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YOSAIF COHAIN

(born 1945)

PORTRAIT OF A NATION

ABOUT YOSAIF COHAIN
American born, Yosaif Cohain has been working in Israel since 1971 after receiving a B.A. from Yeshiva University an M.F.A. from Rochester Institute of technology. As one of Israel’s leading creative photographers, his work has been widely exhibited throughout Israel including a one-person shows at the TelAviv Museum, the Israel Museum, Jerusalem, Eretz Israel Museum, Tel Aviv and Tel-Hai Museum, Museum of Photography. He has also exhibited  abroad.

In 1977 the Israel Museum awarded him the prestigious Kavlin Photography Grant “…for his creative use of medium as a means of personal expression”. Yosaif Cohain is presently a senior lecturer at Bezalel Academy of Art and Design in Jerusalem where he has been teaching photography for 35 years. He lives in the town of Alon Shvut, Gush Etzyon.
   
ARTICLE JERUSALEM POST (OCTOBER 2011)
'These are my people'

By Rachel Marder

In 1981, Yosaif Cohain set out to tell the visual story of the Jewish people in their homeland celebrating Succot. He asked God to grant him 15 years for the massive undertaking. That plan didn’t quite pan out, as 30 years later Cohain’s project is still going strong. He continues nearly every year to spend the intermediate days of Succot photographing citizens from every corner and walk of life celebrating the holiday.
Cohain, a senior photography lecturer at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design, has captured thousands of angles of the Jewish people; playful neighborhood children in Netivot in 1990, a proud mother in Gush Katif standing steadfast beside her family’s succa in 2004, soldiers on reserve duty – all with the backdrop of Succot.
As Cohain, a New York native who made aliya in 1971 with his family, walks me through his upcoming exhibition “Identity of a Nation,” which opens October 16 at Jerusalem’s Mayanot Gallery, he describes his subjects and their landscape with remarkably deep love and respect, as cherished beings, as he would his own family. And that’s because they’re not just subjects to him.
“These are my people. These are my heroes,” he says. “This is about the Jewish experience in the Land of Israel. This is why we’re here.”
Though Cohain has shown parts of his collection before at the Eretz Israel Museum in Tel Aviv and the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, this is the first time he is exhibiting work of Succot in Gush Katif just before disengagement from the Gaza Strip. While Cohain says his photographs generally don’t have a political message, he admits these do.
“I didn’t want anyone to forget,” he says. “I want everyone to look at them, to see the faces they’ve forgotten… I wanted more than the succa; I wanted the place.”
In the Gush Katif photos, Cohain achieves a mournful, brave tone. In Standing next to the home and succa (Gush Katif, 2004), the mother stands with daughters on either side, barefoot, staring seriously into the camera, as the baby crawls nearby, his face hidden by a bright Israeli flag. The stunning white house behind them, which Cohain says they worked hard for, stands in contrast to the small wooden succa alongside it. When Cohain looks at the mother, she seems to say, “We’re going to go through this together and we’re proud of it.”
These are the faces he wants Israeli society to remember. “To these pictures, everyone brings a collective memory that you can’t blot out,” he says. Whether you’re Left or Right, against or supportive of disengagement, the subjects are demanding that we acknowledge they existed in a Jewish community, now gone, he says.
Cohain points out the minute yet ultra-meaningful details in his photographs – a plastic tablecloth spread over the succa’s table, dirt falling from a flowerpot, old Jerusalem floor tiles, a rag in the corner. “It tells a lot about who we are,” he says of the belongings. “If you don’t feel it and know it, it won’t mean something to you.”
These are the defining elements to the photographs that make the people in the pictures real and endearing. The succot constructed from wood, cardboard and even simpler materials are adorned with Israeli flags – like in Six Day War Motif photographed in Jerusalem in 1980 – political signs and paper chains.
The neighborhood apartment scenes of wriggling children next to their succot are energetic, filled with a natural movement and strong nostalgia for childhood. Cohain never directs people where to stand, but simply allows them to be wherever and however they wish. This is clear, especially in the photos of children. He emphasizes, “It’s not about me. It’s about them.” The photographs, he says, are “basically stimuli for the people to be able to express themselves.”
Cohain, who has lived in Alon Shvut since 1977, says he’s learned that everyone knows for themselves where they want to stand, pose, lean – none of it can be choreographed. His strategy is to listen, yield control and let the self-expression happen organically. “Someone’s giving you something precious. I respect what they’re telling me,” he says, whether that means a child standing on top of a succa pole and grinning (Youth standing next to, and on the beam of their succa, Samaria, 1990) or a young ultra-Orthodox boy cradling a picture of the Rebbe (Kfar Chabad, 1990).
The smiles, pranks and inside jokes visible on the kids’ faces recall childhood at its most happy moments. In Succa with neighborhood children (Netivot, 1990) two young girls have switched shoes, a few boys are giggling on the banister and one girl clutches a stuffed teddy bear that overpowers her small stature. “This is part of their play. This is the street,” Cohain says.
A particularly lovely black-and-white photograph, Leviah and Rabbi Rozen (Alon Shvut, 1980) reveals a private moment shared by father and daughter sitting in the succa. The light shines on the small girl’s delicate face as she looks up at her wise Abba who is surrounded by Jewish texts. The wonder on Leviah’s face is sheltered by the succa, complete with paper chains and cutout designs.
Cohain’s evocative collection expresses both the impermanence of the succa and the permanence of the Jewish people living their daily lives in the Land of Israel, whatever comes their way. Children grow up here, they grow old here, and their celebration of Succot and Jewish life every day remains. The Jewish people, all of them, are home again. “My people are haredi [ultra-Orthodox], hiloni [secular], and everywhere in between,” Cohain says. “It’s everything beside the succa that’s in these photographs.”
  

ARTICLE JERUSALEM POST IN FRENCH
DU 10 AU 24 OCTOBRE 2011 – f r.jpost.com
Rachel Marder
Mon peuple, ce héros

Pour Yossaif Cohain, la fête de Souccot est l’occasion de rendre hommage à ses coreligionnaires. Appareil photo en main
En somme, l’exposition symbolise le caractère temporaire de la Soucca, et celui, permanent, du peuple juif qui vaque à ses occupations en Terre d’Israël.
Raconter l’histoire visuelle du peuple juif, à travers le prisme de Souccot. Tel est l’objectif que s’est fixé Yossaif Cohain. En 1981, ce professeur de photographie de l’Académie des Arts et du Design de Bezalel s’adresse à Dieu, et le prie de lui accorder quinze années pour mener à bien son entreprise de grande envergure.
Trente ans plus tard, le projet de Cohain est toujours d’actualité. La fête reste pour lui, inlassablement, l’occasion de photographier ses concitoyens, sous des milliers d’angles. L’artiste a capturé mille et un visages du peuple juif : des enfants du quartier de Netivot, la fierté d’une mère, dans le Goush Katif, des réservistes en mission. Et toujours, en toile de fond : les fragiles cabanes. Son exposition “Identité d’une nation” ouvrira le 16 octobre prochain, à la Galerie Mayanot de Jérusalem. Cohain évoque chacun de ses sujets, et leur environnement, avec une infinie passion et un profond respect. Comme s’il présentait les êtres chers de sa famille. Ces sujets ne sont, à ses yeux, pas seulement de simples modèles. “Voila mon peuple, mes héros”, explique t-il. “Voilà la vraie expérience juive, telle qu’on peut la vivre en Terre d’Israël. C’est pour cela que nous sommes là.”
Parfums de nostalgie
Cohain, natif de New York, a fait son aliya avec sa famille, en 1971. Il n’en est pas à sa première exposition en Israël et a déjà présenté ses oeuvres aux Musée d’Israël de Tel-Aviv et Jérusalem. C’est la première fois, toutefois, qu’il expose ses clichés du Goush Katif pendant la fête des Cabanes, juste avant le désengagement de la bande de Gaza.
En général, Cohain n’affiche pas ses opinions politiques à travers ses oeuvres. Mais pour ces photographies, il n’en va pas de même. “Je veux que personne n’oublie”, explique-t-il. “Je veux que chacun regarde ces photos et se remémore ces visages oubliés. Je cherche davantage que la simple célébration de Souccot ; je veux capturer le lieu.”
Une mère et ses filles, devant leur maison avec un bébé, le drapeau israélien cachant son
visage. Derrière eux, une maison blanche resplendissante, fruit de leur labeur, contraste avec la petite cabane de Souccot. “Ce sont ces visages emprunts de fierté dont je veux que la société israélienne se rappelle”, explique t-il. “Peu importe que les gens soient de droite ou de gauche, en faveur ou opposés au désengagement. L’essentiel est de se rappeler que
ces visages appartiennent à une communauté juive, maintenant partie. “C’est en capturant le quotidien de ces modèles, dans ses plus moindres détails, que Cohain souhaite leur redonner vie, reconstituer leur réalité. “Ces photos sont à propos d’eux, pas de moi. De ce fait, je ne leur demande jamais de poser ; juste de se tenir comme bon leur semble, car une personne qui se laisse photographier vous donne d’elle-même. C’est quelque chose de précieux et je respecte leur message.” Le visage des enfants et les scènes de jeux évoquent avant tout la nostalgie d’une enfance joyeuse. Comme cet instantané de deux fillettes, ayant échangé leurs chaussures à Netivot en 1990. D’autres images sont en noir et blanc. Celle capturée en 1980 à Alon Shvout révèle l’affection touchante entre un père et sa fille, alors qu’ils sont assis dans laSoucca.
En somme, l’exposition symbolise le caractère temporaire de la Soucca, et celui, permanent, du peuple juif qui vaque à ses occupations en Terre d’Israël. Naître, vieillir... la célébration de Souccot et du mode de vie juif est une constante à travers les étapes de la vie. Mais surtout, le peuple juif, dans son intégralité, est enfin de retour sur sa Terre.“Mon peuple, ce sont les haredim, les hilonim, et tout ce qu’il y a entre eux deux”,explique Cohain. “Dans ces photos, c’est tout
ce qu’il y a en parallèle de la Soucca.” ?
  
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