You’ll often hear the phrase “it’s all about who you know” when discussing the job market and the process of landing quality gigs. That’s all well and good, but it’s an incomplete expression. It is about who you know, certainly, but it’s also about who knows you. It’s about who can get your work in front of clients, which is precisely how Ronen Goldman linked up with Teach First Israel for a recent rebranding-based shoot.
As is often the case in this industry, my work with TFI started from a recommendation and some good old word-of-mouth.
Nothing beats word-of-mouth, especially if the words come from the mouth of your sibling.
Teach First Israel was in a process of rebranding with a capable graphic design team named YYNGO. One half of that talented team happens to be my brother, so when TFI brought up the fact that they were interested in a high-end photoshoot to update their website, he pointed them to my work.
Not only did Ronen have as good of an “in” as you can ask for, he essentially received complete creative control come shoot day. TFI, a program which trains teachers and connects them with underprivileged children to give those kids access to high-quality education, asked Ronen and the design team to come up with the project’s concepts on their own. Once the designers put together a shot list, Ronen took the baton and ran with it.
It was really great working in this collaborative way since it meant total photographic freedom as long as the design team was on board. The designers created a basic list of shots they needed, we discussed and shaped it further, and then they pretty much left the concept and execution of those photos to me.
The project took Ronen to Ironi Alef Haifa, a high school which employs a handful of TFI-groomed teachers. Ronen’s main task was shooting teachers interacting with their students, which required a healthy dose of patience on the Israeli’s part.
Once everything was in place, I tried telling everyone to go along with their regular conversations and actions, doing my best to make light of the team members and lighting surrounding them. It doesn’t happen at first, as most people are quite self-conscious when big cameras are involved, but eventually people loosen up and do their thing.
That’s when the “keeper” shots are taken.
As the shoot rolled along, the students followed their mentor’s lead and forgot the cameras were there. They simply “enjoyed a day of fun with their teacher” and, in doing so, became the “real stars” of the show.
I love this picture because you can feel not only the utter and complete joy the students experience when they are around their teacher but [also] how much of an important figure she is to them. The colors are great and the lighting is spot on, but it really is about the kids’ expressions at the end of the day.
You’ll notice that this is an incredibly diverse group of young people, not just in terms of their physical appearance, but by virtue of their ethnic backgrounds as well.
People like to say that Israel is a real “melting pot” of different cultures, and that is very true. In this small group, there were kids from all descents, such as Ethiopian, Polish, Russian, and Moroccan.
I know that some of them come from quite underfunded schools and perhaps not the easiest of living situations, but they all had a lot of optimism and trust in the teachers guiding them. It always amazes me the power a good mentor can have on a person.
If anyone can understand the impact of a quality role model, it’s TFI’s assemblage of teachers, as many of today’s mentors were yesterday’s mentees. To wit: 87 percent of Teach First Israel’s educators are TFI alumni. 87 percent! Talk about paying it forward.
I think this organization is extremely unique in its effort to change how kids are treated and taught in our education system. I have met with many teachers in the program, and it’s clear how driven they are to make a change.
The onus was thus on Ronen to do justice to TFI’s work by translating “real situations between teachers and students” into “well-lit, high-end” images. Since these instances happen quickly, the window of time to capture them is small. As such, Ronen relied on his old-school skillset to get the job done.
Aside from my commercial work, I do a lot of film-based analog street photography. This really sharpens my ability to seize on fleeting moments of human interactions and gestures.
Since I shoot it on limited rolls of film, I think I have gotten really good at making each shot count. Therefore, when approaching commercial jobs, I find that once a concept and set are well-polished, there needs to be real, genuine emotion for the image to be impactful.
That genuineness consistently manifests itself in Ronen’s work, and not just in the shots where the students are around their teacher. In fact, many of the best images from the project are of just kids.
Aside from all the technicalities, I’m a firm believer that when a photographer is empathetic to the person in front of them, it shines through in the photos.
These kids seemed like any other teenagers dealing with life at that age. At that point, the cultural differences become irrelevant. The students are just trying to create an individual persona and identity for themselves. I really wanted to do right by the kids and TFI, and perhaps contribute in my own way to such a worthy cause. I hope it shows.
Ronen, who has worked with TFI several times since this shoot and continues to collaborate with the Israeli arm of the global organization, has an uncanny ability to create his best work on the fly. Many of the outdoor images you’ve seen to this point were initially deemed “extra shots” and weren’t taken until Ronen finished up with the indoor photos. But when push came to shove, the non-classroom shots won the day.
We were on quite a tight schedule with a lot of moving parts but, in the end, [images like the one above] were the most-used shots of the campaign. It’s really important as a photographer to have an open mind to unexpected opportunities and be willing to take the time and risk to pursue them.
Ronen’s favorite shot from the assignment exemplifies his aptitude for improvisation. He was about to photograph another student-teacher moment in one of the school’s hallways but quickly pivoted once a unique opportunity arose.
As we were preparing for a different shot, one of the kids suddenly swept this girl off her feet — they were very close all day, I assume they are a couple — and they hugged.
I had my lighting all set up and managed to take a shot which became one of my all-time favorite on-the-job photos. Not only did it serve as a great shot for the campaign, it was such a genuine, beautiful moment between two people. I was just happy to be there.
See more of Ronen’s work at ronengoldman.com.
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