Born in a small village in the south of Israel, Eitan Vitkon is an acclaimed contemporary photographer whose work has been exhibited and applauded worldwide. In 1996, Eitan moved to New York from Tel Aviv, to continue studying architecture, eventually receiving a Bachelor of Architecture degree from Pratt Institute in 1999. It was during his studies that he developed a passion for photography, using the camera to sustain a creative mental space away from the more demanding and often rigid architecture pursuit.
His interest in urbanism and design from a physical and emotional standpoint inevitably spilled into his image making, culminating in what is now an impressive body of work spanning close to 15 years. The shift from architecture to photography was bound to happen – in essence, photography provides exaltation on a sustained level, whereas architecture’s exuberant lure seldom lasts past the conceptual stages.
Now a seasoned artist, Vitkon’s incredible visual lexicon shows significant shifts in perspective and subject matter over the years, although still preserving intact his reverence for form, the passing of time and most recently, his Israeli origins. The ‘Thorns’ photographs are stunning portrayals of shapes and silhouettes, carefully enveloped in thorns collected by the artist himself. The reason is evident: thorny flora is typical in Israel – it’s everywhere – so much that nobody even takes notice of it.
At the same time, the structure of the thorns is amazingly complex. For Vitkon this project started two years ago when he was asked to do a tribute to Sol Lewitt, who made sculptures out of white brick. So he created a brick out of thorns. The brick became a metaphor for life in Israel – in a sense, it is uncertain what the next day will bring. And opposed to Lewitt’s view that everything is simple, the reality in Israel is complexity. The thorns reflect just that. Traditionally, the national plant is the Sabra - a very sweet fruit covered with thorns.
After 60 years of living under difficult conditions, the sweetness is gone and Israelis are left with the thorns. The metaphor further articulated the transformation of the “old Jew”-rootless, disconnected from the land, vulnerable, overly cerebral, unhealthy-to the “new Jew” as envisioned by Zionism-healthy, assertive, productive, physically strong and firmly rooted in the Land.
As with all nations of a particularly thorny past and present, the reality of life in Israel oscillates between everything being better than it’s been, and also worse. The daily life is constantly contradictory: the weather is wonderful, yet everything seems to be about to explode at any time. The people are wonderful, but they are brash in their directness. This is how the series came about: taking the softest, sweetest, most intimate moments of the day – and projecting them on a prickly, rough surface.
The ‘Thorns’ photographs are stunning portrayals of shapes and silhouettes, carefully enveloped in thorns collected by the artist himself.The painstaking images describe Vitkon’s feeling about his homeland: “I collected the first thorns on the family farm where I grew up and brought them to my studio. Today, I have thorns from all over Israel”.
‘I select images I want to work with, create a 7″x 7″x 3″ pile of thorns and project the image over the thorns, then, I shape the thorns in the shape of the image. After I finish the composition, I create the image of the thorns. In the studio, I have controlled conditions. This allows me to shoot very long exposures with a small aperture. I wanted to achieve an effect where you see the image from afar, but close up you see only the thorns – so ironically, the closer you go, the more the image disappears’.
While the images evoke the most intimate moments in one’s life: an infant, a kiss, a loving embrace reminiscent of security, stability, and a familiar tenderness, the thorns proclaim Israel’s soul a difficult entity to navigate. If one is searching for relief, it will not be found in Vitkon’s work. All images from the ‘Thorns’ series strive to create a balance, focusing on reverence for reality rather than lament, through the exploration of hidden meanings and
intangible truths. The work strips the skin of reality and transforms it into new time textures, thereby drawing parallels to the depths of the surface we now live in – both literally and symbolically. (Took out ‘And’) If skin is the toughest human organ, soft yet strong, then Vitkon succeeds admirably in exposing his metaphoric position on Israel, it’s people, and it’s soul.