Shai Ignatz: Jo

Curator: Leah Abir

Over the years, Shai Ignatz has been expanding portrait photography as a category, a situation, and a practice. Exhibitions, books, and sculpture installations from recent years reveal a process of (seemingly) exposing of the photographic encounter – the ‘session’ –  in all its particulars and meanings. For the first time in the artist’s career, this exhibition contains video works only: short clips, in which different figures move, act, and conduct themselves in a photo-session. It is another step in a long-term process that has been going on in Ignatz’s work, and the current show can also be seen as one long film.

The living room, the bed, the hotel room – these are the main arenas for the encounters. The subjects are present during the session, framed only by its terms. It is not surprising that Ignatz shows himself in these works more than ever before, and that fragments of conversations between him and the subjects pop up in some of the videos. The dynamic of the power play between photographer and subject is ever present, but it is variable and pliant, often even unpredictable.

At the heart of this move to expand portraiture in Ignatz’s work is the rejection of the typological principle, which is so typical of this genre and photography in series in general` there is no accumulation of a ‘mosaic,’ no sociological conclusion, no unifying, grounding rule. On the contrary –  the works flow from total commitment to the unique, the distinct, the specific. The wringing intimacy that characterizes them would not have been created without the encounter in its present form, without the freedom and the importance the artist confers on the unique performativeness of each one for the subjects.

This commitment intensifies because of the dissociation of the subjects and scenes from any context or explanation: they occur outside time, outside the stream of social life. We know them by their first names. The only frame is that of the camera; no story or background that can place and normalize. The mind is uneasy. The meeting of the viewer with the work is a divergence of that first encounter whose materials are now set to meet another singular person. That person, too, is now released from context and explanation and is invited to give in to the singularity of the moment with all its particulars.

The “Jo” of the title is Jo Gostin, president of WIZO Melbourne, Australia, who has become Shai’s regular subject in the last decade. He has done a well-known series on the women of WIZO, her colleagues. The series was assembled into an exhibition and a book (“WIZO Women, Melbourne, Australia,” 2009-2010). Jo is seen in this exhibition in a hotel room scene – intimate, full of life and suspense. She passed away last year, and the exhibition is dedicated to her.



Eyal Goldberg, Video editor

Binya Reches,Sound editor

Colorist: Yasmin Vardi


Documentation by Dor Even Chen