There are at least two surprising facts about this week’s cover image. One, it’s an overhead photograph of National, Sebonack and Shinnecock golf courses. Secondly, its photographer, Lili Almog, who incorporated her own drawing into the image, is not particularly known for taking pictures of golf courses. Rather, she is known for subjects as varied as Carmelite nuns, Chinese Muslim women and destruction of Kibbutz structures in Israel. While Almog’s images have been diverse, certain recurring themes have also evolved: the importance of landscape and the environment, women in their own private spaces, and the idea of intimacy.
Intimacy is an especially evocative concept. We surmise that Almog’s Chinese women form a close connection to material needs and the environment in order to survive. Conversely, her Carmelite nuns are absorbed in monastic seclusion; their intimacy comes from bonding with internal elements. (Almog’s photographs often show the nuns with their heads down or turned away from the camera.) Even her barren buildings, destroyed by the Carmel Fire in Israel, exist by themselves, devoid of a close union with both the land and the era that created them.
What inspired you to do photographs of golf courses in the first place, especially ones in the Hamptons?
I was doing a series about “American Playgrounds,” including baseball fields and playgrounds. I was working with satellite imagery, too. I started doing golf courses as a natural progression. First, I was attracted to golf courses visually. Then I was attracted because of their relationship to the landscape.
What does a view of a golf course from above look like to you?
Like creatures under a microscope. I can also compare some of the shapes to strudel.
I also imagine the shapes to be like little jewels. How about your series on Carmelite nuns? What influenced you for that series?
I was inspired by the autobiography of Tenzian Palmo, a Carmelite nun who lived in the caves in the Himalayas. I found the Carmelite Order in the United States (Maryland), Israel and Palestine, and I spent two years with them, living with them in the monastery for two days at a time.
How did you prepare to photograph them?
When I got there, I didn’t know the lighting, the space…nothing. After one year, I knew the space and everything else well. I could close my eyes and see things. It’s a process.
How do you deal with the subjects you are photographing? Is that a process, too?
I never stick my camera in someone’s face. I get to know them first before shooting.
Do you ever encourage your subjects to get to know you—for instance, the Muslim women?
I didn’t tell them I was from Israel, but from New York, which is where I have lived since the early 1980s. They couldn’t understand why I didn’t have blond hair and blue eyes like their idea of American women.
How do you learn about your subjects before you photography them?
I study before I go. I read. I research. I learned about the Muslim women in China, for example, that 10% of the people are minorities, which is still a lot; there are 54 different minorities.
You have a B.F.A. in Photography from the School of Visual Arts. How did you pick photography as your primary medium?
I ask myself that. I would make drawings when I was younger, but I wasn’t as good in drawing class as I wanted to be. Photography became my base. I’m trying to do more drawing and incorporate it into my photographs. In photography, you are looking for the perfect image—that includes everything. The perfect image that gives you the story.
Lili Almog will be in a solo show at East Hampton’s Vered Gallery (68 Park Place) from May 24–June 18. Call 631-324-3303 or visit veredart.com for information.