Bob Weil: Trip to Israel
Doors and Windows of the Holy Land
Storyteller: Bob Weil, USA
What compelled you to create this photo book?
The trip to the Holy Land, with so much history apparent in every step my wife and I took, was hugely inspirational. And while I was on the trip, I identified a theme and an approach to editing the pictures that I felt would unify the collection in an especially compelling way, and also humanize it for someone who wasn't fortunate enough to go themselves. Any time I return from an especially inspiring trip, visit with friends or experience an interesting event or place, I want to immediately preserve those impressions before my memory fades and my excitement for the experience dissipates. Harnessing that energy while still on that emotional high is when I find that I produce my best work.
This book has one very unique characteristic—all the photos were shot and edited entirely on an iPhone 6 Plus. As we moved from location to location on foot or on the bus, I would edit each image in exactly the same manner using Google's Snapseed (available on iOS and Android devices), and nearly all the images were complete even before I got on the flight home. I began and completed the book in just a single evening, only a few days after returning.
What is your favorite image in the book and why?
My favorite image is the one on the cover (above). While it is not strictly speaking within the subject matter of the book (doors and windows), I know viewers of the book will forgive me, because it's so powerful. It expresses the tension of a place that encompasses three different cultures and religions: the man on the staircase is a Muslim storekeeper in the Islamic sector of the walled Old City of Jerusalem, the cross represents Christianity (carried by a believer along the Via Doloroso, where this photo was taken), and the policeman represents Israel, and of course the forces of law and order. And all three co-exist in apparent peace (certainly something we would hope for everywhere). I saw very few weapons, and these two were very clearly enjoying a moment of rest and relaxation, without care or worry.
What is your favorite story behind a single shot in the book?
I felt a real kinship with the wizened old woman who is seen ducking into a doorway while holding the door open for a moment longer as she gazes back at me. There was a stream of people walking past me, and it was hard for me to catch the shot—I knew it would be compelling if I was able to do so. And it seemed as though she paused longer than she needed to in order to allow me to get the photo. I regret that I did not step over to her afterwards and offer her something for her thoughtfulness. Perhaps she would have refused me, but she looked as though she was not a person of means, and might have appreciated the consideration. I'll always regret not having done so, but will also enjoy watching my friends reach the page and let out an expression of admiration for the shot. I owe it all to this gracious woman for holding her pose just one moment longer.
What advice would you give to someone creating their first photo book?
A photography mentor of mine once said that the key to getting anything done is very simple, "Just start." And when you have a minute, "Add to it." Before you know it, whatever you set out to do, is done. That's the approach I take to any project, and certainly to photo books. There's never a perfect time to start, there's never the perfect set of photos to use, or the perfect trip to document. And as long as your own toughest critic, and you only choose your best photos (you know which ones they are), everyone will think you're a master photographer! That's because no one will see the photos you left out, and they can't imagine you taking a bad picture. If you think you have a 100 great photos, whittle them down to the best 75, and then the best 50 (as painful as that will be), and you will have an amazing set of photographs to share. Resist fancy layouts, choose a small handful and use them repeatedly to let your photographs tell your story without fanfare or gimmicks.
If you want to put together a memory of a trip, choose a straightforward, simple theme that unifies your collection and works at human scale (we look into and imagine what's behind doors and windows, and who is in the foreground and background). At the perspective we all see as we walk about (street photography), we can get a very strong sense of place, without seeing major monuments, locations, "beautiful people" or landscapes. The ordinary is captivating enough!