While her classmates prepare for college, high-spirited Zoë Vatash of Sag Harbor prepares to enlist in the Israeli army. A budding photojournalist, Zoë visited Israel in 2013 and 2014. During her stays, she took dozens of pictures of Israeli life, capturing the very essence of the Middle Eastern country and its rich culture. The finished product of her travels is a gorgeous exhibit at the Temple Adas Israel in Sag Harbor, a beautiful and appropriate venue in which to display both Vatash’s work and the Jewish faith, a very important element of this young artist’s values and inspirations. In addition to the symbolic location, the stained glass windows in the gallery allow light to pass through and cast magical hues onto the fleeting images of Israel’s both most-visited and less-traveled locations. Vatash says that her camera has taught her to be more observant.
What is your biggest motivation regarding joining the army? What is your greatest fear?
There are a lot of reasons for me to do this, but the primary reason is my homeland. I am really concerned for the state of Israel. The least I can do is do my part. And, well, my greatest fear would be, I guess, that I won’t come back. That’s really it.
How did you come to travel to Israel?
My dad grew up there. So…my family is over there. The first trip was for Passover, the second for checking out a pre-military program, kind of like a boot camp. At that time, I was thinking about joining, just toying with the idea. Then I heard about the program and I wanted to learn more about it. It really helped me make my decision after ruminating on it about a year before.
Is there any set plan when you are out taking pictures?
No. Right now I’m carrying my camera with me wherever I go, but I never know what’s going to catch my attention. On the other hand, the photographer Cartier-Bresson inspires me because he just went out into the field, knowing what he wanted to take a picture of. He didn’t crop or edit his pieces, either. Back then, around the ’20s, you could actually crop and manipulate the photo. And he didn’t. And when his picture was ready, it was exactly as he had envisioned it. I respect that so much.
What sort of photographs do you most enjoy taking?
Portraitures; they just have so much more than a landscape. People have character, emotions…especially when they’re candid. I don’t like making people pose—it’s difficult, awkward. So, I like taking landscape shots, but if I had to pick, I’d definitely go with portrait.
What are your plans for the future?
After serving for two years, I want to come back to the States and go to college, get my higher education. My dream job is to work for National Geographic and travel all over the world, taking pictures.
What would you like to tell your audience and gallery visitors through your photos?
There’s a huge misconception that Israel is a country in a constant state of war and that people can’t live normal, happy, everyday lives there. Sure they do things a little differently: bomb sirens, extra security… but it doesn’t mean that visiting there is necessarily life-threatening. I really want to encourage people to go and see Israel for themselves because being Jewish and saying you love and support Israel is fantastic but nothing beats actually being in Israel and experiencing the culture and the people and really loving Israel and wanting to help it in any way you can. That’s what I want people to take away from my photos—a need to see and experience Israel for themselves.
Check out Zoë Vatash’s photography exhibition this month at Long Island’s oldest synagogue, Temple Adas Israel, 30 Atlantic Avenue, Sag Harbor, 631-725-0904, templeadasisrael.org. A wine and cheese opening reception will be held on Thursday, June 4 at 7 p.m.