aviya wyse, israel
Contact: On request
I began photographing women after my mother's death, when I was 17.
I took care of her when she was dying, and the time I spent intimately nursing her vulnerable body is an experience that has never left me. Seeing, touching and treating her body made me confront the fragility of our ‘living’ flesh and bones. Dealing with her body’s secretions, with its suffering, its aches and sores repulsed me and yet fascinated me at the same time. It struck me that even as my mother’s physical body deteriorated so violently, it continued to perform its basic functions, as if it just wouldn’t let go. I believe it instilled in me the need to capture the body in its living state.
Photographing women was at first a compulsive activity, a response to the void I felt from the lack of the most fundamental female connection: a mother. But soon, it became an obsession with building an extensive archive of ‘living’ human bodies. Stripping these people, asking them to stand bare and naked, vulnerable in front of my lens, is a way of capturing the ‘raw’ body, simultaneously weak and powerful, alive in the moment but paradoxically inanimate once transformed into a photographic image.
The photographing session itself is a short and efficient technical procedure.
However, the long hours I spend in the darkroom after shooting is what I consider the central part of my practice. It is only then that I reunite intimately with my subjects, through physical reactions of light, chemicals and substances. I see my subjects come into being under dimmed red lights, and I expose them - sometimes aggressively - to pulses of modified light to observe how they react.
Each print receives an individual treatment, like an act of “embalming”, a way of preserving and preparing the bodies for display. The way I work with the paper, the reactions of the chemicals and light is, contrary to the act of taking the photograph, very intuitive: if this quality finds its way into the photographs, I embrace it.
The more bodies I photograph, the less I see my work as being about my subjects. Of course, each model has their own biography, their own story, but there is nothing I reveal to the viewer about them except their naked bodies - and their bodies in this context do not present any other aspect of them other than their physical form, a material. Their individuality is further diminished by the way the photographs are shown in public: they are installed as a one monolithic mass, covering entire walls in undulating layers of endless bodies, creating a hypnotic effect. The viewer does not see one body, but a sea of bodies.
A turning point in my work was moving to East Germany. I began to photograph men – and most of them men from the region. In doing so, the women I had captured in Israel before, suddenly became Jewish Israeli women. The naked bodies were not only bodies; my practice gave them an identity that I never intended to give them.
Most of the German men I photograph represent a generation who grew in up in the post-GDR era, young antifascists. This juxtaposition created a certain tension for me between the Israeli women I photograph, and my German subjects. I started to reflect on German history, compounded by the fact I have always been inspired by the aesthetic and method of taking mug shots of prisoners and victims of war. Photographing German men in particular has made me reflect on the use of photography at that time, and my response to it from my standpoint today.
My work has always been a documentation of the synergy between life and death. While my ongoing project draws from my personal history it has now evolved into a broader discussion about Jewish history, or my relationship to it. Over the years my series of portraits has extended to become a human, existential record; a proof of existence.
- Aviya Wyse