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As per the Orthodox Jewish tradition, the Messiah (the Prophet) will arrive riding on a white donkey.

A few years ago, as I was photographing near the Dead Sea, a Palestinian man rode past me on his white donkey and I took a picture of him.

It was after having developed this plate that I realized that I had encountered my “Messiah.” It was this chance encounter which brought me to initiate the body of work that carries the name “the quest for the man on the white donkey.”

The American tradition of the great photographic journeys served as a blueprint for the initial phase of my “quest,” with the definitive difference that, in such a small country as Israel, the size of the territory in which my hunt was pursued necessarily shaped my proceedings. A condensed experience: What in any other country should have been a photographic journey which spanned over months of continuous traveling was inevitably reduced because no matter what destination I chose, it always brought me back home by midnight at the latest.

As I found myself passing through the same places over and over again, the personal identity of my project was revealed to me: I had to let go of the idea of narrating the physical journey itself and concentrate on the intimate, emotional reactions that these places evoked in me; I focused on trying to understand how I was reacting to the occasional encounters with people and sceneries; and how those people and sceneries appeared to be revealed or lost at the same time, as if they were part of a scene that was ever-changing or not changing at all.

As my messenger started to reveal the “message,” the search for a deeper understanding of my country and what defines me as an Israeli became an urge to look for the in-between places, the unexpected situations; suddenly a detail requested my attention as I stood for hours waiting for a meaning to reveal itself, or pushed me away, puzzled. But in the end I had to hold on to it. I could not let go until that detail was made mine, until the elusive and enigmatic found their place in my understanding of what I deemed an authentic, real encounter.

Yaakov Israel was born in 1974 in Jerusalem, Israel, where he still lives and works. He is an active photographer who has exhibited in museums and galleries in Israel and internationally. Since 2004 he has been a lecturer and photography teacher at some of the most prominent photography schools, colleges, and universities in Israel, including the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.

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