Ten years have passed since world-renowned American photographer Spencer Tunick first photographed more than 1,200 naked Israelis at the Dead Sea for draw attention to the environmental situation in the region.
Tunick, and the man who brought him to Israel, American-born entrepreneur Ari Leon Fruchter, aimed to raise awareness of the proliferation of Dead Sea sinkholes. The region continued to suffer as fresh water dissolves underground layers of salt deposits causing the ground above to collapse. More than 4,000 chasms have been identified on the western shores of the sea.
Fruchter tells NoCamels that bringing Tunick to Israel for one of his famous mass nude photo ops was an enlightening moment for him, turning him into an “Evangelist of the Dead Sea.”
“A few years ago, I had this revelation in my head. I said, ‘I can’t really save the Dead Sea. Yeah, I’m not a doctor, it’s dying. I can’t save it, but I can help preserve it through art, ”he says,“ because something that dies doesn’t mean it’s dead yet. There is new life forming here. It’s still a very, very important place.
To continue this mission and contribute to Israeli society through artistic activism, Fruchter has partnered with photojournalist Noam Bedein and the Dead Sea Revival Project, an NGO founded by Bedein in 2016 to help rehabilitate the region threatened by art, education and research.
Last year, the NGO partnered with the online photography platform Gurushots to launch the world’s first international photo contest focused on the Dead Sea. The Dead Sea Photo Contest was inaugurated on Earth Day 2020 (April 22) and more than 13,000 photos were submitted by May 21.
“We had the participation of almost 4,000 photographers from 40 countries. I think almost 14,000 photos have been submitted, ”Fruchter told NoCamels.
Almost 9.1 million votes were cast on the GuruShots site for the best photo.
Meanwhile, 40 photographers who entered the competition have been selected to participate in an exhibition at the Arad Cultural Center in the southern desert city of Arad, which will open on Earth Day – Thursday, April 22 – exactly one year after the launch of the photo competition.
Bedein and Fruchter selected a jury to choose a winning photo from among the 40 in the exhibition. The panel included Tunick, New York-based photographer Casey Kelbaugh, Israeli wildlife photographer Roie Galitz, and curator and art consultant Keren Bar-Gil.
The judges chose a striking photo by Israeli photographer Alexander Bronfer as winning photo, where a woman covered in Dead Sea mud, except for her piercing eyes, stares into the camera with the sea behind her. Bronfer won a $ 500 cash prize and a week-long stay for two at a Prima hotel while attending the exhibit.
With the votes of the public, GuruShots chose the Israeli Mario Troiani as Best photographer and the American Ronnie Turner for Top photo, both with stunning photographs showcasing the Dead Sea in different seasons.
“Due to the coronavirus, having physical exposure has become complicated, but we were very lucky that the city of Arad welcomed the initiative,” says Fruchter.
“We were thrilled and did not believe the extent of the mass public support we received for the photography competition from around the world,” Fruchter and Bedein said in a statement.
The exhibition is sponsored by the Arad Regional Council, GuruShots, Epson, Picture Perfect and the Prima Hotels.
A new reason to go to Arad
A quiet and picturesque town sandwiched between the Negev and the Judean Desert, Arad has always been known for its clean air and as the haunt of the Israeli author. Amos Oz called home from 1986 until his death in 2018.
But while Arad is only 16 miles west of the Dead Sea, fewer people have made the city one of their stops on their way.
Living in Arad was a formative experience for Fruchter, who made his home there as part of the World Union of Jewish Students (WUJS) program in 1997. The city was so important to him that Fruchter and his family moved to Israel around ten. years later. , in 2007. His eldest son is rightly called Arad.
In 2019, as part of his quest to both preserve the Dead Sea and give back to the city that had made such an impact on his life, Fruchter set out to build a Dead Sea Museum in Arad.
“We are trying to rename the city as a gateway to the Dead Sea,” he told NoCamels, noting plans to build the physical museum near the concrete and steel “Panorama” monument of the city of London. Israeli artist Igael Tumarkin located at Moav Outlook.
“Something of this nature would completely transform the city, both economically and demographically,” he adds.
Three interpretations of what the museum could look like are available on the official website. One idea is to make it an international project floating in the Dead Sea. This means that anyone from Israel, Jordan or the Palestinian Authority must travel an equal distance to get there, says Fruchter.
The Dead Sea Revival Project is currently working with government officials and architects – including Neuman Havner Architects, an Israeli firm that has previously designed a building for the museum – to plan the project, but visitors can access it virtually to view the building. exhibition for free in a 3D guided virtual tour.
“We are planning to have more exhibits, but the idea is that the Dead Sea is so well known to the world that very, very few people, even in the days of non-coronaviruses, have a chance to come here. and visit it. So why not give them this real opportunity to see it online? Then I hope that one day when they come here we have the physical museum that they could actually visit, ”says Fruchter.
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The photography exhibition opens Thursday and will remain open until next year
“The exhibition on the life of the Dead Sea that we will be organizing for a year is an opportunity to invite all those traveling in the Dead Sea to stop in Arad and enjoy a little culture,” he said. declared Nisan Ben Hamo, mayor of Arad.
“Arad is the natural gateway to the Dead Sea and we are honored to host this international exhibition,” added Ben Hamo.