Photography at UXBRIDGE: Sharp focus on Africa

Auckland’s cultural arena includes at least one show that’s likely to grab some attention this summer – a striking collection of monochrome prints of the Maasai people by award-winning photographer Ilan Wittenberg, on show at Malcolm Smith Gallery, Uxbridge Arts from February 28 – April 24.

From here to Africa is a collection of captivating portraits of the Maasai people from Tanzania.

“I found myself deeply inspired upon meeting the Maasai tribe and realised the opportunity to document their unique culture which is being eroded by Western influence and modern technology,” said Wittenberg.

“On a personal level, this reminds me of the true value of photography: preserving memories in order to relive special stories and pass them on to others. Through this series of carefully composed photographs, the Maasai people can share their rich culture with the world.”

The collection is presented in a film-noir monochrome, capturing these portraits in a classically timeless style; lending a unifying appearance that emulates analogue lithographic technique, she said.

“I wanted viewers to focus on the humanity aspect of each portrait: expressions and body language, shapes and forms. I eliminated distracting colours to ensure that viewers focus on the people within the photos and make emotional connections with these individuals,” said Wittenberg.

Timid (c) Ilan Wittenberg

“I aim to depict the Maasai culture in an authentic and honest way, using a clear narrative style which shows people the significance of their culture, as well as their individual personalities.

“My goal is to provoke your imagination regarding the traditions of the Maasai people and the stories behind their portraits.”

In sharing this portfolio, Wittenberg encourages viewers to show tolerance, to accept all people and to recognise the value of cultural diversity.

“We would all experience an enhanced sense of community if we took the time to appreciate interactions which allow us to discover the world beyond our familiar boundaries,” she said.

From here to Africa was also selected as a featured exhibition at the 2020 Head On photo festival in Sydney.

The show will run from February 28 to April 24 at Uxbridge Arts and Culture, Howick.

Opening Event: Friday, February 28 at 7:30pm with keynote speaker Sir Bob Harvey.

Artist Talk: Saturday, March 7 at 11am.

Malcolm Smith Gallery

Uxbridge Arts and Culture,

35 Uxbridge Rd, Howick

FRI – MON 10 am – 4pm
TUE – THU 10am – 9pm
Admission is Free

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

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


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

The Big Idea

Kiwis triumph in the 2018 Sony Alpha Awards, a celebration of the best Australian and New Zealand photography

10 May 2018

The Sony Alpha Awards, now in its third year, showcases the very best of Australian and New Zealand photography using the Sony Alpha camera range. Over 5000 stunning images were submitted from both professional and amateur photographers, for the chance to be recognised and celebrated for their talents. This year’s competition saw Kiwis triumph with established photography talent and new-blood being recognised as winners.

The overall Grand Prize and also the Portrait category was awarded to Auckland photographer, Ilan Wittenberg. Ilan made New Zealand his home in 2001 and took up photography in 2011, going on to become a professional photographer who has garnered an impressive collection of photography awards of which the Sony Alpha Awards is his most recent achievement.

The concept for Ilan’s stunning portrait shot was created in collaboration with his model. He explains, “the idea was to create a cracked earth background using drought as the theme” and elaborates “I love Alicia’s eyes, she looks so fragile and vulnerable. Her beautiful eyes are truly the windows to her soul”.

Photographic Exhibition


Ilan Wittenberg – Bare Truth

May 23rd, 2016

Photographic Exhibition

BARE TRUTH – Ilan Wittenberg

A compelling collection of images showing bare chested men will feature in the Auckland Festival of Photography 2016 Signature Programme.

5-22 June 2016

Northart Gallery
Norman King Square
Ernie Mays Street – Northcote Shopping Centre
Open daily 10am -4pm

One of the key aims of 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 as an Associated Exhibition at the 2016 Head On photo festival in Sydney.

About the photographer:
Having studied and worked in industrial engineering and information technology, Ilan Wittenberg is a relative newcomer to professional photography, only starting his journey in 2011. But his talents were quickly recognised, winning him a plethora of national and international awards. Ilan is a Fellow of the Photographic Society of New Zealand and a Master of the New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography. Selected works from the Bare Truth portfolio won Ilan the title: 2015 Auckland Photographer of the Year.

Award Winning Print

Bare Truth wins at Iris Awards

North Shore Times, July 5, 2016
Award Winning Print
© Copyright - Ilan Wittenberg 2019 | All Rights Reserved | 2018, 2106 & 2015 Auckland Photographer of the Year - The New Zealand Institute of Professional Photography | T & C