The beginning wasn’t much different from other “Humans of” projects: a glimpse to Brandon Stanton’s page – followed by admiration & inspiration – followed by the set-up of a brand new HO. “But with my own twist”, says Erez Kaganovitz, founder of Humans of Tel Aviv. What’s that twist? It is about a city, one of the most interesting in the world. It is about its people, beautiful or less but always with a good story. And, above all, it is about a new public diplomacy. Designed for the Facebook Generation.
“I like to emphasise that I am not an official spokesperson of Israel and Tel Aviv. I am not trying to “pink wash” the city but show its reality as captured with my camera”, says Erez Kaganovitz, founder of the project.
Bastart: Apart from HONY‘s example, what were the motivations to start Humans of Tel Aviv?
Erez Kaganovitz: I think that when people all over the world hear about Tel Aviv and Israel they usually think about the Middle East conflict and its derivatives: tanks, war zone, terrorist attacks, occupation, a threat to the security of the world and the list goes on and on. But it’s not only about the conflict. Actually there is a vibrant civil society in our country, especially in Tel Aviv.
One of the reasons I set up this project was to say: we don’t only have soldiers, guns and ammunition but rather poets, writers, liberals and “free spirits”. When people see my page they understand that Tel Aviv and its inhabitants are like the people in New York, Paris or Toronto: they share similar values, problems and issues.
B: Why Tel Aviv? Hometown?
E: I was born in Haifa, spend some time in Jerusalem while studying my B.A and M.A. in international relations, then travelled all around the world (4 times in India, Europe and the States). To my eyes, Tel Aviv is one of the most unique cities in the world. A place where you can actually “live and let live”. It’s a microcosm of Israel where, in such a small space, you can find everything and anybody. There is no other city like Tel Aviv.
B: You describe the “Humans of” initiatives as a new approach of speaking to the public. Tell us more.
E: Generally, when the Facebook Generation hears diplomats speaking, they start yawning. You have to find another way to reach people, and Facebook is a great tool. I think that what I and all the others are doing in this project is a kind of public diplomacy. For the same reason, on my page I posted a recommendation about every “Humans of” page from the Arab world. Here’s the one dedicated to Humans of Beirut:
“To all my Israeli friends: I strongly recommend following “Humans of Beirut”. It’s a great opportunity to see the Humans behind the border without the “filters” of the media. Hope that one day we could meet freely and not by internet, but until then we can at least get a glimpse on the Humans who are living there.”
B: Who are the ones you choose to photograph?
E: A full spectrum of Tel Aviv inhabitants. In my page you can see religious orthodox Jews, Muslims and Christians alongside with Gay, Lesbians, and transsexuals. You can see refuges from Africa who fled to Israel and are living in terrible condition alongside with posh and sophisticated people from Rothschild Boulevard. You can see the good parts as well as the bad parts of the city because this is the reality.
I try to find people that have a good story to tell. I’m not trying to find the “beautiful ones”. In the long run, I think I managed to detect the most interesting people. To attract me it could be their attitude, fashion style or the way they carry themselves.
B: “Humans”, not “People”. What’s your view on this?
E: First of all we are all Humans. Before people, before citizens, before nationality. This is our basic form. That’s what I’m trying to show in my page. As John Locke put it, we all share unalienable rights: life, liberty and pursuit of happiness. When people see and hear the stories of different human beings they can relate to that.
B: Story + photo: which is more important? Is it hard to make people talk?
E: It can be hard in the term that you have to present yourself and explain the project every time you meet a person. Sometimes I get no’s but that’s alright. I worked in P.R. and I am working as a journalist so I got accustomed to hearing no. It’s not nice but you just move on. When you come with a genuine smile, good vibes and a true desire to hear them, people will reply with yes.
Concerning Picture vs Story, they are equally important. When you have two ingredients you know people will relate to that.
B: Any long-term plans regarding your project?
E: I hope to publish a book about Humans of Tel Aviv one day. I had several exhibitions in Israel and look forward to have more around the world.
B: Humans of Tel Aviv in five words…?
E: Connecting Humans around the world.
B: Is “Humans of” phenomenon closer to Wikipedia or… Google Maps?
E: I think it’s a combination. You get “Google Maps” because of the location, but a location without a story behind isn’t worth much.
“Two worlds colliding.”
Meet Asher. “I didn’t go to the ballot box today because all the politicians are the same”, he says. “Once they claimed their throne in the Parliament, they tend to forget the people who sent them.”
Refuges from Sudan: The Holy Trinity.
Meet Oded. “I stopped believing in God after I had my accident but sometimes I still put Tefillin”, he says. “I know it’s a paradox, but from my experience, life is full of them.”For more information about Humans of Tel Aviv please visit the official Facebook page. For more information about the HO phenomenon read Ode to the Humans.
Words by Jurgita Po.Alessi