Gabi Ben Avraham is an Israeli-born street photographer presently living in Tel Aviv. After flirting with an initial fascination with photography and film cameras in the 1980’s, Avraham went on to pursue a career as an IT manager and put his love for the still image aside.
Fortunately, his interest never disappeared: while the passion lay dormant for decades, all it took was the gift of a camera to awaken his inclination towards photography again.
Today, street photography represents Avraham’s favorite way of looking at the world: his camera has become an integral part of him and he can’t imagine himself without it. LensCulture editorial assistant Winifred Chiocchia reached out to Avraham to find out more.
LC: Gabi, please tell us more about your story—how did you first pick up a camera?
GBA: It all started long ago, though at the time, I didn’t know it was “it”! During the 1980s, I photographed often using film cameras. Even then, I was fond of wondering the streets of Tel Aviv in search of the extraordinary. I then stopped and didn’t touch a camera for 20 years. Six years ago, I received a digital camera as a birthday gift from my wife and the rest is history…
LC: Today, what draws you to the streets or public places to photograph?
GBA: What attracts me so deeply about street photography is that I love taking photos of people in urban surroundings—there is always a story to catch. Remember, the street is not a studio; surprise is always just around the corner. Sometimes, I stand and wait for things to converge, a cyclist, a dancer, a child, all moving along unknowingly. While they are not aware, I am and I wait.
Through the camera lens, I am constantly looking around me, searching for that “decisive moment” that will never return unless I catch it. When pushing the button, I try to make some sense of the world, to restore order to the chaotic scheme with my composition. The components “speak” with each other in a special dialogue, either by color, shape, or light. Capturing the elusive, special moment and making it eternal—that is my goal.
I pay attention to the forgotten, transparent people in urban settings and grant them their moment of grace.
Shadows, fragile outlines, reflections that are unnoticed in the thick and busy cityscape (sometimes even crushed by it)—these I treasure.
LC: Is there a picture of yours that has a strong personal significance?
GBA: “Learning to Fly.” The picture was taken in the old port of Tel Aviv. Children were playing and jumping into the water and from time to time, there was an airplane landing in the background. After shooting for a while, I thought I should try to combine the two elements. It took at least half an hour, but suddenly I caught it all in the frame. As Cartier-Bresson said once: “Of course it is all luck,” but I believe I succeeded in creating a momentary story, a fantastic illusion.
LC: Looking back on your work, how do you feel your personality manifests in your photography?
GBA: Like a fisherman who goes about his daily work without knowing what he will catch, I take my camera and dive into the streets without knowing what will happen. It is an adventure and I am always looking forward to it…
When I click, I try to see the surreal and to catch things out of their everyday meaning and their usual context. The streets are always different: the people, the light and shadows, the atmosphere. I have my favorite places to shoot—these are the ones from which I never come back with the same photos twice.
—Gabi Ben Avraham, interviewed by Winifred Chiocchia