by: Stacey Waterman - Last updated: 2003-11-27
Image by Kobi Israel
To see the world through the eyes of Kobi Israel is a privileged glimpse into the acclaimed photographers own inner world of memories and fantasies, where the beauty and natural eroticism of the male body is celebrated against a backdrop of passion, confusion and fear, conflicts and trapped emotions.
Following a wave of recent accolades for his award winning best-selling book Kobi Israel Views, including his portrait "1700" being selected for the Schweppes Photographic Portrait Prize 2003 at the National Portrait Gallery in London, an exclusive exhibition featuring his most provocative and intimate work presented in three themes is now showing at the eclectic Blue Elephant Theatre in South London.
The images in the show, set in his native Israel, explore the many conflicts of growing up and exploring his sexuality in a traditional Israeli society. Framed memories, temporarily relived are staged and captured first in "Fragments of Life" where Kobi returns to the original locations of his first encounters and revelations to recreate moments of his own life as a gay adolescent in an Israeli suburb, where each photograph has a number depicting the time of day or night producing a collection of time zones integrating specific points in time, movement, space and experience.
Through to military life as a soldier where feelings towards other men are often "brotherly", physical and warm but seldom cross the dangerous line between a brotherly hug and the touch of love and desire. It is in this series "In the eyes of a soldier" that we see raw humanity portrayed as well as the iconic beauty and sexual attraction of young well built Israeli soldiers.
Revealing strong contradicting feelings borne of Kobi's own personal experiences we share his journey from being a hormonal teenager full of fear, joy, hope, emotional and physical strain, freedom from home, horror and beauty, sadness and happiness to becoming part of a collective existence where in military life saying "Ani Ohev Otcha Achi" ("I love you my brother") is a normal way of greeting, where soldiers hug and kiss each other, sleep together sometimes sharing only a tiny mattress, have communal showers and where the thin line between homo-social and homo-erotic in army life can be so confusing and torturous for a gay soldier.
Evidently these images of confident and beautiful men are about deep emotions, beauty and vulnerability and the confusion aroused by desire within the parameters of the military. "I have tried to recreate the feeling of loneliness that I suddenly felt, torn by confusing emotions of "brotherly" love and sexual attraction to my fellow soldiers; by fear mixed with beauty and fantasy."
In the final stages of the show, "Intimacy" we witness Kobi's founded freedom with images taken in a deliberate "snapshot" style, we are moved by his depiction of secret intimate moments within day-to-day scenes and the search for the "divine" that is hidden in all of us
Kobi Israel's photos are not intended to provoke, he does not glorify war but the cohabitation and identity of his fellow soldiers and his own conflicted and intimate journey of self-exploration before, during and after military service. His show captures the subtle differences between real life and fantasy.