Leading Israeli Photographer Mines Experiences of Peace and War at Epsten Gallery

Renowned Israeli photographer Yuval Yairi grew up in the shadow of a military man. In fact, his father’s service in the Israeli army brought Yairi’s family to Fort Leavenworth for a year in 1969, when his family developed many lasting local friendships that continue to this day.

Yairi’s father was tragically killed while in service during the Savoy Hotel attack in Tel Aviv, Israel, in 1975.

Just four years later, Yairi himself joined the military and quickly became an intelligence officer.

That’s when he first began using a camera. Yairi didn’t view photography as an artistic practice at first. But before long, he would spend his free time learning how to edit the photos to tell a story.

The years Yairi spent as an aerial scout during peace and wartime made such an impact on him that now, years later, he describes his work as being driven by two parts of his personality — artist (civilian) and surveyor (soldier).

Both perspectives will be in evidence in “Yuval Yairi: Surveyor,” opening Nov. 13 at The Epsten Gallery at Village Shalom.

The exhibit features more than a dozen of Yairi’s thoughtfully composed photographs of panoramic landscapes, interiors and unconventional still lifes, featuring tools and implements, maps and fruit, as well as gridded arrays of bullets removed from the earth. In some images he tags the objects and identifies them as an archivist would.

Some of the images come from the artist’s “Land” series,” but the “big deal,” said curator Heather Lustfeldt, “is the new work, called ‘Surveyor.’”

“They’re both about Israel,” she said, “ideas of land and territory and home and place, as they relate to themes of geographic location, culture, family, time and war. “

“The Surveyor sees all,” said Yairi, for whom the Surveyor functions as an alter-ego who helps him process certain pieces of his history.

“The Surveyor is a mask to encode all of the things I wanted to express,” Yairi said. “It’s not a fictional figure. It’s some part of my subconscious.”

From the Surveyor’s perspective, interior spaces and outdoor terrain must be meticulously documented. For some of the photographs in the exhibit, Yairi took hundreds of photographs and pieced them together on a grid, documenting both space and time.

It’s the experiential component of Yairi’s work that makes it such a great fit for The Epsten, Lustfeldt said.

“The types of artists that we show create art that is connected with societal concerns and contemporary experiences,” she explained. “Art that goes beyond itself.”

The Epsten Gallery is used for exhibiting art, creating art and conducting art therapy for Village Shalom residents and outside groups, and exhibitions such as Yairi’s are often used as platforms to launch deep conversations during the art programs. While Yairi’s photos were taken in Israel, the emotions they evoke transcend cultural walls.

“Yuval Yairi: The Surveyor,” opens with a reception from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 13 at the Epsten Gallery, 5500 W. 123rd St., Overland Park, Kan. Yairi will be present at the opening and will also attend a major fundraiser for the Epsten Gallery on Nov. 9 at the home of Andy and Toma Wolff. (For tickets: 913-266-8414 or epstengallery.org.) He will also give a free artist talk at the Shirley White Theater at the Jewish Community Center Nov 14. 

Alexia Lang

Alexia Lang is a multimedia journalist who has worked in newspapers, magazines, radio and blogs. She holds a journalism degree from UMKC and her Master’s work is in Leadership.

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