a different side of Israel

Adi Nes: Israeli photographer

Adi Nes is one of Israel’s best-known and most respected photographers. His works have appeared in European and American galleries and museums, where they were met with critical acclaim and a great deal of notice by the press. Many of his photographs have become so familiar in Israel that they have all but entered the canon of iconic images.

Nes, who is 39, got his first big international break in 1998, when his works were included in a special exhibition, called “After Rabin: New Art from Israel,” at New York’s Jewish Museum. Since then has had solo exhibitions at important museums and galleries in New York, San Francisco and Paris; one of his photographs, The Last Supper, was recently auctioned at Sotheby’s for more than $70,000.

This is the striking photograph that appeared on the advertisement for the exhibition at the Jewish Museum. It gained a captive audience of commuters when it appeared in practically all the subway trains for several months:

Muscular soldier

Look at the details of the photograph: the soft sand on which the strong, muscular soldier stands; the tiny skullcap on his big head; the tent rope that seems almost to cut his bulging muscle; the soft light that suffuses the image of the tough soldier with a sense of homo-eroticism. Is he really so invincible? So macho? Does he fit the mythical image of the Zionist warrior hero?

The muscular soldier is part of a series called “Soldiers.” Most of the images are based on the New Testament.

This is the Last Supper:
Last Supper

And Nes’s version of the Pieta:

Sleeping Soldiers:
Sleeping Soldiers

Nes’s second series of photos is called “Boys.” Most of the images are taken from the pantheon of Greek and Roman myths.


Portrait of a Boy
Portrait of a Boy

The third series is the “Prison Series.” Nes was asked by Vogue Hommes International to participate in a large fashion project dedicated to the Middle East, to be published in the magazine’s 2003-4 winter edition. Besides Nes, editor Richard Buckley invited photographers from Cairo, Beirut, Istanbul, Ramallah and Kuwait City to submit photographs that represented their view of the Middle East.

As an illustration of his belief that fashion is a part of real life, Nes chose ordinary people rather than professional models to pose in the expensive designer clothes provided for the shoot. Vogue supplied the clothes; partly because he used ordinary people instead of real models, and of course partly because of the composition, the expensive designer clothes look very ordinary.

The editor of Vogue Hommes had specified that he did not want the photographs for the Middle East project to be political, yet it was undeniable that Nes’s photographs are full of political statements – be they ever so subtle. In order to avoid controversy, Buckley insisted on noting in the article’s opening captions that the photographs were staged, and not of real prisons or prisoners.


Here three Chinese men pose in Paul Smith suits; in the photo they look like prison uniforms. The photo is a commentary on Israel’s policy toward its illegal foreign workers – many of whom are from China.

This boy is wearing an expensive Valentino leather jacket. His facial characteristics are very Middle Eastern – which could be interpreted as meaning he is an Arab; the policeman is the picture of arrogance, as he looks down through his opaque sunglasses at the defiant boy.

Adi Nes is a homosexual man of Middle Eastern descent who grew up in Kiryat Gat, a development town on Israel’s “periphery.” Today he lives and works in Tel Aviv. One cannot truly understand his body of work without knowing these facts; Nes’s identity is informed by his sense of being a sort of outsider in Israeli society, and that in turn has inspired much of his work. He is a gay man living in a macho society; a Mizrahi in a country that tends to place a higher value on Ashkenazi culture; and a product of the working-class development towns that feel cut off from Israel’s developed center. His photographs are very much informed by issues of identity, of homo-eroticism and masculinity.

But for all his questions about identity, Adi Nes says firmly that he feels very Israeli. His identification with this country is, he says, based on the connection he feels to the Hebrew language, to the Land of Israel and to the humanistic aspects of Judaism. Would you have anything left to say if you didn’t live in Israel? I asked. Nes paused to consider, then said, “I would probably make a lot of photographs about being a foreigner in an unfamiliar society, about the difficulty of fitting in. About identity.”

This article is excerpted from a piece by Lisa N. Goldman that was originally published in the Culture supplement of Haaretz newspaper.


  1. These images are amazing and show a great deal of talent. They are beyond photographs, but are well composed digital drawings. The figures and scenes speak volumes. Very well done and hope to see more of these types of expression. Whoever spent the 70K made a good investment.

  2. Magnificent! The photos range the entire spectrum from funny, the take off of the Last Supper to tearfully poignant, the Pieta. The latter was especially so in light of Ilan Halimi’s horrible torture and murder, that ended with him being found dying and tied to a tree.

  3. art can help everywhere, it forces people to look at their realities. thank you adi nes for doing this in israel, which needs this so much. chiko

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