Ziv Koren never expected to become a professional photographer when he signed up to serve in the Israel Defense Forces in his youth. Injured in a motorcycle accident in the 12th grade, he couldn’t be a combat soldier. So, using skills he learned while studying art in high school, he signed up as a military photographer.
More than 26 years later, his photos have graced the covers and filled the pages of major Israeli, American and European magazines and newspapers; he’s held about 120 exhibitions; won 30 major awards; and published 18 books of photography.
He will talk about his latest, “Snapshot: The IDF as Never Seen Before” at the Book Festival 3:30 p.m. Nov. 4, in conversation with AJT Owner and Publisher Michael Morris, who is also past president of the Friends of the IDF.
Photos from Koren’s book, offering a rare close-up of the inner workings of the IDF and other elite security forces, also are on display on the walls of the MJCCA’s Katz Family Main Street Gallery.
We caught up with Koren while he was leading his latest photo workshops and capturing images in Ghana and Benin in West Africa.
Here’s what he had to say about being Israel’s premier photojournalist with exclusive security clearance to some of IDF’s most perilous missions.
AJT: Just how dangerous is it shooting at the front lines – with a camera?
Koren: Obviously, when you shoot conflict it’s a dangerous situation, as much as for the soldiers who are standing next to you. If you want the photograph, it takes some guts. There have been more than a few times I’ve been in real danger. I’ve been shot at and bombarded so many times: with the military during the Lebanon War, in Gaza, during night raids and arrests of suspects.
AJT: Is it worth it to risk your life for the photo?
Koren: There’s nothing glorious about being in a dangerous situation. I understand the necessity of telling the story through media, to show what’s really going on in the field. In 2014, I was the only photographer in Gaza [documenting] the underground tunnels of Hamas.
I want to show what Israel is confronted with … to balance the images coming out of the other side, to show that Israel is in a bad war.”
AJT: Do you have any weapons to protect yourself, just in case?
Koren: Guns? No! That’s the IDF mission. I document. I carry everything I need to tell the story. Two [camera] bodies, four lenses, batteries …
AJT: How did you get this exclusive clearance?
Koren: It was kind of natural. Some things take time. I think I proved myself. I started about 15 years ago with special events, small exclusivity here and there. You get to be very trusted. Shooting a book is different than shooting for a newspaper or magazine. I showed the IDF from a different, interesting perspective.
AJT: Did it help that it was also the 70th anniversary of the state of Israel?
Koren: This was an incentive and why me and Yoav Limor [a veteran Israeli military affairs journalist] made the decision to do the book this year. The Hebrew came out on Israel Independence Day in May, and the English version, two months ago.
AJT: Who do you have access and authority to photograph?
Koren: For the last 10 years, I’ve had exclusivity to the most elite units in the IDF and police … Shayetet 13, which is equivalent to the Navy SEALs.
AJT: Do you have a favorite photo in the book?
Koren: I don’t have a favorite photo. I always hope my best photo is the one I will shoot tomorrow.
Hear more from Ziv Koren yourself at the 27th Edition Book Festival of the MJCCA at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 4.
ZIV KOREN, Snapshot
IZZY EZAGUI, Disarmed
In conversation with Michael Morris, Owner and Publisher, Atlanta Jewish Times and FIDF Board Member.
A dessert and champagne reception will follow.
Member: $15/ Community: $20