When Israeli photographer Natan Dvir first visited New York City in 1997, the skyscrapers and the larger-than-life advertisements overwhelmed him. Everything was branded.
In particular, he had never seen billboards at ground level.
“I didn’t regard this as ‘Oh my god, this is disgusting, or beautiful,’” Dvir said. “It was ‘Oh my god, this is insane.’”
He moved to the city in 2008 and says it was even more saturated with advertisements than when he first visited more than a decade earlier. Dvir started taking photographs of pedestrians juxtaposed against the giant advertisements. He said he was exploring how the reality portrayed in each ad related to the reality underneath the billboard, concentrating on the contrast in size and content between the two.
“I really wanted to do something that was commenting on the economy,” he said.
Dvir said other foreigners he has talked to also are struck by the ads, but most passers-by don’t seem to notice them at all.
As a photojournalist who specializes in documentary and portrait work, he usually immerses himself in unfolding action and has to react quickly to capture the moment.
For this project, Dvir would stand across the street from the ad that served as a backdrop and wait for the “decisive moment” – a common photography term, coined by the late photojournalist Henri Cartier-Bresson, for the moment when the event’s action and the subjects align for the best picture.
For one image, he took pictures on five different occasions before finally getting an image that was “pure magic.”
“It takes more devotion,” Dvir said.
He commented that billboards are the only media of advertisement that can’t be turned off. Anyone walking by would see them. He wonders what will come next for ads.
He’s considering expanding his project to include billboards in other major cities worldwide, such as Hong Kong or London.
Dvir’s project will be on display at Anastasia Photo Gallery in New York in early March.
- Lauren Russell, CNN