Dudy Dayan found photography as a way to cope with staying at home after suffering an accident. But thanks to this, he’s been able to share his unique perspective with the world, a fascinating insight into Jewish culture, faith and sexuality – “in the end, the best way to express yourself is to photograph things that you find interesting”, he tells us in this interview. By being familiar with his subjects, portraying coming-of-age moments with Israel’s youngsters, and even travelling to Ukraine for a meaningful spiritual reason, Dudy guides us through some of his latest series and how is it to grow up knowing that, at some point, you’ll do military service.
Dudy, first things first. When and why did you begin taking photos?
At the age of 23, I went through an accident that left me wounded at home for a long time. I felt I had to find a way to express all my afflictions and found photography as a good way to do that after seeing an ad in the newspaper. I still remember my family not really understanding why I chose that route.
You graduated from Minshar and Camera Obscura school of arts. What would you say is the biggest lesson you learnt? Does art school encourage self-expression or does it shape everyone into the same mould?
The biggest lesson I learnt while studying photography was to specialize in all the aspects of the field, starting from shooting standstill objects to models in the studio. Also, using different kinds of cameras and to get familiar with the fact that everything has its process – and you have to be committed to it. After getting all of these tools, I started to use them for my own visual expression. In the end, the best way to express yourself is to photograph things that you find interesting. Sometimes, art schools don’t have the platforms to do that, so the best way to do it is to keep doing what you love sidelong to the studying program.
Your pictures breathe a familiar air of trust. How do you usually meet your subjects? What has been your favourite encounter so far?
I had many interesting meetings with some unconventional characters – people with mental illnesses, religious people and models as well. I’m a very curious person, which allows me to get close to my subjects and make them feel comfortable enough with the situation of standing in front of the camera and be natural, with no masks on.
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There’s an ongoing debate between digital and analogue. When digital first appeared, everyone started using it, but little by little, we see many photographers going back to film. Which one do you prefer? And what’s your favourite camera to shoot with?
I shoot only analogue. I also used digital cameras when they appeared, but very soon returned to the magic of film and the uncontrollable mistakes it offers. I never liked perfection and I feel that analogue brings me the results I look for.
In your latest work, you capture youth in Israel and Ukraine. If I’m not wrong, you grew up in Israel. What is it like growing up there? What's the youth culture like?
I grew up in Israel until the age of 10, then moved to Canada for six years, and then came back. After my military service at the age of 21, I moved to Tel Aviv and have lived there ever since, but for a short period, I went out of the city. I studied photography in Tel Aviv and lived it by shooting its life and people. Growing up here, I realized that the youth life is very different from other places in the world. I think it’s because of the army/military situation. It makes you live with deadlines and different life issues. The youth don’t really have a voice here, which is something I felt myself when growing up. That too helped me to express myself through photography when there was nothing else.
You seem like an adventurous soul. What keeps you in Israel?
I find the duality of religiousness and free-spirited people in Israel, and especially in Tel Aviv, fascinating.
Sexuality and religion are two of the subjects your work is based on, how do you approach certain contradiction?
There are many subjects that I find interesting; sexuality and religion are some of the main ones – but not only –, and I think they can’t be separated. Every photographer chooses when to lift his camera and shoot. For me, it comes from an inner place of curiosity and interest.
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In your three latest series – Mikveh, Uman and Revolution –, we see faith as a recurring theme in the context of coming-of-age. How does this resonate with you?
In the last couple of years, I’ve started to become more interested in my roots as a Jewish man. Along with some inner exploration, I found myself more connected to God, faith, and self-identity. Being a photographer has helped me with the research, using the camera as an outside observer.
One of the series is named Mikveh, which is a bath used for ritual immersion in Judaism to achieve ritual purity. What is the subject’s backstory in this series?
In this series, I wanted to show a place that serves a close group of people, take it out of its original purpose and show it to all the people who are unfamiliar with it. I like showing different situations and aspects of life.
Can you also put us in context with the two other series? How do the three of them relate to one another?
All of the three series are related to religious youth and the search for God. Each one with their story.
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Also, parts of those series are shot in Ukraine. Could you elaborate more on why did you decide to visit the country, and what are the similarities and differences between the Jewish community there and the one in Israel?
I went to Uman (Ukraine) to visit Rabbi Nachman’s gravestone. He’s a big influence in the history of Jewish belief. He helped me and a lot of other people to connect to our past and roots. This experience was strong for me and I wanted to document it.
How would you say your approach to photography has changed throughout the years? What is your eye usually drawn to?
Through the years, my approach to photography has become very simple and specific. I find difference and the imperfection in humans more interesting and try to capture them without altering reality much.
What’s your advice on making a living out of what you enjoy the most? Would you say photography has helped you in your life’s journey?
My advice is that if you have something you are passionate about, don’t be afraid to leave your comfort zone and be an outsider. Use your guts and knowledge to achieve your goals. Being happy with what you do motivates you and brings the solutions for making a living. Enjoy the process.
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