Dafna Tal

A young woman sits on a white cube positioned on the shoreline. One of a series of photographs by Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal.
An image from Blank Box, a series of portraits by Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal in which people from Cape Charles, Virginia, were photographed in and around their town while standing or sitting on a large, white cube. The work was created as part of the artist residency Experimental Film Virginia. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/250 secs, f/7.1 and ISO100. © Dafna Tal

Multi-talented Israeli artist Dafna Tal manages to gain the trust of her subjects to enter their sacred world, using video, sound and photography installations to record personal and emotional moments, and bring to life her thought-provoking concepts.

Rich in detail and expressing a hyper-realistic edge, Dafna's multidisciplinary artworks explore emotional and mental perceptions and their relationship with outer reality, as expressed in various cultures and communities.

Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal, taken by Michael Katz.

Location: Israel
Specialist areas: Portraiture, landscape and interiors
Favourite kit:
Canon EOS 5D Mark IV
Canon EF 70-200mm f/2.8L IS II USM

One of Dafna's breakout projects, A Lasting Faith (2015), focused on Orthodox nuns and monks in the Holy Land. It had such a global impact that in 2018 it was selected for a solo exhibition at the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg. Taking several years to complete, A Lasting Faith featured night-time photographs of the churches' holy sites, feasts and people, shot by candle or moonlight. The resulting images presented a religious world of ancient tradition, seemingly unchanged since its creation.

"Through photography, sound and video I gain access to, and knowledge of, new communities, subjects and themes," Dafna says. "Those become not only an inspiration but active participants in my work. My practice is an interactive, collaborative effort. It is a learning quest asking to gain access to different aspects of the human experience."

The project, titled Reaction, conducted in the heart of Jerusalem in 2016-17, was an inter-religious experiment in which Dafna recorded and presented the way people of various religious backgrounds reacted to the sounds of Christian, Muslim and Jewish prayer. "The participants were told that they would be filmed while listening to sounds, without knowing what these would be," Dafna explains.

"They sat alone in a dark studio facing a Canon EOS 5D Mark III, and later a Canon EOS 5D Mark IV camera. In this environment, they listened to sounds of traditional religious prayers while they were filmed." Dafna transformed the resulting footage into a series of vertical 'video portraits' depicting the various recipients' reactions alongside an identical soundtrack. Reaction was exhibited at numerous venues around the world, including the Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre in Sydney, Australia.

Sisters from the Monastery and Church of Alexander Nevsky in Jerusalem, photographed by Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal.
Sisters from the Monastery and Church of Alexander Nevsky in Jerusalem, near the Holy Sepulchre church. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III (now succeeded by the Canon EOS 5D Mark IV) with a Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM lens at 1/30 secs, f/3.5 and ISO3200. © Dafna Tal

"In my projects I try to get a better understanding of minds and feeling," Dafna says. "Using diverse approaches, in-situation experiments and defined processes, I examine different ways of connecting to my subjects' experience, and gain insight into their identity, self-reflected image, behaviour and prejudices."

More recently Dafna created a video installation entitled You're Gorgeous, You're Mad, where she filmed a group of international artists gathered in Virginia, USA. The final work presents an inner dialogue between two aspects of the participants' personality (or 'self-image'): the traits they appreciate about themselves, and those they would prefer to hide.

Dafna explored other creative disciplines, including theatre, sculpture, painting and music, before finding her way to photography in 2006, when she studied at New York's International Center of Photography (ICP). She followed this with a European Diploma in Cultural Project Management from the Association Marcel Hicter.

The Israeli artist has no doubt about what the future holds. "I wish to have more and more flow in the process of transforming my project ideas to reality," she says. "I want to keep experiencing creative expression and enjoy seeing the ideas that emerge in my mind become real."

Patriarch of Jerusalem Theophilos III at the Monastery of Saint George, photographed by Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal.
The Patriarch of Jerusalem, Theophilos III, conducting a ceremony in The Monastery of Saint George the Chozevite in the Judean Desert, during the Feast of Saint George. Taken on a Canon EOS 5D Mark III with a Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L lens at 0.3 sec, f/4 and ISO6400. © Dafna Tal

You shoot landscapes and interiors too, but what is it about portraits that inspires you?

"I love exploring and finding incredible depth in the human mind and spirit. I am interested in the emotional and mental reactions that drive human behaviour, and the relation between a person's inner world and their outer reality."

What's been your career high point so far?

"The best moments for me are always in the process of creating new work, so every new project is for me a new pick. As for the process of sharing and exhibiting my work, my highlight is certainly when I was invited to put on a solo exhibition in one of the most important museums in the world: The Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg, Russia. What's more, Professor Piotrovsky, the museum's director, chose two of my artworks for the permanent collection."

What approach do you adopt when directing your subjects?

"In my artwork I try my best to connect with the real participants; understand them and let them be. For commercial, I simply try to be friendly and open to their suggestions, to give them freedom to express themselves."

Do you have a go-to shooting style?

"Every project has its unique visual or audio-visual language and requires specific lighting, framing, movement and sound that will best serve the theme and atmosphere. In that respect, the more one is able to use different lighting and techniques, the wider the 'colour palette' and freedom in expressing oneself."

You've exhibited across the world: what's your secret for putting on a good show?

"In my exhibitions and projects I try to create an experience rather than a direct message, and I try to bring up thoughts and questions more than answers."

One thing I know
Dafna Tal

"An interesting portrait requires an interesting person. Someone that has a deep and interesting look in his or her eyes will usually be able to convey this in a portrait photograph or video. It may be a challenge and a process to reveal this unique character, but this potential needs to be there in the first place in order to create an interesting portrait. Also, never give up on a project idea that burns inside you. Go for it and don't stop until you have reached the place you wanted to reach."


Dafna Tal's kitbag

The key kit that the pros use to take their photographs

Canon Ambassador Dafna Tal's kitbag, containing Canon cameras and lenses.


Canon EOS 5D Mark IV

A durable, full-frame 30.4MP DSLR capable of capturing beautiful images anytime, anywhere. "The video delivers strong results in low light conditions," says Dafna.


Canon EF 50mm f/1.2L USM

With its fast f/1.2 maximum aperture, this lens creates incomparable images in low light. "It has an incredible way of 'drawing' the photo. It has a special character and creates a special atmosphere," says Dafna.

Canon TS-E 17mm f/4L

Designed for photographing grand buildings, this lens has low distortion and edge-to-edge sharpness. "This tilt and shift lens is one of a kind," says Dafna. "It is wonderful for architecture and super-large spaces."

Canon EF 24-70mm f/2.8L II USM

A professional everyday L-series zoom that delivers high image quality with a constant f/2.8 aperture. "A great multipurpose lens which is useful for many different situations," says Dafna. "It's sharp and fast to focus too."

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