Spreading the Beauty of Israel Without the Political Buzz

Such as with many people nowadays, I started to talk with Moti online. This is always the easy part; to change a message with a stranger whom you never met and then you can decide if to pursue more of it.

Moti Pinhassi lives in Netanya (the city I visited for the very first time in Israel) and works as an urban and regional planner. So when I sent him pictures of New York City’s mess, he messaged me back: “As an urban planner, I do approve this.”

As someone working in personal branding, I pay attention to these little messages as they convey a lot about the other person. During the last months, I started to follow Moti on his social media channels and he followed me on mine. But as I started to see more about him and that he – such as all of us – has many layers to him, I wanted to know more about something in particular.  And that is Moti’s artistic project called, the Holy Glance.

While his one sentence tagline would buy me already (but then again, I’m admittingly an easy target when it comes to supporting Israel), I have this thirst to know more, to understand why people do what they do, what their fears and hopes are. So this is why you are reading this interview; because I wanted to know more about Moti Pinhassi, who dedicates hours and hours of his life to show Israel’s beautiful landscapes and cities.

When did you create the first Holy Glance panorama?
I did my first panorama in 1999 on the top of the Montparnasse tower in Paris. I’ve done a few from abroad within my travels including San Francisco and New York, but I prefer the views of Israel. So I decided to stick to and focus on my home country.

What is so unique about your panoramic photography?
I create the panoramas in the old school method, as a handmade collage. When I shoot the panorama, sometimes, I take even 100 photos without a tripod, without fixing the exposure, just like that in auto mode; I print all of them and at my home studio (which happens to be the dining table) I arrange the pictures, cut them with scissors and stick them together with double-sided stickers, the origins of cut and paste.

Usually out of the 100 photos about 20 stays that create the final panorama.

Most of my creations have a 360-degrees view with a level horizon, and the borders are not rectangular but jagged because of the nature of the handmade panorama. I don’t know anyone who does things like this, except David Hockney, who also does something similar with photography collages – much more artistic and grandiose, of course, but I started to do this kind of art before I knew his work. But I’m not bragging.

(He laughs)

Was it [the panorama idea] a lucky accident or was it a conscious concept?
It was very conscious. But I didn’t know at the time how far it can evolve. From time to time, I get a good advice and I act upon it, one of them was to enlarge my artwork and so now, I create panoramas which are over 4 meters (12 feet) wide.

What is the largest panorama that you’ve ever created?
My largest panorama is from Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv. I pictured it during the time of the economic protest in 2011 when the whole Boulevard was full of tents. It was a very interesting view and I’ve made a panorama out of it, which consists of 265 separate photographs, stuck together for over 18.5 meters wide (about 60 feet). It is on permanent display at the faculty of social sciences at the Tel Aviv University.

You must have a large kitchen table. What is your wife saying when you take the table for hours and hours?
I usually do my art when nobody’s at home so I can create quietly. And I try not to do this before a Shabbat dinner.

(Talking with Moti is a dose of a laugh, so no wonder we spent hours on answering just these questions)

So, is it a purely passion-driven project?
Yes, you can say that. In my opinion, you can say that on all things that involve art. Besides the artistic process, it has also my patriotism in it, which is also passion-driven.

And yet you do invest a lot of your time in this, you have a fabulous website, great Instagram page, a published book and currently running an exhibition in Tel Aviv Port. So, when was the moment when you said, okay, I can actually go public with it and try to sell my art? 
Oh, toda raba!

Well, it was always nice to sell a picture here and there, usually to offices. However, the big leap was two years ago, when I wanted to have a big solo exhibition. So, I started a crowdfunding campaign, raised about 5,000$ and fulfilled my dream. That was a pivoting moment for me. I also created some products like the first edition of the book and a postcard set, which later I sold in large quantities to several tourist businesses who give it to their customers as a gift.

What is your primary aim with selling your panoramas? 
To spread the beauty of Israel without all the political buzz around it.

Who is your primary audience?
All those who love Israel and its fabulous views, whether they are Jews that miss their homeland – and they’ve been missing it for 2,000 years -, or people who support Israel, like you do with great ambition.

(Now, I blush.)

What was the furthest country your panoramas or books were sold to? 
Well, the furthest delivery was to the United States. But distance is no longer an issue when a package can reach the end of the world within days, and an eBook can reach you within seconds.

I saw your recent FB live, so I saw it takes you hours to do one panorama. You also refuse to use Photoshop or anything to make your work easier. Why? 
Using Photoshop or any other digital means will take the fun out of my art!
It’s my art, not the computer’s.

Besides, when making panoramas with Photoshop, it curves the horizon and distorts the picture so it will fit the boring rectangular shape, while I keep a level horizon even with a 360-degrees panorama-

I never retouch my photos, OK, except for one time, when I did remove the antenna above the Jaffa Gate next to the Tower of David on the Old City of Jerusalem walls. I couldn’t accept it, it is a blasphemy for photography to leave it in the picture! Come to think of it, I retouched twice, for the day and night panoramas on this same location.

What do your books and panoramas mean to you now that Israel has just turned 70? 
70 is a nice round number, a milestone to look back at and see what we’ve accomplished. And to look forward to the next 70 years, and I’ve got some big dreams for these, not only in the art field.

But also, just recently, for the 70th anniversary of the State of Israel, I published a revised and improved edition of my book “Holy Glance”, which has 28 panoramic artworks from all over Israel, from the top of the Hermon mountain to the red sea, including Jerusalem, Tel Aviv, Netanya, Haifa, Acre, Ashdod, Arad, Beer Sheva and much more.

The panoramas are accompanied by travelling recommendations and are spiced with verses from the Bible and classic Hebrew poetry, all of it in three languages – Hebrew, English and French.

Where do you want to see your Holy Glance work in the future?
I’m starting to plan the next crowdfunding campaign, for an even larger exhibition with extra large pictures of my hometown Netanya to place it in our beautiful renovated gallery on the cliff. I’ve had this dream for several years, and after this dream fulfilment, I’ll have another dream. I’m thinking of a series of books, each focusing on a different city or area in Israel.

You come across as very Carpe Diem-kind of person, but still, I’ll ask this as my last question: What is your greatest fear today?
I’m with Roosevelt on this one: “We have nothing to fear of except fear itself.”

So this is Moti Pinhassi — a husband, a father, an urban planner, an artist, a passionate lover of Israel, a dreamer.

We are never only our job titles. We are never only our art. We are never only just dreamers. We are always the full combination of our passions, values and actions. And this is why I love talking to people and dig deeper than what I see on Facebook; this is why I keep on encouraging my clients to share more of themselves than their job titles.

Moti did send me his book a few weeks ago. And each time I glance it through, I see the familiar places I love so much, and each time they remind me that it’s high-time to go back to Israel again.

About the Author
Virag is a Christian Hungarian who, after sharing her life with a charming Israeli, started her (often painful) journey towards Judaism. By chance (or not) today she works with a handful of pro-Israel organizations as a new media manager and writes raw-honest personal narratives about her internal identity dilemmas as an attempt to find a way between her Christian roots and the novel feeling of being drawn into Judaism
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