An Interview with Photographer Idan Golko: A Self-examined Life
In one of my prior corporate gigs, a division VP said to me, “Mark, you seem to lead a self-examined life.” I was surprised by this. I mean, I took this remark as a compliment, but did I? Did I inspect my life? Did I regularly question my existence by screening my thoughts and actions?
Fast-forward to mid-2016. The first time r u capable?—a photographic blog that raises simple questions with complex answers—blipped into my tumblr radar. Flashbacks of when I became more aware of my consciousness (meta-awareness) infused my thoughts. This r u capable? concept is onto something, I thought. I wanted to find out more.
“We must look at the lens through which we see the world, as well as the world we see, and that the lens itself shapes how we interpret the world.” – Stephen R. Covey, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change
The person behind the r u capable? images and blog is Israel-based photographer Idan Golko. Idan’s brilliant marriage of moody cinematic photographs with thought-piercing enquiries is a meditation on reality. His concept, reminiscent of the Socratic method, illuminates a creative approach to cleaning the lens through which we perceive all things. The lens I’m referring to here is the mind.
“The Socratic method uses questions to examine the values, principles, and beliefs of students.” – Professor Rob Reich, Stanford University
I spoke to Idan on the phone in mid-January 2017. Besides getting to know Idan, I wanted to know the reasoning and symbolism behind his questions. “If I can answer these questions, then I will be a better person,” says Idan. He continues, “then my family will be better. People will be better. The environment will be better and so on.”
“I find moments of peace and quiet when I take a good shot. “ – Idan Golko
Mark: When did r u capable officially start?
Mark: What inspired you to create r u capable?
Idan: A very depressive day. I was in the middle of a big (stressful) project. I wanted to express my feelings and distress in the best way I know–through photographs and words. But before this dreaded day – in fact, several years earlier when I was living in Tel Aviv (in a very urban state of mind) – a friend of mine had asked me if I was capable of intimacy.
Well, this “are you capable?” question had a specific tone and meaning along with a repetitive nature. And, the question stuck with me—it popped up again on that depressive day while I was looking at my photographs. I knew I was doing meaningful things in the world, but I was not doing my thing, and I was asking myself the general question: r u capable? Just like that—black and white, yes or no, and the answer was yes. Three hours later, the blog was on the air.
There is a stronger side in me that chose to live and chose the bright positive path. But that side comes from the dark with a lot of struggle. These two contradictions inside me were a great inspiration as well to create r u capable.
Mark: You met your wife about three and a half years ago. Was this event the catalyst for your life change?
Idan: Yes. The main change for me was when I stopped expending most of my energy for others. Then I was free to put energy into my projects. My wife gave me courage and strength to make this change and focus on my things in the best way.
Mark: What is the central message you are trying to convey with r u capable?
Idan: To raise the awareness to the possibility of choice through confrontation with your shadows. If you are capable of healing your soul wounds, the impact of that in the world is much more significant than you can imagine.
Mark: What is the philosophy behind r u capable?
Idan: The philosophy behind r u capable is quite simple: to recognize your soul’s defaults, and to sincerely ask yourself if you can deal with these defaults. The questions are simple; I’m not inventing anything. I’m just bringing some thought or emotion to another level of awareness. I want to be a better person to my daughter, my wife, my family and friends, to Earth, and to myself. To recognize our bad defaults is half of the problem, and to solve them is the other half. I’m trying the best I can on both ends of the spectrum. I’m not trying to survive only mentally, but also to be content with my reality.
I have no idols, but I’m inspired by many things and people, such as Ian Brown (Stone Roses fame), Thom Yorke, Nick Drake, Dark 80’s, Monty Python, Serge Gainsbourg, tattoos, drugs, world climate, violence, justice, hope, love, the sea, smell, and so much more.
I feel that in today’s world, everything is “bubbling.” I want the good to win. What is the good? I can’t point one finger at it (there are many), but I do know and feel what is happening in the world today is almost the opposite of good.
Mark: Why photography?
Idan: I find moments of peace and quiet when I take a good shot. The images help me to deal with myself. I find answers in the images I take and I especially find comfort in them. It gives me a short break from all the mass inside me and around me. The photographs I take reflect my mental state. I’m looking outside in order to understand better, to learn more about myself, and to improve – that is, to be a better person (to be more human). I use only secondhand cameras. I never use long zooms
Mark: Define what a “good” shot is to you.
Idan: A shot that makes me feel something whether it’s the person, the scene, the mood, the light – my heart needs to feel.
Mark: What does it mean to be more human?
Idan: It is easier to start with defining what is not human. Being disconnected with the reality around us is not being human. Often, reality overloads our senses with too much information. We can react to this overload by disconnecting. But, that makes us feel less human. To be more human, we must keep our hearts open and build trust in the mysteries of life. The ultimate goal is to have harmony between the external reality and our internal reality.
Mark: Why only secondhand cameras and no long zooms?
Idan: I love things from the past. Using secondhand cameras, for me, is sustainable. I also like the low-tech aspect of the older digital cameras. I guess I am a bit of a technophobe in this regard. I use a FujiFilm x100 and Sony fF28. These cameras are not old, of course, just secondhand.
Long zooms are a big advertisement that you are taking pictures. I’d rather not be noticed because I want to capture something meaningful that is undisturbed.
Mark: What do you “normally” do when you are not taking photographs?
Idan: For many years I found myself doing different things in order to survive financially. I worked many jobs, from being a bartender to a business development director to brewery manager to art dealer and collector’s assistant. When I met my wife, three and a half years ago, I stopped “selling my soul” to others. Since then I’m focusing on my photography and writing and also doing other things, such as dealing with music and cinema memorabilia and secondhand items. I love old stuff, I love the rhythm of the analog.
These days I’m also running a very private documentary project, mostly in video, with a well-known senior actress in Israel. It’s been running for almost a year and it will keep running for another year at least.
I’m also a curating a photography exhibition for an Israeli photographer who died 14 years ago. He was photographing street and portraits in Israel during the late 70s and early 80s. The exhibition is planned for May 2017.
So after almost three years of incubation, I’m finally doing my things.
Mark: Do you have future plans for r u capable? If so, please share.
Idan: Yes. I plan to continue what I’m doing and to expand in many forms of creativity. To find and later on to create other platforms that can serve as a vehicle for r u capable?.
To sustain his projects, Idan has a few irons in the fire. He is working on a documentary project and he is generating revenue from his photography. Wait, there’s more. Idan also creates a signature product he calls “analog-i” where he takes rare music posters and mounts them with vintage frames that he discovers in flea markets. “I am now back on my feet and beginning to see the flowering from the seeds I planted a while back,” Idan says in gratitude.
Is there a lesson in all of this? Has Idan found the holy grail of what all artists seek – liberation from the chains of stereotype? Idan’s photography has an edge and gladly offers a fresh reprieve from the saturation of trillions of cliché images. More importantly, this edge slices through perception, and it perforates our default mode of thinking – our default definitions of what is beautiful and what is ugly.
If Idan has found all the answers, it’s because the revelations came from within, by pondering a simple question—r u capable?