The global award in photography and sustainability

Ilit Azoulay

Ilit Azoulay’s work follows a rigorous line of inquiry, often starting from field work in buildings about to be demolished or in early stages of conservation, or in architectural sites. Once she selects the site, Azoulay inspects walls, objects, architectural elements, and scenery, searching for traces of vanished incidents and unearthing personal or public narratives.

Imaginary Order is a series comprised of four large works that followed the renovation of an emblematic Brutalist building in the northern Israeli town of Zichron Ya’akov, designed in the 1960s by Yacov Rechter. The overhaul converted a convalescent home for Health Maintenance Organization members into a multidisciplinary art center and luxury hotel. Over the seven years of its renovation, Azoulay frequently visited this historical building and followed its turning from a place built on egalitarian principles for all HMO members into a luxury hotel accessible only to the few who can afford it. Yet along with this turn, reflecting the transformation of Israel from a socialist-based economy into a capitalist one, a darker turn is being explored – from war into postwar.

In 1974, subsequent to the end of the Yom Kippur War, the convalescent home was used momentarily by the Israeli Defense Forces. Upon their return from Syrian and Egyptian prisons, Israeli soldiers were taken and held by the IDF for interrogation: Did they or did they not talk under torture? Was the state at risk? Was the order of things being threatened? No trace of torture or of this momentary interrogation camp was found in the building. Yet Azoulay was not looking for graphic details. Instead, she was interested in tracing the transformation of one order into an order of a different kind.

Meticulously scrutinizing surfaces with a macro-lens, Azoulay produced thousands of close-up images documenting the walls exposed in the reconstruction process, revealing their past layers. These images she then pasted together digitally, resulting in a large-scale photograph – which she calls a photographic plan – of great technical resolution, seemingly endowed with a multitude of angles of view. As such, the series portrays a temporality at play, which might echo that of the darker turn as it is reflected in the meticulous collection of the thousands of macro images necessary for the assemblage of the four photographic plans presented here. Documenting the building’s transition, Azoulay’s images perhaps picture an imaginary order – a structure never to be erected which is yet a constitutive part of the final stage of the building.