth’, 2015

* Alasdair Foster is a consultant specialising in international cultural projects and a researcher in the theory of arts policy formation. Dr. Alasdair is currently a Professor of Culture in Community Wellbeing at the School of Public Health, University of Queensland. He is also Adjunct Professor, School of Art and Member of the Contemporary Art and Social Transformation research group in RMIT University, Melbourne. Alasdair is the Ambassador to the Asia-Pacific PhotoForum and a Principal Consultant to Cultural Development Consulting.

** PhotoWorld magazine is China’s most influential photography magazine, introducing international frontier image culture, focusing on new concepts and unique perspectives. Published for the last 33 years, it has a profound effect on generations of Chinese photographers.

Portrait photographer Auckland Studio

Stuff Article: Ilan Wittenberg exposes the Bare Truth

Photographer Ilan Wittenberg exposes the Bare Truth in portrait exhibition

A former drug addict, a burns victim and a burly builder are hardly typical male models.

But these men – and around 100 more – are the subjects of an Auckland photographer’s latest exhibition.

Ilan Wittenberg began his project, Bare Truth, a year ago, with an idea to portray New Zealand men as they truly are.

Bare-chested, blemished, scarred, and tattooed, the men’s histories are etched on their skin. One of the men had received skin grafts as a child – a pot of boiling jelly had ended up on his chest. Another has a prayer inked onto his arm.

“It’s interesting where people find strength,” Wittenberg says.

At first, his subjects were friends and family (Wittenberg’s 21-year-old son is among the men featured in the exhibition).

But as his collection and his confidence grew, Wittenberg began approaching strangers on the street. Market-goers, roadworkers, hedge-trimmers – any man who looks like he might have a story to tell.

“Out of every 10, four say ‘no’, four say ‘maybe’, two say ‘yes’, and one shows up.”

Wittenberg spent an hour speaking with the men before they went in front of the camera, asking them about their families, jobs, and the tales behind their tattoos.

The first photograph was of a friend who’d resisted participating in the project until the day before he departed New Zealand forever.

“He wasn’t very tidy – not scruffy, but he didn’t take great care of himself,” Wittenberg says of the man.

“In the photograph, you will see he puts his hand up to chest and he touches his heart… he has a little bit of sadness in his eyes.

“I thought, ‘this is real’.”

Wittenberg has about 100 photographs in the Bare Truth collection. Each of his subjects received an A4 copy of their photo, as thanks.

Some of the men were happy with the result, others felt confronted by the image.

“They didn’t actually show it to their wives, because they never saw themselves that way,” Wittenberg says.

The series is inspired by the work of famed photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Platon. Shot before a blank background and converted into monochrome, the photographs depict a stark spectrum of Kiwi masculinity.

“When people look straight into the camera they actually look at the person on the other side, they look at the person who views them, and you can read their eye, you can actually see their soul – that’s what I felt.”

Bare Truth is Wittenberg’s third exhibition this year, showing in Sydney earlier this month, and in Auckland in June.

While images of topless women have become cliches of Western society, there’s something about a photo of a shirtless man – unretouched – which makes observers take a closer look.

“We see thousands of photos every day – on social media, in magazines, on tv, on the internet, billboards – and we ignore…” Wittenberg says.

“If you go to an exhibition, it’s not like looking at something on the computer… you stand in front of a photograph… and you let it talk to you.”

Visitors to the Sydney exhibition offered a range of interpretations, Wittenberg says.

“They say this person is looking very confident, very strong. And that person looks a bit… shy, and that person looks dangerous like, I wouldn’t want to meet that guy down a dark alley or something like that.

“It’s so interesting how in a fraction of a second we judge other people, even when they’re not there, just based on their body language – their eyes, their shoulders.”

But Wittenberg hopes the exhibition will also raise awareness of men’s health issues. Without a shirt, it’s difficult to hide the hallmarks of past surgeries, or chemotherapy.

And the camera offers insight into the soul.

“When people look straight into the camera they actually look at the person on the other side, they look at the person who views them,” Wittenberg says.

“You can read their eye, you can see their soul – that’s what I felt.”

Wittenberg emigrated from Israel with his wife and two children in 2001. The North Shore resident had been working as a business analyst before he took up portrait photography full time in 2011.

While portraits pay the bills, the Bare Truth project was a labour done for love, not money.

Quoting business leader Stephen Covey, Wittenberg says: “We’re here to live, to laugh, to love and to leave a legacy.”

“We’re not getting any younger… my legacy is about pictures I do.”

Bare Truth will be exhibited at Northart​ gallery in Northcote, Auckland from June 5 – 22. Admission is free. 

The exhibition will also feature in the 2016 Auckland Festival of Photography.

The power of two – when creative visions collide

The Gig Idea – 15 Jun 2018
Advice from the winner of the Sony Alpha Awards 2018

When it comes to producing award winning photography, Ilan Wittenberg is the man to talk to. Recently adding the Sony Alpha Award 2018 (winning both the Portrait category and the Grand Prize) to his collection of industry accolades, Wittenberg says that the key to producing the award winning eerily beautiful portrait was collaboration with model Alicia.

The two found each other online and began brainstorming ideas for a portrait photograph that was ‘timeless’. “I loved the idea of applying a mask onto her face and extending it to her torso. The idea was to create a cracked earth background using drought as the theme”, Ilan says.

“We actually first discussed doing something quite elaborate but the more we talked the more it developed into more of a personal piece”, Alicia comments.

Collaborating with someone else is always a risk Ilan states, it may not always work out the way you envision it to.  After finding a potential model, the next challenge is to ensure that there is a shared vision. “We plan, we talk, we think about the outfit, about the theme. We talk about what the model is comfortable doing etc. The stars have to align too… The model and I have to be on the same wavelength and if they bring an idea that I think works then together we’re a great team.”

Ilan and Alicia both stress the importance of having an open mind when it comes to collaborating with someone, particularly for a creative project. “It’s difficult to add anything new to the creative space without honesty because it allows our unique selves to come through”, Alicia says.

Ilan focuses on monochrome portraits that allow the subjects to really shine in their channel of storytelling.  His portraits often involve “ordinary people”, posing nude, which opens them up to a new sense of vulnerability and allows the audience to focus on the bare elements.

Sony Alpha Awards – Winner of Grand Prize and Portrait Category

“Most people stay hidden behind technology these days and lose that special human connection with each other so it’s a real art to work with people and bring out that magic in them.”

Ilan has won a plethora of awards and also judges at competitions for the Photographic Society of NZ and the NZ Institute of Professional Photography.

In a world overloaded with information and sensationalistic “visual clutter” which are competing for our attention; Ilan states that his goal is to create pieces that distinguish themselves as “extraordinary” “Forgetting the technicality of the picture, you really need to ask yourself, ‘is there a visual statement? Does it have any emotional impact?’”

Alicia agrees, “There are plenty of photos out there, of women especially, who try to look how they think they should look when in front of a camera due to the huge pressure on us to look a certain way. So the idea of (the winning portrait) was to try and work against that”.

Ilan strongly encourages budding photographers to meet up with like-minded individuals such as through the NZ Photographic Society meetings, to have their work critiqued by professionals in order to grow, just like he does. “It’s a friendly environment for people to be critiqued and grow because you don’t know what you don’t know. Even listening to critiques of other photographs really helps”.

Grand Prize at 2018 Sony Alpha Awards

APOTY-HEADER-1500x400.jpg

Ilan Wittenberg wins Grand Prize at 2018 Sony Alpha Awards

If you follow D-Photo, you are no doubt familiar with the beautiful black-and-white portrait that graces the cover of issue 84. The image, taken by photographer Ilan Wittenberg in his Auckland studio, won the Portrait category at the 2018 Sony Alpha Awards, and went on to take out the Grand Prize.

The competition invited professional and enthusiast photographers alike to submit photographs captured with Sony Alpha cameras and lenses across seven categories. Each category winner received Sony Alpha gear valued at $2000, with Grand Prize winner Ilan receiving a trip to Tanzania and $3,000 of Sony Alpha Gear. Take a look at the winners and finalists over at the Sony Alpha Awards website.

Ilan Wittenberg cover.jpg

Ilan came up with the idea for the winning image along with model, Alicia, covering her face and torso with a clay-paste mask. Ilan shot the image against a basic background to emphasize her form and her facial expression. “I love Alicia’s eyes,” says Ilan. “She looks so fragile and vulnerable.”

In issue 84 we talk to Ilan about how he captured his striking monochrome portraits on his latest overseas trip to Morocco. The way in which he captures the essence of the places he visits primarily through portraiture makes him relatively unique as a travel photographer, so we’re very excited to see what he comes up with on his trip to Tanzania.

Stunning new images of iconic Dunedin beach

A visiting photographer shows an iconic Dunedin beach in a new light with some stunning images he captured on a recent trip to the city.

Ilan Wittenberg was attending the New Zealand Photographic Society’s National Conference in Dunedin last month and took the opportunity to visit Tunnel Beach, where he took a series of arresting images.

Ilan says he arrived on site before sunrise and went down the path ”in pitch darkness”.

”I picked a location to start shooting but when daylight broke I was overwhelmed with the sheer beauty and magnificence of the place!”

He says he ”fell in love with the place” and returned the following day to take more of the long-exposure (20-30 second) photographs.

An award-winning photographer, Israeli-born Ilan arrived in New Zealand with his wife and two children in 2001. They live on the North Shore in Auckland.

– All photos courtesy (c) Ilan Wittenberg

Photos by (c) Ilan Wittenberg, Auckland Landscape Photography
Photos by (c) Ilan Wittenberg, Auckland Landscape Photography
Photos by (c) Ilan Wittenberg, Auckland Landscape Photography
Photos by (c) Ilan Wittenberg, Auckland Landscape Photography

Men stripped bare

Tuesday 31st May 2016

Rebecca Kamm, The Wireless

We spoke to Auckland photographer Ilan Wittenberg about the thinking behind his latest collection.

Beyond the shiny, white-toothed fitness models who beam out in all their taut glory from men’s health magazines, images of topless men in the public sphere are all but absent. In obvious contrast to photographs of near-naked women’s bodies, at this point part of the furniture, we’re rarely invited to inspect the male torso.

That’s one reason Bare Truth, a collection by accomplished Auckland photographer Ilan Wittenberg, stands out. Another is his knife-sharp focus on every bodily detail of his 100-or-so unsmiling subjects, which include a former drug addict and a burns victim.

“I treat the photos in such a way that you see the hair, the pimples, the scars, everything,” Wittenberg says of his unapologetic approach. “It’s interesting, because we don’t see people like that anywhere. If you go to the beach you’ll see topless men, but you don’t get close to them like that.”

“Raw”, says the artist, whose work can be found at Auckland’s Northart gallery from June 5-22, is what he hears most in response to Bare Truth. But the photographs have no rough edges; they are exquisitely, acutely rendered. That’s intentional: Wittenberg chose specific lighting and processing techniques that would bring the literal mark life leaves on our bodies into sharp relief.

It’s also something of a warning. “There’s this idea that men are stronger,” says Wittenberg, whose 18-year old son features in the collection (he bares the scar of a tumor removed when he was small). “That may be true in some strength-related areas; men have more muscle tissue, for example. But when it comes to mental health or emotional health, the fact is that women actually talk more. They share more. They’re more open.”

Conceived when Wittenberg took a topless portrait of a friend and was struck by the result, Bare Truth is designed to flip any lack of openness on its head. “I looked at the image of my friend and I thought, there’s some meaning behind his eyes. I could see his vulnerability.”

He began to approach men on the street. “Out of every ten, four said maybe, four said no, two said yes, and one showed up.” But as the collection grew, so did their trust, and the project picked up pace.

Stories are unavoidable when nakedness enters the picture. “Suddenly [when] they take off their shirt I see they’ve had a triple bypass, or chemo, or some other surgery,” he says.

“I asked them about their tattoos: What is it? What does it mean to you? One of them said, ‘Well, I was a drug addict and this tattoo helps me to remind myself how to be sober, and how good it is to be clean. Another said, ‘Oh, this is about my best friend who died.’ We’re all vulnerable.”

He gave his subjects a print out of their final image and, overall, reactions were positive. The men loved their portraits and were proud to have taken part. One even used the word “therapeutic”.

That didn’t mean they were all ready to share the experience. “Some men didn’t show it to their wives, because they think [their image] is too confronting. They’ve asked their daughters to do it for them; to explain the context to their wives for them when they pass away. Because it is confronting. We never show ourselves like this to other people.”

Bare Truth will show at Northart gallery in Northcote, Auckland from June 5-22. Admission is free. The collection is also part of the 2016 Auckland Festival of Photography. 

GOLD

Auckland photographer wins prestigious gold award

Portrait Photographer Auckland

Ilan Wittenberg’s Man With a Leather Jacket’ was taken in February 2017.

An Auckland photographer’s unique approach has snapped up a gold at the NZ Institute of Professional Photography’s (NZIPP) Iris Awards.

Ilan Wittenberg won a gold award in the Portrait Classic category for his photo Man with a Leather Jacket in June this year.

The NZIPP Iris Professional Photography Awards is New Zealand’s only professional photography competition.

“Winning a gold this year was a big achievement for me, simply because they are so hard to come by,” Wittenberg said.

READ MORE:
Photographer Ilan Wittenberg exposes the Bare Truth in portrait exhibition
Although the photograph of a Takapuna native Ken Talarc did not win the category, it was the only gold-winning portrait not to have been taken in a studio.

Shot in Talarc’s home, the photo was as much about the subject as it was his environment said Wittenberg who won NZIPP Auckland Photographer of the Year in 2016.

“One continues the story of the other. The environment that he sits … all of that tells a story.”

“The artifacts behind him actually tell a story about his life and about his parent and the things he does in his life,” Wittenberg explained.

Wittenberg met Talarc while buying vegetables at the Takapuna Sunday market on Auckland’s North Shore. The photographer approached the man selling bric-a-brac out of his truck to ask if he would have his photo taken.

It took several moves around the house, Talarc had inherited from his parents, to find the winning spot in the living room.

“You look at him and you look at the background and they are on the same plane field.”

“I like the fact that he looked straight at me. I think that, when a person looks at you, you sort of make a connection,” Wittenberg said.

 

 – Stuff

Silver Award - Documentary category - NZIPP 2015 Iris Awards

D-Photo Magazine Article

Within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem
September 08, 2016Lara Wyatt – D-Photo

It’s not hard to see why the Old City of Jerusalem captured Ilan Wittenberg’s attention. It is beyond anything I have ever witnessed before. It’s a place with more than 2000 years of history, all bricks and iron gates, and tiny shops packed floor to ceiling with cultural items, souvenirs, religious artefacts, and day-to-day requirements, all up for sale. And then there are the merchants with very few smiles but plenty of pride and honour.

Portrait Photographer Auckland

 

“They’re not happy, you can see that … but they are serious for a good reason: the economy is slow. But it’s who they are, this is their natural way. If you see people on the street, most are not smiling, and these people have seen their own share of hardship,” Wittenberg explains emphatically about the merchants.

Auckland Portrait Photography

It was during a family trip to Israel that they all went on a trip to the Old City of Jerusalem and came across the capital of Israel. “Usually I go with my camera and do my own stuff, but this time I said no, I’ll be part of the family,” he says, remembering. “I needed a strong collection of photographs to submit as a portfolio for my fellowship application to the Photography Society of New Zealand — and then I saw the huge potential there. It opened my eyes only when I got there, even though I’d been there many times in the past. It was interesting — the ancient streets, the people, the merchants, the mosques, the churches — it really is interesting.”

Faces of Jerusalem

Adamant that this trip would be about family bonding rather than stopping to pull out his camera all the time to the dismay of his family, Wittenberg had to delay the spark of an idea that was forming in his mind for another day: “I said to myself, OK, I’ll go back again, and I extended my stay just a little bit longer. My wife hates it when I stop and take photos, she simply keeps walking while I stay behind. It’s not really enjoyable to walk with me, because I stop and I start talking to people — I could spend half an hour just photographing a wall. So, it really is just no fun … I accept that, so I made four other trips to Jerusalem … it was important to me.”

Faces of Jerusalem

With each trip, he packed his Sony 7R and set about wandering the streets, entering many stores and speaking, or, if necessary, miming, to the merchants to gain their permission to take their photo.

Wittenberg didn’t want to portray the merchants in any way other than their natural state. He did not set about posing them — other than a few very rare situations in which he needed to raise someone’s arm to get the composition of the image right — he did not ask them to smile, he only used the lighting available (no flash and no tripod), and he didn’t create a photo-shoot atmosphere. Most of the time he would only take a single image, then put his camera away. On one occasion, though, he disobeyed all these rules when he was trying to take a photo of a man working in a traditional coffee shop, but it achieved a beautiful result.

Faces of Jerusalem

“It was extremely dark and grimy,” Wittenberg recalls. “He became a little embarrassed because I took so many photos of him, because, to be honest, they weren’t all in focus and there was such bad light. I think he was joking with the people behind him that he was a model, that he was now a movie star. You can see the movement of his hand — that’s how slow the shutter speed was. It’s like a gamble when I take these photos; some are as slow as 1/30s, using high ISO because of the dim light.”

With a cold atmosphere and a lack of customers filtering through the city, an air of tension is bred, and Wittenberg put out all the right signals he could to ensure he did not incite any trouble during the course of his roaming the streets and photographing.

Faces of Jerusalem

“When I travel there, I am a proud New Zealander, which removes a lot of tension. People are relaxed and agree to have their portrait taken. I am also an Israeli, but I have to be careful not to mix politics in, because, if they knew that, it may create unnecessary tension. Some wouldn’t be as natural with the camera or wouldn’t allow me to photograph them. I walk the dark and empty streets at night, by myself — it could become dangerous too. If you say you’re from New Zealand, ‘Oh, Kiwi, welcome!’. Part of the problem, is that there are very few customers, very little foot traffic, because there is a lot of stress in this region — wars, religious tension, and ongoing conflict, which scares tourists away,” he explains.

But after showing his work to people and entering it into awards, including the Epson / New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography (NZIPP) Iris Professional Photography Awards at which he was named a finalist and his images received a silver award, many tell Wittenberg that they want to go there. “Not just because of the photos,” he says, though. “They’ve always wanted to visit the holy land, so even though these are not always happy faces, people say, ‘Wow, that’s such a different culture’.”

Faces of Jerusalem

In terms of how the Faces of Jerusalem photographs work as a series, Wittenberg is quick to point out how the sepia toning of the images was a way to give them a timeless look while also ensuring they had a consistent and uniform appearance.

“If I was actually trying to put these in colour — which is nice to be able to see the colourful merchandise — then the faces would turn out yellow, orange, or pink because of the different light sources; some are fluorescent and some are ambient … I can remove the issue of different colours of their faces this way, or it would have been very distracting,” Wittenberg explains.

Faces of Jerusalem

Titirangi’s Te Uru Waitakere Contemporary Gallery exhibited Faces of Jerusalem during early 2016, fulfilling Wittenberg’s goal of bringing the series to an audience to experience. “I want people to see it, it’s a rare opportunity to see large prints,” he says. “People who come to the exhibition will be able to gain more insight … most have never been in this sort of environment. You are actually there, you can see how they live and how they play, and you can see their faces — they tell a story.”

At the 2016 Cathay Pacific Travel Media Awards, Wittenberg’s Faces of Jerusalem series of photographs saw him win the Travel Photographer of the Year award.

 

Award Winning Print

Bare Truth wins at Iris Awards

North Shore Times, July 5, 2016
Award Winning Print
Portrait Photographer Auckland

Our Auckland

See a striking collection of images of bare-chested Kiwi men

Auckland Council, Tuesday 31 May 2016

Portrait Photographer Auckland

Bare Truth – Auckland Festival of Photography

One of the key aims of photographer Ilan Wittenberg’s ‘Bare Truth’ campaign was to counter-balance the portrayal of men as strong, physically and emotionally.

“This stereotype sometime leads to dire outcomes when considering how poorly typical men treat health symptoms such as depression, stress and anxiety,” he says.

“I wanted to raise awareness; give men the freedom to express their feelings and connect with their emotions. This fresh look at men is an eye-opening opportunity to see real people without the ‘shield’ of clothes. The project simply reminds us of how fragile we are.”

The combination of shooting in monochrome, using soft, directional light and adopting a special post-processing technique allowed Wittenberg to enhance the features of his ‘models’ so that the images are raw and crisp. The simple backgrounds eliminate distractions so the viewer can focus on their body language and facial expression.

The biggest challenge was finding the first man to agree to pose. After a few rejections, Wittenberg created portraits of close friends and family members. As the portfolio expanded, he formalised a consistent style and became confident in approaching strangers – men who had an interesting appearance or whose face told a story.

“While some men are very comfortable with having their portrait created, others feel this is completely outside their comfort zone, particularly when asked to strip down to the waist. One man expected the experience to be therapeutic while others were slightly nervous. The results show a captivating mix of men that are humble, courageous and vulnerable.”

The project gained momentum after selected prints from the body of work won awards in the Portrait Classic category of the 2015 Iris Awards from the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography. ‘Bare Truth’ was also selected to be an Associated Exhibition at the 2016 Head On photo festival in Sydney.

North Shore Photographer

Bare Truth in Stuff

Photographer Ilan Wittenberg exposes the Bare Truth in portrait exhibition

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

‘Attitude”, a portrait from Ilan Wittenberg’s latest exhibition, Bare Truth.

A former drug addict, a burns victim and a burly builder are hardly typical male models.

But these men – and around 100 more – are the subjects of an Auckland photographer’s latest exhibition.

Ilan Wittenberg began his project, Bare Truth, a year ago, with an idea to portray New Zealand men as they truly are.

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

‘Pukana’, a portrait from Ilan Wittenberg’s latest exhibition, Bare Truth.
 Bare-chested, blemished, scarred, and tattooed, the men’s histories are etched on their skin. One of the men had received skin grafts as a child – a pot of boiling jelly had ended up on his chest. Another has a prayer inked onto his arm.

“It’s interesting where people find strength,” Wittenberg says.

At first, his subjects were friends and family (Wittenberg’s 21-year-old son is among the men featured in the exhibition).

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

‘LOKADIE’, a portrait from Ilan Wittenberg’s latest exhibition, Bare Truth.

But as his collection and his confidence grew, Wittenberg began approaching strangers on the street. Market-goers, roadworkers, hedge-trimmers – any man who looks like he might have a story to tell.

“Out of every 10, four say ‘no’, four say ‘maybe’, two say ‘yes’, and one shows up.”

Wittenberg spent an hour speaking with the men before they went in front of the camera, asking them about their families, jobs, and the tales behind their tattoos.

 The first photograph was of a friend who’d resisted participating in the project until the day before he departed New Zealand forever.

“He wasn’t very tidy – not scruffy, but he didn’t take great care of himself,” Wittenberg says of the man.

“In the photograph, you will see he puts his hand up to chest and he touches his heart… he has a little bit of sadness in his eyes.

“I thought, ‘this is real’.”

Wittenberg has about 100 photographs in the Bare Truth collection. Each of his subjects received an A4 copy of their photo, as thanks.

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

‘Skulls’, a portrait from Ilan Wittenberg’s latest exhibition, Bare Truth.

Some of the men were happy with the result, others felt confronted by the image.

“They didn’t actually show it to their wives, because they never saw themselves that way,” Wittenberg says.

The series is inspired by the work of famed photographers Robert Mapplethorpe and Platon. Shot before a blank background and converted into monochrome, the photographs depict a stark spectrum of Kiwi masculinity.

“When people look straight into the camera they actually look at the person on the other side, they look at the person who views them, and you can read their eye, you can actually see their soul – that’s what I felt.”

Bare Truth is Wittenberg’s third exhibition this year, showing in Sydney earlier this month, and in Auckland in June.

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

While images of topless women have become cliches of Western society, there’s something about a photo of a shirtless man – unretouched – which makes observers take a closer look.

“We see thousands of photos every day – on social media, in magazines, on tv, on the internet, billboards – and we ignore…” Wittenberg says.

“If you go to an exhibition, it’s not like looking at something on the computer… you stand in front of a photograph… and you let it talk to you.”

Visitors to the Sydney exhibition offered a range of interpretations, Wittenberg says.

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

“They say this person is looking very confident, very strong. And that person looks a bit… shy, and that person looks dangerous like, I wouldn’t want to meet that guy down a dark alley or something like that.

“It’s so interesting how in a fraction of a second we judge other people, even when they’re not there, just based on their body language – their eyes, their shoulders.”

But Wittenberg hopes the exhibition will also raise awareness of men’s health issues. Without a shirt, it’s difficult to hide the hallmarks of past surgeries, or chemotherapy.

And the camera offers insight into the soul.

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

“When people look straight into the camera they actually look at the person on the other side, they look at the person who views them,” Wittenberg says.

“You can read their eye, you can see their soul – that’s what I felt.”

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

Wittenberg emigrated from Israel with his wife and two children in 2001. The North Shore resident had been working as a business analyst before he took up portrait photography full time in 2011.

While portraits pay the bills, the Bare Truth project was a labour done for love, not money.

Quoting business leader Stephen Covey, Wittenberg says: “We’re here to live, to laugh, to love and to leave a legacy.”

“We’re not getting any younger… my legacy is about pictures I do.”

Bare Truth will be exhibited at Northart gallery in Northcote, Auckland from June 5 – 22. Admission is free. 

The exhibition will also feature in the 2016 Auckland Festival of Photography.

Bare Truth Portrait Photographer Auckland

 – Stuff

Auckland Portrait Photographer

Exposing men’s hidden side

Exposing men’s hidden side in Bare Truth

Lain Moger

NORTH SHORE TIMES

May 17, 2016

Auckland Portrait Photographer

Bare Truth exhibition

 

Head On Photo Festival

Head On Photo Festival exposes New Zealand men

April 22, 2016 by Keren Cook

This year’s Head on Photo Festival showcases the work of New Zealand photographer Ilan Wittenberg – a new collection of monochrome images of bare-chested New Zealand men.

IMG_0549-Edit-3The Sydney-based international photography exhibition offers a different skew from the standard approach. All work submitted to the festival is judged without the artists’ names or pedigrees so the proposals stand on their merit.

Head on Foundation (est.2008) is a non-profit organization dedicated to promoting the work of photographers at all stages of career, encouraging excellence and innovation, making photography accessible to all and raising awareness of important issues through photography.

IMG_7261-Edit-3One of Wittenberg’s objectives in his ‘Bare Truth’ campaign was to counter-balance the portrayal of men as strong, physically and emotionally.

Bare Truth is a collection of portraits of New Zealand men who are humble, courageous and vulnerable. Their photographs expose and reveal who they really are. They look directly into the camera so there is always a highlight in their eyes.

Wittenberg says it’s all about challenging stereotypes and presenting his subjects in a way that allows the viewer to think and reflect on issues like strength, power and emotion. Stereotypical perceptions of strength and well-being can be problematic according to Wittenberg.

“Stereotype sometimes leads to dire outcomes when considering how poorly typical men treat health symptoms such as IMG_7701-Edit-2depression, stress and anxiety,” Wittenberg says.

Wittenberg’s photographs are created to drive awareness and to offer men the freedom to express their feelings and connect with their emotions. Wittenberg says: “ This fresh look at men is an eye-opening opportunity to see real people without the ‘shield’ of clothes. The project simply reminds us of how fragile we are.”

The combination of shooting in monochrome, using soft, directional light and utilising special post-processing technique allowed Wittenberg to enhance features of his ‘model’s so the images appear raw and crisp. His use of simple backgrounds allows the viewer to focus on the body language and facial expression of his subject.

Initially, Wittenberg asked only family and friends to participate, but after sometime expanded his portfolio and began approaching total strangers.

The photographer then focused on capturing a variety of ethnic groups, poses, age groups and body sizes. He says: “it’s the set of photos that makes the collection engaging.”

Exhibition details:

Ilan Wittenberg – Bare Truth
Head On Photo Festival – Associated Exhibition Where:
Gaffa gallery, 281 Clarence Street, Sydney
When:
May 12 to 23, Mon-Fri 10am to 6pm, Sat 11am to 5pm Opening event: Thursday 12 May 6pm
Artist talk: Saturday 14 May 12pm

All imagery on this site is © Copyright - Ilan Wittenberg 2019 | All Rights Reserved | 2018, 2106 & 2015 Auckland Photographer of the Year - The New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography | T & C
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