The more relaxed the subject is the better my photos end up. When I do create these micro-connections, they’re less likely to ask for money. Plus, most of the people I take photos of aren’t necessarily homeless or in need. When someone does ask for money though, if the amount they ask for is reasonable, I’ll pay. Whatever anyone does with their money is their business, and I don’t feel like it’s my job to try and educate them.
Yanay Tsabary is an Israeli photographer based out of Gannot, a few minutes from Tel Aviv. He’s a quiet man but given enough prompting, you might also find him dancing on a bar to the tune of “Ice Ice Baby” on an isolated beach in Nicaragua. His easy going nature is a perfect fit for starting conversations with strangers on the streets of New Orleans or Detroit. He’s cool with a Burning Man swagger and still utterly sincere when you converse about any topic in the world.
I’ve become a fan of Roca Yan’s photo essays since seeing one of an aging hippie in Central America posted on Facebook awhile back. It was a sincere moment with flaws and beauty and a stark reality to the lifestyles people choose to live. Something Yan is quite comfortable with himself. A self proclaimed gypsy…with a camera.
You’ve got quite a unique camera. How and when did you decide where to start shooting photos and what country did you begin?
The first time I remember showing any interest in photography was probably about 5-6 years ago. I was always drawn to visual art but photography wasn’t on my radar. At some point in a family Shabbat dinner, my brother and cousin started talking about an old classmate from school named Dean Avisar who’s doing fashion photography, and doing fairly well. At that moment, looking at his photos, I realized I have to get a camera. Funny enough, our two styles couldn’t be further apart.
I then bought my first and current camera, an Olympus om-d em-5. In about a year, I took maybe 100 photos with it. None were particularly good. I started thinking maybe I made a mistake and that I have no eye or passion for photography. But then I started moving around.
First San Francisco, then Sedona. Still, nothing too amazing, but it felt like my shell was slowly cracking. Fast forward a few months. Cuba was the first place where I realized I really enjoy making art using my camera.
I’ve seen your photos from all around the world…Russia to Costa Rica, Las Vegas to Berlin. Do you have a favorite area of the world yet and if so, what makes a country or city special through a lens?
It all comes down to uniqueness. There’s nothing specific, just the sheer fact it’s different for me. A lot of photographers like to take sunset photos at the beach. I grew up close to the beach and in Israel every sunset is in the sea, so I don’t find them to be very fascinating. Granted, I am probably missing a lot of good shots just because the object or scene is something I’m used to seeing, but nothing much I can do about it. China for example was a lot of fun to photograph, because some of the places were very different for me.
You mainly focus on a portrait style or one object. What is it that can draw you to someone in particular. Angles, creases, eyes, the right moment, lighting?
It’s definitely a combination of things. First I’ll see something I like. If it’s a human, there should be something unique about them. They should look like they have a story to tell, that is as different from my story as possible. Then I would frame it, and that is when lines and angles enter the frame (pun definitely intended). When it comes to shooting objects, the lines and angles are the first things I look for. If it is a bigger frame I am shooting, which doesn’t happen too often, then the moment I snap should be a micro cosmo that could represent a situation or place without further photos.
You and I have spoken many times about photographing women. You’ve stated a hesitancy in regards to women’s beauty and capturing it. Then you took my own photo and what did I do, I yelled, “I hate this! I look like an old hag.” But you reminded me that I also looked strong and wise. Have other women had similar reactions to photographs you’ve taken or am I just a screaming bitch?
You’re just a screaming bitch.
But you have a valid point and you know it. I still don’t take many photos of women. I don’t enjoy taking photos of pretty women because I find it to be boring. Kinda like spreading chocolate on croissant.
Anyway, the type of women I’d enjoy shooting would be the old, wrinkly and scarred ones. Again, those with a story to tell. I assume, out of a higher sense of respect towards women, I fear they’ll get easily hurt understanding it’s their “flaws” I would like to document. “Flaws” according to today’s beauty standards for women, where any deviation from young, tall, skinny, tight skin and yoga pants is a minus.
I still take photos of my friends from time to time but it’s usually just documenting for my memories.
You live in a unique household in Israel. Can you tell us a little about it?
My hometown is a small 9-street neighborhood just 15 minutes car-drive away from Tel Aviv. Israel is small so for us 15 minutes away is like a whole other place. I had a good childhood with only 8 other kids my age I grew up with, and we are still friends to this day. In our property we live three generations together, so besides our home there’s also my aunt’s family and of course my grandparents, which makes the family seed fairly tight.
But what I think makes my home unique is the support I am getting for whatever that is I would like to pursue. I was raised with the belief that anything I would like to achieve is possible, whatever that might be, and I still believe so to this day. I am grateful to my parents for planting that seed of self-belief in my mind.
I sat with you during a question and answer session with photographer Camera Jesus in Detroit. It was at that meeting I heard you ask him about editing and if he had a favorite part of photographing. I know from your photos in New Orleans, you like to really play up your pieces into a type of digital or stylized art. Are there other artists you follow that do the same? Are there other artists you admire and really study their work.
I do really enjoy the post processing part. I wouldn’t necessarily go for digital or stylized art most of the time, but I am definitely not afraid to play with the RAW material I have in my hands.
For your question I’d say there are many and there are none. I follow anyone on Instagram that I like their work, but don’t actively jump back to anyone’s feed really. I try to expose myself to as many styles possible and get different styles for inspiration. If I’ll have to name two photographers though that I have in my mind, I’d say Sebastiao Salgado and Andreas Gursky.
You spent a few days in Detroit photographing people walking the streets or fishing or playing basketball. We both met a man asking for some cash in exchange for a photo. It was a weird moment, wasn’t it? He had such a sweet face and he was so nice but we both felt kinda weird about paying him. Didn’t he tell us it was going to be for a haircut but we knew it wasn’t? Have you paid other people for their portraits?
I have, but it doesn’t happen too often. I’d much rather form a connection with a person before asking for a photo. The more relaxed the subject is the better my photos end up. When I do create these micro-connections, they’re less likely to ask for money. Plus, most of the people I take photos of aren’t necessarily homeless or in need. When someone does ask for money though, if the amount they ask for is reasonable, I’ll pay. Whatever anyone does with their money is their business, and I don’t feel like it’s my job to try and educate them.
On that particular trip to the States, you hit New Orleans, Chicago and Detroit. What did you feel was different than your trips out in the western part of the United States? How are the Americans you meet different from that of say…an Israeli man?
I’d say, in general, the spectrum of characters is a lot broader in the States. The combination of size, population, longer history and different backgrounds has created, in my eyes, a bigger variety of human characters. You can be whoever you want to be and you’ll almost always find a clique. Where in Israel, thanks to its smaller population, you won’t find as many “types” of humans probably because being very different would take a lot of effort.
Comparing the western part of the US to its center, I’d say in the west I found more people similar to myself. According to media, I assume this is true, but my own experience is biased because while on the west coast, I mostly hangout with friends I already know.
Where would you love to go you haven’t been to already?
Haha where would I even start? For personal experience I feel like Australia has been calling me for years. For photography, it is hard to say because I never know where my next photo would come from. The second most liked photo on my Instagram at the moment (“Paper”) was taken in Tel Aviv less than a mile from my apartment. I would love to go back to China though. If I wouldn’t think I’d starve to death struggling to say “dumplings” in Mandarin for two weeks, I’d love to spend some time in a factory town in China taking photos of people’s lives.
Facebook: Yanay Tsabary.
Diana Kirk is the author of Licking Flames: Tales of a Half-Assed Hussy. She’s been published in Nailed and Thought Catalog and other highly impressive publications. But her greatest achievement thus far is the family she eats dinner with every night somewhere on the coast of Oregon and her ability to turn conversations dirty in under one minute. You can find her most days on Facebook or Twitter. Www.dianakirk.wordpress.com