Narcissus’ Reflection

Israeli Contemporary Art, Photography

Piercing eyes, still as a lake, printed on the glossy images by photographer Adi Nes entice viewers to peel off these well-crafted veneers and reveal an autobiographical search of identity and the reason of a nation. With his art, Nes is the master storyteller. Yet, his career seems to hit its critical juncture only now after a five-year hiatus since Nes’ last series The Village in 2012. Like something is brewing and about to begin.

Adi Nes’ iconic image, Untitled (The Last Supper), from the photographer’s Soldiers series produced in 1999 once graced the front page of the New York Times, not only represents a high point in his artistic career, but also summarises many of his ideologies of what we should consider now as Nes’ first period of work. The reason to the previous assertion is the photographer’s motivation to depart from his archetypal staged photographs into researching the crux of the photographic medium, the raison d’être of propagating images. “I feel that photography has changed from the roots – how an image starts.”

Adi Nes- Soldiers

Untitled, 1999, from the serie “Soldiers” – 90 x 90 cm & 140 x 140 cm. © Courtesy of the Artist.

Flipping back the pages to the day when Nes registered for courses at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design Jerusalem after serving in the army and has mistakenly checked the box for the Photography department, his method of drawing out sketches and storyboarding prior to shooting was unusual in the late 80’s in Israel. Nes’ dramatic style and audacity are drawn from his experience working in the television and cinema industry as well as from Postmodernist figures from North America like Cindy Sherman, Jeff Wall and Philip-Lorca diCorcia. In Guy Debord’s definition of life being “presented as an immense accumulation of spectacles”, Nes bases his photography heavily on introspection, or rather his association with his world, his reality and his people.

“I deal with homoeroticism and masculinity because I’m gay; with Israeliness because I’m an Israeli. Because I’ve grown up in the periphery, I deal with the gap between the centre and the boundary; because my parents immigrated from Iran, I deal with ethnic issues and minority groups; because I’m an artist, I pay tribute to classical art; because I’m Jewish, I deal with Judaism.” Underneath the parallelism drawn from staged actors posing as contemporary homeless people and the moment before the Binding of Isaac in Untitled (Abraham & Isaac) (2004) or the tribute to Picasso’s Boy Leading a Horse (1906) and its allusion to the mythological beast Pegasus in Untitled (2008) from The Village series, Nes wishes to relate the viewers on an exceedingly intimate level.

Adi Nes - Biblical Abraham & Isaac

Untitled (Abraham & Isaac) 2004, from the serie “Biblical Stories” – 100 x 100 cm & 140 x 140 cm. © Courtesy of the Artist.

The elicited ambiguity in Nes’ images, which is also the reason to their unyielding fascination, often obfuscates the truth of its message that oscillates between its commanding visual language with its dark tones and contrasts, the allegorical stories,  the alluded drama and the underlying tensed atmosphere, and Nes’ concept in discussing identity. This collection of images by Nes is almost a by-product of the photographer’s state of mind and worldview during that specific period. His desire to piece together his inner identity struggles while living in and telling stories of “a young nation that started from a dream” and having his ideals shaped by Hebrew, an ancient and colourful language whose modern usage can still be considered to be in its infancy.

Nes bases his photography heavily on introspection, or rather his association with his world, his reality and his people.

It is not illogical to analyse that everything which has been created until now in Nes’ career is a long exposition to his story and of what is brewing up in his ongoing research. Upon the completion of the series The Village in 2012, Nes participated in a project at the science faculty at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Alongside scientists, the photographer delved into how the core of matters remains as materials fall apart. “I thought to create a project that follows the way of how I feel about contemporary life. My body, at the age of 51, starts to break apart but my identity is always there.” Far different from his situation during his creative proliferation, Nes finds himself leading a comfortable life. Yet, conflict ensues. “I’ve got to a place where I can feel that everything is settled down and suddenly, it starts to all break apart again.” This crisis in his identity as an artist solicits him to look for new expressions, new colours, new textures, and new ways of thinking.

Like when a star collapses, its nebular energy might birth another solar system. Nes is currently taking on a trepidatious task to rejuvenate his photographic discipline by incorporating motion in juxtaposition with still photographs. However, the results may not come for another couple of years.


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