Sinai: Tramping abroad

Sinai sits in the lap of the peninsula of the Red sea, and the natural and artificial beauties of the surroundings are combined effectively and charmingly. The secluded strip of desert, which stretches through and beyond the biblical mount, is laid out in handsome pleasure grounds, shaded by noble trees and dunes and adorned at intervals with lofty and sparkling natural springs along its coast.

My companion and sisterhood traveler, Nomi, and I entered through the extensively secured borders of Sinai from Eilat, Israel and walked the entire remaining distance to camp, with the exception of a lift of less than an hour which we got on a passing vehicle, the weather being exhaustingly warm. We came into the site on foot. A fine, large, vigorous young fellow with a dark complexion, with an open, independent countenance, and he was clothed from head to heel in a cool and enviable snow-white linen, approached us as we settled down under a nearby zula. Greeting us with Sudanese tea and showing us to our rooms while accompanying us with our luggage. The simplicity of the handmade bamboo shack was just what I had been hoping for. No modern technology, no Wi-Fi and no outlets to plug in the distracting pieces of ‘everyday necessities’ such as a cell phone, were supported in a lovely and remote place such as this. It was a rough gem, but it was a gem nevertheless.

Curiosity struck me in such a simple paradise, that I decided to take a stroll and encourage the advantage of being here for a photo-op. Soiled children were playing in the dirt everywhere along the shore, everybody was at work, but the place was very still and peaceful, even so. The children acted as guides; they walked us along the tops of the highest hills and the tallest of cliffs and showed us a wide and beautiful landscape. My getaway from my getaway, was all I needed it to be. 

My journal entry of our adventures. 

View from the Red Sea. 

View from the Red Sea. 

Naomi 

Naomi 

"Did you make all of these braclets yourself?"   "Yes, my mother and I make them to help the family."

"Did you make all of these braclets yourself?"  

"Yes, my mother and I make them to help the family."

"My father and I work here". 

"My father and I work here". 

"Do you know how to play shesh-besh?" 

"Do you know how to play shesh-besh?" 

"We welcome Israeli's!" "We love them". 

"We welcome Israeli's!" "We love them". 

Fisherman from the shore. 

Fisherman from the shore. 

The stars at night were to die for.

The stars at night were to die for.

Instax that I photographed and passed out to the locals. 

Instax that I photographed and passed out to the locals. 

My present to myself: Happy 27th Birthday

A couple of months have past and I don’t feel much different than when I was in New York. But, I do see my life in a different light. In the overwhelming borough of the Bronx, I never had much time to put my thoughts on paper. Now, after a day of hard labor on the farm, I can look out into the valley and take a second to breathe. Ahh…; breathe. That’s why I came out here in the middle of nowhere: open space, fresh air, no one knows me or where I am; it’s great. With my never ending questions, I made sure to have writing material everywhere I go, whether it’s in my back pocket working through the vineyards, in the kitchen while eating with a mix of other workers, or just by my bedside as I am dozing off thinking about the day that had passed. Every thought goes on paper, and every question became less and less complicated to answer. It’s a new feeling to be able to get things off my chest, whether it be on paper or aloud. I sometimes walk down into the open channels, where there isn’t a soul around for miles, and scream at the top of my lungs just to hear my voice echoed back to me from the mountain peaks and untouched terrain.

My walls are being used for notepads. 

My walls are being used for notepads. 

Even with this new environment, job, and group of friends, I can’t say I “found” my purpose as a photojournalist, but I did narrow down genres that define my message as a photographer. As someone with a story of her own, my goal is to show other human stories through my images, documenting the real story after the “camera crew” leaves. Opportunities arose and I was able to meet and network with several leading photographers of Israel; two of them being my most influential, Ziv Koren from Canon and Oded Wagenstein of NatGeo Creative. After having an in-depth discussion with both of them, I was a bit deterred from what I thought was the direction I wanted to take. But, I left the discussions with precisely what I had been in search for, advice.

Taking the guidance with a grain of salt, I decided to keep moving forward in the direction I had always been, just with a bit more awareness of the obstacles at hand. Being impenetrably stubborn had finally shown me the shed of optimism I had vigorously been hunting for. With my birthday around the corner and 27 being a number I didn’t contemplate much, my hunger for undertaking a new direction had only grown more prevailing but with a bit more caution.

Stiffening up my upper lip and with a vessel full of coffee, I began to reach out to non-profit organizations that were designated and focused on the topics I wanted to portray. From ‘Photographers Without Borders’ to ‘UNICEF’, emails were flying from my fingertips every chance I could get. Thinking back to my first internship in NYC, a mentor and good friend of mine, revealed the ugly truth that out of every fifty emails sent, only one will be in your favor and sometimes, none at all. But, even with this knowledge, it still didn’t hinder my thirst.

The week of my 27th birthday, I received the email that I’d been anticipating. With my heart pounding and an overwhelming feeling of accomplishment radiating through my body, I was quickly able to schedule a Skype call with the director and founder of ‘NGO Photographer’s Alliance,’ an organization that helps aid other nonprofits with their collective group of photographers, writers, social activists, humanitarians and other creatives whose common bond is a shared interest in photography relating to the NGO. By the end of our discussion, I acquired a new title; Sydney Pensky, newest member and mentor for ‘NGO Photographer’s Alliance’. 

http://www.ngo-photographers.com/mentors/ 

I'm listed under the Mentors' page at NGO Alliance. 

I'm listed under the Mentors' page at NGO Alliance. 

Closing my laptop with a mile wide across my face, I went to the kitchen and decided to reward myself with something sweet. There were leftover cupcakes from the previous night’s gathering. I rummaged through the drawers and found some candles. They were the child-like kind with the bright colors and flared flower tops. I placed them in a circle and lit each one. I blew them out immediately for my wish had already come true.

Some of the images I submitted to NGO Photographer's Alliance from Be'er Sheva. 

Some of the images I submitted to NGO Photographer's Alliance from Be'er Sheva. 

Be'er Sheva submission photographs continued. 

Be'er Sheva submission photographs continued. 

My Pursuit for Happiness: Life in the West Bank

As I opened the curtains every morning and looked out into the sunrise peeking through the narrow alleyway, I realize that the sacrifices of branching out of my long-lived comfort zone to pursue my vision of becoming a portrait and visual storyteller were almost in tune. I’ve immersed myself within this concrete jungle to find a new perspective in life and its untold stories. My cameras are my eyes. It represents what I see in the world and how I see it. I’ve always wanted to use this tool to make a difference in people’s lives, but I never could figure out exactly how to do that. I’d like to think of myself as a realist and in turn, want to show the real side of every story; the hidden truth. Moving to New York, I thought the answer would hit me right in the face or at least become more obvious on how to go about figuring it out. What I really found out was that New York City could eat you up and spit you back out with no remorse. It’s a dog eat dog world in the photography industry, and at times, you may be stuck figuring things out on your own. I pushed hard to engage within certain social circles, picked up gigs as a first assistant, jumped into internships at some of the top studios in the country to meet and learn from other photographers and artists that had their own stories to share and advice to give. But, it seemed like everyone just kept saying the same thing; “What’s important to you? What do you want your photographs and content to represent?’’ For the first time in my life, I didn’t have a straight answer; I had an idea. I began to question my abilities, and my purpose. What was I doing here? What kind of photographer am I trying to be? Who am I?!

Portrait that was taken in one of the previous studios I shot with in New York, New York. 

I already felt like I had the weight of the world on my shoulders, but this just kept pushing down on me to the point where I needed to take a step back and reanalyze everything I thought I knew about my goals and career. I felt like I was suffocating as I tried to make a living and follow my dreams at the same time. New York became a constant reminder that I needed to step up my game and figure things out. Giving up was not an option.

 I knew my goal with my images and concepts was for people to feel what I feel. I want to create a visual story that causes a cycle of emotions for the onlooker. As said by Donald McCullin, “Photography for me is not looking, it’s feeling. If you can’t feel what you’re looking at, then you’re never going to get others to feel anything when they look at your pictures.” As an Israeli-American, I keep my culture at heart and I feel the pain and anguish going on in parts of the Middle East through a variety of different media outlets. Maybe I need to go back and press the ‘refresh’ button. Maybe I need to be in an environment where the constant sounds and pressure of the city doesn’t distract me from why I am doing what I am doing. Maybe I can tell my story from within the hidden truth; a place where no one is really looking and a place where I can always call home.

My home away from home. 

Just before Hanukah, and at the height of the will to figure out my life, I packed my equipment and jumped on a one-way flight to a settlement in Itamar, Israel. Deep into the Ha’ Shomron Mountains in the Benyamin Region of Israel, this area is home to numerous Jewish settlements where the locals endure harsh terrain and weather conditions to get through their day to day responsibilities. After just a few weeks, I have been consumed by the cultural and geographical isolation within this community. It seems as though every working day that goes by I become more and more engulfed with questions that I seem confident I will find the answer to.

The rural views of the Ha' Shomron Mountains. 

Some would say that I couldn’t take the pressure and that I’m running away from a situation I can’t get myself out of. But others would praise me on my voyage of self-realization. I needed my time to put the pieces of the puzzle back together and find out what was important in my life. Within that time, I have been taking the steps to slowly put my ducks in order. It was a huge adjustment all around; one that I was nervous about at first. Everyday I challenge the expectations I have in my life and my career, making the possibility a reality.

Good Shabbas from the Cha'bad. 

Good Shabbas from the Cha'bad. 

Riding Along the Forbidden Road

Highway 10 is an expressway in the South District of Israel. It is one of the longest roads in Israel, extending for nearly the entire border of Israel with Egypt from the Gaza Strip in the north to Sayarim junction in the south. Under a military security advisory, its entire 113-mile length is almost permanently off-limits to civilian traffic. 

In 2011,  the highway was shut down and declared forbidden. The percentage of dangerous encounters and casualties during this time of high alert was ferociously growing to be a risk too bold for both states. Only during two high holidays out of the year is this road granted access by civilians; Sukkot and Channukah.

December 29th, 2016 (Channukah), my good friend and colleague, Ms. Hila Fenlon invited myself and several others to ride motorcycles along Rt. 10 from 'Mashabei Sade', follow along Egypt, all the way to Eilat. 10 hours of riding motorcycles, with great friends, amazing views and the photographs to die for that very seldom are witnessed. Very few Israelis have experienced this breathtaking opportunity themselves. 

Lucky for us the sun was shining, clear skies and no-one but the open road and the sound of a roaring Italian engine, and in Hila's case, a M.V. Agusta, Brutale Roadster 800 R.R. This bewildering experience and its views will forever be a mind-blowing rendezvous that will last a life time. 

Along the way, down the windy and gently raised, rocky plateaus; where very few feet have stepped cautiously to the edge of major overlooks, I scrambled to find a few rocks and gathered up some dirt as a memorable token. Every place I have ever visited throughout my travels, I have collected a handful of soil and marked its coordinates on the vile. It's my way of displaying the trophy engaged experience that has moved me. 

During this trip, I'd like to thank 'FujiFilm X Series US' for supporting this project. 

All photographs were shot with FujiFilm, FujiFilm Xpro2. 

The shadows crept across the bikes in the beginning of our journey that morning. 

The shadows crept across the bikes in the beginning of our journey that morning. 

Hila Fenlon and her son, Jimmy Fenlon, stand near the warning signs posted all over the entrance of Rt. 10, stating "going beyond this point is entering at your own risk". 

 Jimmy Fenlon, resting for a moment, as we prepare lunch underneath a previously mapped out designated area. 

Passing through this valley of gently raised plateaus was breathtaking within itself. 

The curve of the extended hemisphere is all your eyes can follow for miles into the distant haze. 

We stopped to catch our breaths from the windy beating our bodies senseless to appreciate and inhale the remarkable views. 

Ms. Hila Fenlon herself and I, making memories, standing on the edge of the plateaus. 

The air is so silent; for a split second, I thought I was alone. And enjoyed it. 

Hila's beast: M.V. Agusta, Brutale Roadster 800 R.R. 

At the second to last rest stop before we take off again with the crew. I stayed behind a little longer to soak in this magnificent moment. Silence. Solitude. I felt at peace. I took one last breathe with my fellow rider, Omri,  and we fastened our helmets and road off into the sunset. 

Along the route, I noticed a barb-wire fence. I asked the locals what it was for exactly and how long it had been there. It wasn't a landmark I had been familiar with along Egypt and Israeli border. The fence was built to keep the immigrants from wandering into Israel. Over the past decade, thousands of refugees had crossed the border into Israel from their homeland in hopes of starting a new life. 

"In recent years there has been a sharp increase in the number of African migrants trying to cross into Israel. Some are able to stay and find short-term work, but very few get the official refugee status they seek and which some of them do deserve. Many come from Sudan, including Darfur, others come from Eritrea and elsewhere in Africa There are Christians and Muslims but their arrival has brought a sharp debate in Israel, a country built in large part on the wave of Jewish refugees fleeing the Holocaust in Europe" (McCarthy).(https://www.theguardian.com/world/2010/jan/11/israel-fence-egypt) 

 

 

Fence along Egypt and Israel, 30 km from Eilat. 

The woman of the hour, Ms. Hila Fenlon via M.V. Agusta, Brutale Roadster 800 R.R.  

Omri and Jimmy stop and converse for a bit, while I catch the light behind them as the sun sets along the border. 

About 20 minutes before we arrived in Eilat, a local biker had a flat. When we stopped to assist him, apparently a bullet had hit his tire. The bullet was fired several days before and had finally hit a target. We all started to sarcastically laugh in this ironic event; " it's the sixth day old war. The shot was fired and it finally hit its destination". Israel is one of the few places in the world where a stray bullet hits a bike tire and no one calls the cops. They just all sit back and laugh with an unsurprised facial expression. 

This trip was one for the books; a check mark off of my bucket list of to do's and truly a phenomenal experience to undergo with an amazing group of adventurous daredevils.  

Mas_NYC Summit 2016

What does a healthy, dynamic and inclusive city like New York depend on for its advancement and preservation of what is collectively ours? Check it out at http://www.mas.org/ 

I was asked to take pictures of neighborhood infrastructure, buildings and open spaces through out Harlem 125th street, the High Line in Chelsea Manhattan, South Bronx at Concrete Park and in China Town. They were displayed at The Municipal Art Society of New York Museum in November 2016. #summit2016

The concept of this development project was to capture the components of a thriving city--parks, libraries, museums, infrastructure, open spaces, streetscapes and views. Questions and Answers were discussed over the topics of "What are public assets? Why do they matter? Who decides?" 

 

Full House at The Municipal Art Society of New York Museum opening 11/15/16.

Full House at The Municipal Art Society of New York Museum opening 11/15/16.

 High Line in Chelsea Manhattan.

 High Line in Chelsea Manhattan.

Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx. 

Concrete Plant Park in the South Bronx. 

Off of Canal Street in China Town. 

Off of Canal Street in China Town. 

Harlem 125th street neighborhoods and infrastructure. 

Harlem 125th street neighborhoods and infrastructure.